Nursing Exams – A Helpful Guide

Nursing exams are a common requirement throughout a nursing career. It starts with an entrance exam to be admitted into a nursing program. Then you are tested throughout the program, followed by an exam to attain your official license.

Some nursing exams add to a nurse’s credentials, which can help a nurse advance their career whether it be a salary increase, a higher title or both. For example, to earn a nurse practitioner title, registered nurses must take an exam to apply for a nurse practitioner program.

It helps to know what nursing exams to expect, what the tests cover, what the passing scores are and other nursing exam details so you’re prepared for what lies ahead.

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Nursing Entrance Exams

Don’t worry—you won’t need nursing-specific knowledge if you are wondering how to get into nursing school. You will, however, have to demonstrate competency in areas like math, communication and comprehension. 

If you’re applying for a nursing degree, you may also be tested on core subjects related to health care. Nursing schools want to know you have the essential knowledge needed to succeed in their programs and that you possess solid critical thinking skills, which will be tested on many nursing exams.

Nursing Entrance Test (NET)

The Nursing Entrance Test (NET) is a nursing school test that covers reading, math, decision-making skills, learning style and the ability to handle stressful situations. This entrance exam is administered by individual schools and is for those who want to enter registered nurse or licensed practical nurse programs.

  • How long does it take to complete the NET? Around 2.5 hours
  • What’s the typical cost for the NET? Varies depending on the school
  • What’s the passing score for the NET? 55 on reading and 65 on math; the other sections have variable passing scores depending on the school

Kaplan Nursing Test

The Kaplan Nursing School Admissions Test is a nursing school test that covers math, reading, science, writing and critical thinking. There are four sections of multiple-choice questions. Each school determines acceptable passing scores.

  • How long does it take to complete the Kaplan Nursing Test? Around 3 hours
  • What’s the typical cost for the Kaplan Nursing Test? Around $25-$45; sometimes free, depending on the school
  • What’s the passing score for the Kaplan Nursing Test? Around 70%, but varies depending on the school

Psychological Services Bureau (PSB) exams

Psychological Services Bureau (PSB) exams are tests that are presented for a variety of health care programs, including nursing programs. These tests include the Aptitude for Practical Nursing Examination, the Health Occupations Aptitude Examination and the Registered Nursing School Aptitude Examination. Each test covers subjects including verbal, arithmetic, nonverbal, spelling and natural sciences and has a vocational adjustment index section. Individual schools will administer the test.

  • How long does it take to complete the PSB exams? Around 1 hour, 45 minutes, to 2.5 hours
  • What’s the typical cost for the PSB exams? Varies by the school, around $25
  • What’s the passing score for the PSB exams? Varies by school

Test of Academic Skills (TEAS)

The Test of Academic Skills (TEAS) exam is a nursing school exam for those who want to become registered nurses or licensed practical nurses. Sometimes medical assistants may also be asked to take the exam. It’s one of the most common nursing school exams and covers math, reading, science and English. It’s administered by individual schools.

  • How long does it take to complete the TEAS exam? Around 3.5 hours
  • What’s the typical cost for the TEAS exam? Varies, around $50
  • What’s the passing score for the TEAS exam? Varies depending on the school, generally 60%-70%

Health Education Systems, Inc. Admission Assessment (HESI A2)

The Health Education Systems, Inc. Admission Assessment (HESI A2) is a test administered by individual schools to those seeking nursing degrees, as well as for some students who are seeking health care-related degrees. It covers math, English and science and also has a learning style inventory and personality profile.

  • How long does it take to complete the HESI A2? Typically 2-3 hours
  • What’s the typical cost for the HESI A2? Varies depending on the school, around $108
  • What’s the passing score for the HESI A2? Typically at least 75%

Additional Exams

There are tests like the SAT, ACT and GRE that students may be required to take in order to enter undergraduate and graduate nursing school. 

The SAT and ACT are administered to high school students and are used for undergraduate college admission. The SAT covers math and evidence-based reading and writing. The ACT covers math, reading, English and science, with an optional writing portion.

The GRE is a graduate school-readiness test. It covers verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing. To get into an on campus or online master’s in nursing program, passing the GRE is often a requirement. 

These tests are general academic measurement tests, not related to the nursing field. You will likely have to take nursing-specific exams in addition to these tests if you want to get into graduate nursing school.

  • How long does it take to complete the SAT, ACT and GRE? For the SAT, 3+ hours. For the ACT, about 3.5 hours if taking the ACT with writing. For the GRE, around 3+ hours.
  • What’s the typical cost for the SAT, ACT and GRE? For the SAT, $55. For the ACT, $60 or $80 if taking the ACT with writing. For the GRE, $205 in the United States.
  • What’s the passing score for the SAT, ACT and GRE? Varies depending on school; test takers receive a score and a percentile

National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) Exam

The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX exam) is required to become either a registered nurse or a licensed practical nurse. The exams are created by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, which issue or deny candidates nursing licenses. There are two versions of the NCLEX exam: the NCLEX-PN exam and the NCLEX-RN exam.

NCLEX-PN

The NCLEX-PN has questions on subjects like physiological adaptation, coordinated care, safety and infection control, health promotion and maintenance, and psychosocial integrity. Test takers must answer at least 85 questions out of 205 exam questions.

The NCLEX-PN is for those who are interested in becoming practical nurses, sometimes called vocational nurses. PNs don’t have to have a college degree to work as a nurse. While both the NCLEX-PN and NCLEX-RN cover similar topics, the NCLEX-PN exam is an hour shorter than the NCLEX-RN. It also doesn’t cover management of care topics like the NCLEX-RN exam does.

  • How long does it take to complete the NCLEX-PN? 3.5+ hours
  • What’s the typical cost for the NCLEX-PN? Around $200
  • What’s the passing score for the NCLEX-PN? The passing standard is -0.18 logits. A logit is a unit of measurement used to report relative differences between item difficulties and candidate ability estimates.

NCLEX-RN

The NCLEX-RN has questions on subjects like management of care, pharmacological and parenteral therapies, reduction of risk potential and basic care and comfort. The test questions range between 75-265 items.

The NCLEX-RN is for those who are interested in becoming registered nurses. Registered nurses must earn a professional nursing degree, such as a bachelor of science degree. The NCLEX-RN exam is an hour longer than the NCLEX-PN. Instead of coordinated care questions, the NCLEX-RN exam has management of care questions.

  • How long does it take to complete the NCLEX-RN? 3.5+ hours
  • What’s the typical cost for the NCLEX-RN? Around $200
  • What’s the passing score for the NCLEX-RN? The passing standard is 0.00 logits.

Nursing Certification Exams

Nursing certifications are a way for nurses to demonstrate their expertise in nursing and/or a nursing specialty. A nursing certification confirms nurses have the skills outlined in the certification, which can be attractive to certain employers or even required for some state licensure. After getting a certification, a nurse can add the certification acronym to their title, which can enhance a resume and professional profile.

There are various advanced practice nursing certifications available. Nurses can go to the website of the nursing certification body that administers the certification to apply. Certifications typically need to be renewed every few years in order to stay in good standing.

Some of the specialty nursing certification exams may include:

  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (A-GNP)
  • Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurses (ACHPN)
  • Certified Ambulatory Perianesthesia Nurse (CAPA)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Across the Lifespan) (PMHNP-BC)
  • Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner (WHNP-BC)

Certifications will typically require a combination of the following: a nursing degree, an RN license and/or a minimum number of hours of experience in the specialty, in addition to passing a certification test.

FAQs

Is a nursing exam worth it?

Generally, earning potential increases the higher the nursing education completed. Attaining relevant certifications can increase salary as well. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 2020 median pay for registered nurses was $75,330. For nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists and nurse practitioners, which require a master’s degree or higher, the 2020 median pay was $117,670 per year.

Nursing exams may help you get into the nursing school you want and achieve the certifications that can help you advance in your field. If you’re interested in nursing and health care roles but you don’t want to take exams, you might be interested in entry-level roles like caregivers, patient sitters or medical assistants.

Which nursing entrance exam should I take?

The nursing exam you should take will depend on the school you’re trying to get into and what your career goals are. Certain schools will mandate certain nursing exams. Others will accept one of a variety. Check with the requirements of the nursing schools you’re applying for before signing up for exams.

If you want to expand your credentials, you’ll want to find a nursing exam that aligns with your expertise and your desired career path. It can help to talk with your employer or an employer you’re interested in working for about what certifications or credentials they’re looking for.

How hard is the nursing entrance exam?

Nursing entrance exams can be challenging for many test-takers. They’re timed, which can increase the intensity of the test. Most tests have practice tests available that you can take beforehand to prepare. Some tests will also give you a break during the test so you can recharge.

Tests like the NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN measure test taker abilities in relation to the difficulty of the questions. Many other tests don’t have set passing scores. Rather, it’s up to the school’s discretion whether or not to admit you. Exam scores are just one part of nursing school admittance. If you have strong supporting materials, like a strong GPA from your previous school, that can help. 

How can I pass the nursing entrance exam?

First, research what’s going to be on the exam. Each exam website will typically break down the exam into how many questions to expect for each section and the time limit you’ll have.

Next, study the exam material. Find a study guide on the exam website. You can also find practice tests to take. Study for the exam by creating flashcards for what you’ll need to know. You can also contact the nursing school where you’ll be applying for resources. ATI has resources for the TEAS and NCLEX exams.

Exams are a Typical Part of Nursing Careers

For most nursing jobs, exams are a requirement to get the degree, licensure and credentials you want. It is important to take adequate time to prepare for nursing exams so you can go into the test confidently and achieve the score you need.

Information on this page was last retrieved in June 2021.