If you’re a prospective nursing student, then you’ve probably noticed there are quite a few different entrance exams out there—almost as many options as there are nursing careers. Each admissions test serves a special purpose, so how do you know which one to take and how to prepare? In most cases, this depends on the schools you’re applying to, however, your background and degree level can also play a role.
Nursing school is notoriously rigorous and, as enrollment surges nationwide, it’s important to know which test or tests to prioritize so you perform well. This could give you a leg up on the competition and help you launch your new nursing career with confidence. This guide helps you sift through all the details and spotlight the key information for each nursing school exam.
Keep reading to learn about the main characteristics of each test (content, structure, length), the nursing roles and programs the tests qualify you for, and handy study guides to help you prepare. You’ll also discover additional test-prep resources and need-to-know advice from one of our experts. Keep reading to learn more.
What Are the Different Nursing School Exams?
Nursing schools and healthcare programs require different entrance exams based on your background, degree level, and desired profession. Some assessments gauge your readiness for admission to certificate programs and two-year programs, while others assess your ability to excel in baccalaureate or graduate-level studies. Plus, colleges and universities may require standardized admissions tests like the SAT and ACT or, if you’re a master’s student, the GRE. Below we break down each exam, delve into its scope, and answer a few FAQs.
General Healthcare Exams:
Steps to Prepare for Nursing School Entrance Exams
Earning a competitive score on your nursing school entrance exam takes time, effort, and lots of preparation. Regular and consistent study is a big part of that, but the preparation itself starts before you make your flashcards, develop study guides, and carve out time to take practice tests.
In this section learn about six key steps successful students take to prepare for their entrance exams. Following these steps helps you make the most of your time, putting you in a good position to perform well so you can enter the nursing program of your choice.
- Determine which exam(s) you need to take based on what schools you are applying to.
As you can see, there are quite a few different entrance exams and competency tests out there. Each nursing school assessment differs and the requirements can vary widely depending on your professional goals, educational trajectory, and the schools or programs you’re interested in. Your first step should be to research the vocational-specific guidelines for your desired profession—LPN, RN, nurse practitioner, etc.—and then consider the requirements set by the schools you’re applying to. Most programs make this information available on their website; the admissions office should be able to answer any additional questions you have.
- Research the exam(s) and learn the content.
Once you know which exam (or exams) you’ll need to complete, you can do a little background research. Each exam measures your abilities and potential for nursing success, but the format and content for each test varies. Gaining a clearer understanding of the knowledge and skills you’ll be expected to demonstrate helps you focus your study efforts and manage your time more efficiently. This may be especially important if you’re a working professional. Even if not, you can begin to think about the specific topics or subjects that may present unique challenges for you.
- Acquire study materials for that specific exam.
Study does you no good if you don’t have good resources. So before you begin, you’ll need to find pertinent materials to guide your efforts. Most nursing schools and programs make exam study materials readily available on their website. You may even find some study guides as you conduct background research on the exams you plan to take. Consult the list of resources and tools at the end of this guide. Exam questions and format frequently change, so be sure you gather materials that draw on the most up-to-date version of the exam in question.
- Give yourself plenty of time to study and prepare.
Allowing ample time for study well before the exam will help you deliver your best performance on test day. Start early and stay ahead of the game. Take stock of your skills and abilities so you can prioritize content areas that may be especially challenging. If you know that geometry and algebra aren’t your strongest areas, for example, start there so you have enough time to master the content before the exam. You could even join or form a study group with colleagues. Solidarity not only enhances learning, but it can also help you overcome barriers such as test anxiety.
- Take practice tests to gauge where you are.
Consider taking a practice test or two once you reach a point of confidence in your learning and study. Practice tests are a great way to assess your progress and isolate possible weak areas ahead of the exam. Many schools and programs provide practice exams, as do the test providers. A few of the resources listed below also offer practice tests. If you take a practice test and don’t receive the results you wanted, take some extra time to determine the cause and then adjust your study efforts accordingly. If you have time, take a second practice test after remediation to see where you stand.
- Schedule your exam once you feel confident you will achieve a good score.
There’s no reason to waste time and money taking an exam you’re unsure about. Most of the tests covered in this guide can be taken at any time. Sitting for an exam can be stressful, so it’s best to wait until you’re confident in your ability to deliver your best performance—no need to rush. If you take a practice test and perform well, then that’s a good indicator that you’re ready to proceed to registration. If you don’t, work through these steps again. Take additional time to study your problem areas and complete another practice test to ensure that you make the most of your time, money, and effort.
Online Resources for Exam Takers
Consider the list below if you’re seeking online resources, study tips, or research material on the exams covered in this guide. It includes some handy cheat sheets, information on how to prepare for your nursing school entrance exam, and a few guides for college admissions assessments like the SAT and ACT.
- 6 NLN PAX-RN Practice Tests by McGraw-Hill Education
- A Guide to Taking Nursing School Tests/Exams
- ACT Test Prep
- AllNurses Student Support, Stories, Resources
- Barron’s Nursing School Entrance Exams Study Book
- Best Sellers in Nursing Test Preparation on Amazon
- CollegeBoard SAT Practice and Preparation
- EduMed Beginner’s Guide to the TEAS Exam
- Everything You Need to Know About the Kaplan Nursing Entrance Exam
- GRE Test Prep from Kaplan
- How to Pass Nursing School Tests
- How to Prep for BOTH the SAT and ACT
- How to Prepare and Ace the HESI A2 Exam
- Kaplan ATI TEAS Prep Materials
- Learning Nurse Resource Network
- Math Dude’s HESI A2 Math Test Prep Course
- Mometrix Nursing Exam Study Library
- NurseHub TEAS Practice Tests
- Nursing School Entrance Exams by McGraw-Hill Education
- Nursing School Entrance Exams Prep Study Book from Kaplan
- Picmonic Study Helps
- Pocket Prep Helps for 19 Nursing Exams
- Pre-Nursing Prep Courses From Nursing.com
- Smart Edition Entrance Exam Study Guides
- Test Taking Strategies for Nursing Students
Interview With an Expert
Donna Shisler, RN, BSN, Clinical Manager has 9+ years of experience as a cardiac step-down, ICU travel nurse, legal nurse, and clinical manager. Exhibiting exceptional achievements in her career, she was invited to the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing within only 6 years after graduating from the Methodist College of Nursing. Today, she is a legal consultant helping people when they are most vulnerable to receive justice and a clinical manager at Advantis Medical Staffing, helping educate people about the world of nursing.
Q: What is the best way students can prepare for their entrance exams?
A: The best way to prepare is to use the study guides and practice exams offered by the test provider. Many times, it will cost a small fee but it is well worth the money. While they will not give answers to the exact questions on the official exam, it will prepare students for the style, types of questions, and the format of the test. Practicing will help to train one’s mind to read the questions and answers correctly, which gives the test-taker a great advantage. These exams are difficult, and it is not wise to attempt to take them without preparation. Also, if a student knows someone in the program or a nurse who has taken the test, absolutely reach out for advice!
Q: Which entrance exam carries the most weight?
A: The PAX is one of the most commonly used exams. It does not directly test on anything nursing related, but rather the understanding in these core subjects which are integral to the nursing profession. The TEAS is also very popular. It has grown in popularity as the Assessment Technology Institute (ATI) has grown. ATI exams are used in many core nursing classes to assess student understanding at the conclusion of each semester. ATI provides a free practice exam, as well as packages for purchase.
Q: What recourse do test-takers have if they don’t pass?
A: Many test-takers do not pass the first time. Luckily, you can test again! I highly recommend spending the money on the practice materials, classes, and tests offered. These would not be offered if the exam was easy. Another suggestion is to slow down. Yes, the test is timed, but it provides more than enough time for each question. Take the time to read each question thoroughly and make sure you aren’t missing something vital. Don’t overthink it! Nursing exams love to make questions look hard, but they are actually pretty easy if you don’t look too hard into each question. Remember, these are basics, not college level assessments. Also, ask the school admissions personnel what is required of you if you fail. Some schools only require that you retake the portion(s) where your score was not sufficient.
Q: What are admissions committees looking for and how can prospective candidates make their application materials stand out?
A: A student’s previous success in high school or while obtaining prerequisites outside of the nursing program is one of the main things examined. They are looking for a decent GPA, usually 2.0 or higher, references who will advocate for the student’s fit into the program, and a well-written essay. ACTs and SATs are also commonly used in lieu of an entrance exam. Another way for a student to stand out is to find a position in the healthcare field prior to applying. Nursing schools with waiting lists are going to look at experiences and measure the student’s skill and desire to be in healthcare based on things like what he or she has done in the past and what he or she is doing now to move toward his or her goals.