Nursing Entrance Exams: What You Can Expect

Along with good grades, many nursing schools require an entrance exam to prove that you’ve got the aptitude to successfully complete the program. There are many different types of tests you might take, and what’s required depends on your program and the level of your degree. You may need to take a test exclusively for nurses, a general exam like the SAT, or maybe even one of both. If you’re interested in joining a nursing program, read on to learn more about the commonly used entrance exams and what you might expect.


Nursing-Specific Exams

To get into nursing school, potential students are often required to take a test specifically designed for nurses. Though little of the content is related to the exact duties of a nurse, the tests are meant to rate your abilities in areas such as comprehension, communication, critical thinking, as well as your knowledge of the core subjects involved in the healthcare field.

NLN PAX

Administered by the National League for Nursing (NLN), the NLN Pre-Admission Exam (PAX) is one of the most frequently used entrance exams for nurses. It measures your verbal ability and understanding of math and science.

  • Who’s the test for? Aspiring registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) who are looking to enter certificate, associate’s, or bachelor’s degree programs
  • What’s the format? 3 sections of multiple-choice questions
  • How many questions are there? 80 verbal, 54 math, and 80 science
  • How long does the test take? Up to 3 hours
  • What’s a passing score? Acceptable scores are determined by each individual school
  • How much does it cost? Varies by school, but typically between $45 and $100
  • What’s the best way to prepare? The NLN offers a study guide featuring 1,000 practice questions along with additional tips for becoming a more effective test taker

NET

The Nursing Entrance Test (NET) is another commonly used exam that covers basic high school-level knowledge in the topics of reading and math. Administered through specific schools, it also aims to assess your decision-making skills, learning style, and how you handle stressful situations.

  • Who’s the test for? Primarily used to test those entering LPN or RN programs
  • What’s the format? 6 sections of multiple-choice questions and a 1-minute reading speed test
  • How many questions are there? 60 math, 33 reading, 44 learning style, 17 social decisions, 49 stressful situations, and 30 exam-taking skills
  • How long does the test take? 2 1/2 hours
  • What’s a passing score? 65 on math and 55 on reading. The remaining sections can be judged by the schools as they see fit.
  • How much does it cost? Varies by school
  • What’s the best way to prepare? From Complete Test Preparation, you can purchase a study guide with 2 sets of practice tests covering the areas of reading and math

Kaplan Admissions Test

Using the Kaplan Nursing School Admissions Test, colleges around the country assess the potential for a student to succeed in nursing school. It measures performance and gaps in the areas of reading, writing, math, science, and critical thinking.

  • Who’s the test for? LPNs and RNs
  • What’s the format? 4 sections of multiple-choice questions
  • How many questions are there? 22 reading, 28 math, 21 writing, and 20 science
  • How long does the test take? 2 hours and 45 minutes
  • What’s a passing score? Acceptable scores are determined by your school, but in general, expect to need a score of around 70%
  • How much does it cost? Varies by school, but a common rate falls between $25 and $45 dollars. Many schools offer students the test for free.
  • What’s the best way to prepare? Registering for the test gives you access to an online study plan. You can also purchase the most recent guide published by Kaplan.

PSB Aptitude for Practical Nursing Exam

The Psychological Services Bureau (PSB) offers a variety of tests that are used for various healthcare educational programs. The Aptitude for Practical Nursing Exam includes academic subtests and a personality section to determine what kind of working environment is right for you.

  • Who’s the test for? LPNs
  • What’s the format? 5 sections of multiple-choice questions
  • How many questions are there? 225 questions broken into the categories of vocabulary, math, analytical reasoning, spelling, natural science (chemistry, biology, and physics), judgement on practical nursing situations, and the Vocational Adjustment Index
  • How long does the test take? 2 1/2 hours
  • What’s a passing score? Acceptable scores are determined by each school. You’ll receive a raw score and a percentile rank.
  • How much does it cost? Typically $25
  • What’s the best way to prepare? On the PSB website, find sample questions you can use to help study. Mometrix Test Preparation also offers a comprehensive study guide.

PSB Registered Nursing School Aptitude Exam

The PSB also administers a separate test for registered nurses. Though the questions are slightly different, the general content is the same as the practical nursing exam.

  • Who’s the test for? RNs
  • What’s the format? 5 sections of multiple-choice questions
  • How many questions are there? 30 vocabulary, 30 math, 30 analytical reasoning, 50 spelling, 40 reading, 90 natural science, and 90 in the Vocational Adjustment Index
  • How long does the test take? An hour and 45 minutes
  • What’s a passing score? Acceptable scores are determined by each school. You’ll receive a raw score and a percentile rank.
  • How much does it cost? Varies by school
  • What’s the best way to prepare? The PSB website has sample questions designed for the RN exam, while the same Mometrix study guide can also be used to prepare for the tes


Healthcare Exams

Many nursing programs use exams that are designed for healthcare professional of all kinds. While not specifically centered on nursing, these tests assess the similar comprehension and critical thinking abilities that are necessary for anyone in the medical field.

TEAS

The Test of Academic Skills (TEAS) exam is one of the most common tests required of aspiring nurses. It covers reading, science, English, and math, and has shown it to be a good predictor of students’ preparedness for entering the field of healthcare.

  • Who’s the test for? LPNs or RNs. Though far less common, medical assistants may also be asked to take the exam.
  • What’s the format? 4 sections of multiple-choice questions
  • How many questions are there? 53 reading, 36 math, 53 science, and 28 English/vocabulary
  • How long does the test take? About 3 1/2 hours
  • What’s a passing score? Acceptable scores are determined by each school, but often fall in the 60–70% range
  • How much does it cost? Varies, but typically around $50. Additional fees apply to have your scores sent to your school.
  • What’s the best way to prepare? The TEAS offer several helpful resources on their website, including study packages and online practice tests

HESI A2

The Health Education Systems, Inc.  Admission Assessment (HESI A2) is most commonly used by nurses but is sometimes required for students seeking degrees in other areas of healthcare. It measures high school-level math and English, along with an extra emphasis on science. It also includes a personality profile and learning style inventory.

  • Who’s the test for? LPNs or RNs
  • What’s the format? 9 sections of multiple-choice questions
  • How many questions are there? 50 math, 50 grammar, 50 vocabulary, 47 reading, 25 biology, 25 chemistry, 25 physics, and 25 anatomy/physiology. The profile portion includes 30 critical thinking questions and 30 questions related to personality and learning styles.
  • How long does the test take? Each school can decide how long they want the test to be, but generally give students between 2 and 3 hours
  • What’s a passing score? Most schools require a score of at least 75%
  • How much does it cost? Depends on the school, but often somewhere between $35 and $75
  • What’s the best way to prepare? Elsevier, the company that administers the test, has practice exams for purchase and other resources such as case studies and e-books

PSB Health Occupations Aptitude Exam

Along with their nursing exams, the PSB also offers a test that applies to a variety of healthcare professionals. The Health Occupations Aptitude Exam is extremely similar to the other tests in structure and content.

  • Who’s the test for? RNs heading into associate’s or bachelor’s degree programs
  • What’s the format? 5 sections of multiple-choice questions
  • How many questions are there? 30 vocabulary, 30 math, 30 analytical reasoning, 50 spelling, 40 reading, 90 natural science, and 90 in the Vocational Adjustment Index
  • How long does the test take? An hour and 45 minutes
  • What’s a passing score? Acceptable scores are determined by each individual school
  • How much does it cost? Varies by school
  • What’s the best way to prepare? Mometrix Test Preparation also offers a comprehensive study guide

General Exams

While many nursing programs require a healthcare-specific exam, others want scores on different standardization tests—sometimes in place of a nursing exam and sometimes in addition.

SAT

  • Who’s the test for? Any aspiring nursing assistant, licensed professional nurse, or RN
  • What’s the format? 2 multiple-choice sections, 1 section with a mix of questions, and 1 optional essay (though some schools require it)
  • How many questions are there? 58 math, 52 reading, and 44 writing and language
  • How long does the test take? 3 hours without breaks or the optional essay. A total of just over 4 hours with them.
  • What’s a passing score? A score of at least 1400 out of 1600 is considered competitive at most universities in the country, though 1200 is usually sufficient for lower-level nursing programs
  • How much does it cost? Roughly $50 with an additional fee to write the optional essay
  • What’s the best way to prepare? Khan Academy offers resources including thousands of practice questions and full-length tests that simulate the SAT. Taking the PSAT can also be a great way to familiarize yourself with the format and lessen your nerves for the real exam.

ACT

The ACT is the second most popular test behind the SAT and covers much of the same material. The primary difference is that the ACT features questions related to science, which could possibly make it the better option for those interested in nursing.

  • Who’s the test for? Any aspiring nursing assistant, licensed professional nurse, or RN
  • What’s the format? 4 sections of multiple-choice questions and 1 optional essay
  • How many questions are there? 75 English, 60 math, 40 reading, and 40 science
  • How long does the test take? 2 hours and 55 minutes without breaks or the optional essay. A total of 3 hours and 50 minutes with them.
  • What’s a passing score? A score of 23 out of 36 is considered higher than the national average, though you’ll likely need at least a 30 for acceptance into the most competitive schools
  • How much does it cost? Roughly $50 with an additional fee to write the optional essay
  • What’s the best way to prepare? The ACT website has resources such as free study guides, questions of the day, and practice tests for each different section

GRE

For nurses who’ve already graduated from a program and earned their RN license, the next step could be getting additional education to become an advanced practice nurse.

By pursuing a master’s degree in a specialty field, you could increase your job opportunities and potential salary.

If this sounds like the right option for you, you might be required to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) prior to admission. This general test measures verbal skills, quantitative reasoning skills, and analytical writing ability. Subject Tests also exist in areas such as biology and chemistry.

  • Who’s the test for? Current RNs looking to earn their master’s degrees
  • What’s the format? 2 sections mixing multiple-choice, select-in-passage, and numeric entry questions, along with 1 writing section
  • How many questions are there? The number of questions depends on how you take the test. Computerized tests have 40 verbal and 40 quantitative reasoning questions, with 2 analytical writing tasks. The written test has 50 questions each for verbal and quantitative reasoning, with 2 analytical writing tasks. 
  • How long does the test take? The computerized test takes 3 hours and 45 minutes, while the written takes 3 hours and 30
  • What’s a passing score? Competitive scores are considered to be in the high 150s on verbal and quantitative and a 4.5 on writing
  • How much does it cost?  The General GRE costs $205. If you wish to take a subject test, you’ll need to pay a fee of $150.
  • What’s the best way to prepare? The Educational Testing Service features free test prep materials with sample questions, scoring guides, and tips for becoming better familiar with the test

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