Nursing is a challenging and rewarding career. Nurse education programs offer demanding curricula and admission standards are high. If your goal is to become a licensed practical nurse (PN or LPN), the National League for Nursing (NLN) Pre-Admission Examination (PAX) may be required for admission consideration in a desired program. One of the most-used standardized tests for nursing programs, many schools across the United States use the PAX scores as a tool to determine admission.

Before taking the PAX-PN Exam, students must earn a high school diploma or GED equivalent. Most students prepare themselves for the test with relevant coursework at the college level, including studies in biology, anatomy, and physiology. This base of knowledge and additional test-specific preparation is targeted to improve scores. Higher PAX exam scores help students get admitted to colleges of their choice.

What’s in the PAX-PN Exam?

NLN created a test containing approximately 214 questions, some of which are for pre-testing of items and not used in scoring. The test, offered in either computer-based or paper form at academic institutions nationwide, is designed to examine the skills and ability of nursing school candidates. Those students that do well on the test are presumed most likely to perform well in a program.

The PAX-PN Exam takes about three hours to complete, with a time limit of one hour on each section. The test breaks down skill and ability questions into the following categories:

Verbal Ability: about 80 questions

This category is used to determine the student's word knowledge, sentence completion ability, and reading comprehension.

Mathematics: about 54 questions

This category tests the student's ability to solve word problems and problems in applied mathematics, decimals, percentages, integers, fractions, conversions, geometry, graphics, basic calculations, and algebra.

Science: about 80 questions

This category tests the student's understanding of human anatomy and physiology, biology, general science, chemistry, physics, and earth science.

Where is PAX Exam Registration?

Registration for the PAX-PN Exam is handled by academic institutions, so there is no central website for it. Your college website may have a link for registration online, or you may need to contact an advisor in nurse education or a representative from testing services. Test scheduling also varies by institution. Find out about the schedule at your university well in advance to get registered and to have ample time to prepare.

What Do I Need to Know About Test Day?

Specific guidelines for PAX Exam test day will vary by test center. Generally, you’ll be required to show your registration information and a government-issued photo ID such as a driver’s license, state ID, or military ID. Sometimes, a second ID is required. Do not plan to take any items into the test center as items such as calculators, purses, backpacks, coats, and electronic devices are usually not permitted. If you require a disability accommodation, please review your registration website for instructions on getting approval and available services. Consult the school website for all specific guidelines.

What Does My PAX Score Indicate?

Unlike some other exams, nursing programs use the PAX score relative to their own admissions standards. Your score may meet the standards of some schools but not of others. In addition, colleges consider more factors than PAX Exam score for admissions, just as in other program admissions. In any case, a higher score will boost the number of schools that are willing to consider you for admission than a lower score. If you’d like to know how your score compares to other PAX participants overall, you can find this information by searching the web.

You should receive your test score at the testing site. For an official report to send to additional institutions, contact the NLN. If you aren’t happy with your score, you can take the test up to two more times for a total of three times within a 12-month period. The waiting period before retaking an exam is at least 60 days.

How Can I Prepare for the PAX-PN Exam?

That’s a great question.  We’ve broken down the answer into three parts.

  1. Do yourself a favor and study.  Do not walk in unprepared. We have recommended prep materials below, but that only helps if you actually try.  Plus, studying is actually proven to be the best antidote to test anxiety.
  2. Take care of yourself.  Make sure you’re eating well, exercising, and sleeping.  All of these things are scientifically linked to brain performance.  If you take care of your body, you’ll be helping your grades.
  3. Get a study guide or set of flashcards.  Some people study better a certain way. Find your study strengths and make the most of them.  We’ve tried to make it easy for you by tracking down the best study guide and flashcard set for your exam. Below you’ll see links to both!

Study Guide



Last Updated: December 30, 2019