Guide to Nursing Exams: Entrance, Exit, Licensure, & Certification Exams

Female nursing student studying at home on a tablet.

Whether you’re an aspiring nurse, a newly graduated nurse, or a nurse advancing your degrees or credentials with a specialization, exams and licensure tests are milestones of your educational and professional career in healthcare. Testing is stressful, but it’s an essential component of assessing your readiness for the next stage of your career.

Your first test will be your nursing school admissions exam: The HESI A2. Then, before you can practice as a registered nurse, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX. You’ll take a test such as the HESI Exit Exam or the ATI Comprehensive Predictor test before you take the NCLEX, as an indicator of your preparedness for the licensure exam.

These are the core exams most nurses will take at different times in their careers, but there are also other exams that may come into play once you get into advanced specializations and certifications (if such tests are required by your state).

Below is an overview of the core assessments: the HESI, ATI, and NCLEX exams, as well as tests for advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) certification. You’ll get a summary for each exam, but feel free to click the provided links for a deeper dive.

Exams for Student Nurses

HESI Exams

 The HESI A2: Nursing School Admissions

The Health Education Systems Incorporated HESI A2 entrance exam is required by the majority of nursing programs to evaluate applicants for school admission. The test itself varies in terms of content, since it is administered by each school individually and that school will tailor the sections and questions according to what it hopes to assess.

You can expect the HESI A2 to include some mix of the following topics:*

  • Language skills (reading, vocabulary, grammar)
  • Basic math
  • Science (biology, chemistry, anatomy, physics)
  • Learning style
  • Personality profile

*Please note: WCU currently only tests on language skills and math skills. You will receive four hours to complete the test.

The HESI Exit Exam

At the end of your BSN nursing program, but before you take the NCLEX, you’ll likely take the HESI Exit Exam. This test will help you evaluate your readiness for the NCLEX, and help you identify where you’ll need some additional review before signing up for the official licensure test. The HESI Exit Exam is designed to test you on the same topics you’ll face in the NCLEX:

  • Nursing process
  • Client needs
  • Specialties

You aren’t required to take the HESI Exit Exam to secure your license to practice, but it is implemented into many nursing programs.

To learn more about the HESI A2 and the HESI Exit Exam, check out our post covering what’s on the HESI and the steps for taking the test.

The ATI Predictor Exam

The Assessment Technologies Institute (ATI) Comprehensive Predictor Exam is another exam many nursing school graduates take instead of the HESI Exit Exam. Like the HESI, it is designed to assess readiness for the NCLEX licensure exam. Based on your ATI results, you’ll be able to take the NCLEX with relative confidence or pinpoint the areas where you need more preparation.

Much like the HESI Exit Exam, the ATI test uses subjects and competencies evaluated by the NCLEX, both content and concepts including:

  • Safe care environment
  • Health promotion and maintenance
  • Physiological integrity
  • Psychosocial integrity

As part of their studies at WCU, nursing students are rigorously prepared for this exam. Based on your results, you’ll know whether you can take your NCLEX with confidence or you need additional remedial study to increase your likelihood of a passing score.

To learn more about the ATI Comprehensive Predictor Exam, check out our Guide to ATI post.

Exam for Registered Nurses

NCLEX-RN: Registered Nurse Licensure

Before you can join the workforce as a registered nurse, you must take and pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN), administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). This exam tests all the knowledge and theory you study in nursing school to provide a comprehensive evaluation of your readiness to practice.

The NCLEX questions are designed around the core competencies of nursing:

  • Process
  • Caring
  • Communication
  • Documentation
  • Teaching and learning
  • Culture and spirituality

The five-hour exam is rigorous and requires preparation. Students in West Coast University’s BSN program receive rigorous preparation for the NCLEX-RN as part of their program. You can learn all about the exam, what to expect, how to register, and how to prepare in our NCLEX-RN overview post.

Exams for Advanced Nurse Practitioners

APRN Board Certification Exams

If you pursue a  degree to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), you may need to pass a certification exam within your specialized discipline, if it is a requirement in your state. There are five licensure test administrators for APRNs include:

Each licensing body offers specific certifications of different types, including:

  • Nurse practitioner certifications
  • Specialty certifications
  • Interprofessional certifications

Within each of the categories above are a variety of areas of focus such as adult-gerontology and family nurse practitioner (FNP). Feel free to explore the ANCC’s and AANPCB’s websites to learn more about the certification exams they offer.

Some Closing Advice

As you move forward in your career, you’ll be able to pursue certificates and earn other qualifications to bolster your experience. As you learn and grow in your career, always remember to check state and local requirements for licenses and certifications.

And make sure to choose a nursing school that will help you properly prepare for your licensure and certification exams!

West Coast University has been delivering quality, student-centric healthcare education since 1909. Explore our website to learn more about our nursing programs, or fill out our form to request more information.

WCU provides career guidance and assistance but cannot guarantee employment. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student.