HESI vs. PAX RN: What’s the Difference?

This post may contain affiliate links, meaning we get a commission if you make a purchase through our links, at no cost to you.

Spread the love


Applying to a nursing school requires numerous prerequisites, like any other institute. The school will ask you for your grades, personal statement, recommendations, and more. An entrance exam is a prerequisite, but which one is the school of your dreams asking for?

You might have to sit for the SAT or another entrance exam specific to nursing. It will vary depending on the school. Two examples of nursing entrance exams include the HESI and PAX RN tests. But which one should you take? And are they different? This article dives into the differences between the two, the outlines of each, and which is more straightforward.

What is the PAX RN Exam?What is the PAX RN Exam?

PAX, which stands for Pre-Admission Examination, is a standard entrance exam to some nursing schools. The National League for Nursing, NLN, administers it. For this article, we will only discuss the PAX RN exam, although another exam, the PAX LPN, is available for licensed practical nurses.

Now, the PAX RN is one of the most common entrance exams. Institutes often use this tool to measure whether a candidate is suitable for the school they are applying to. It assesses basic knowledge and determines the academic potential of an individual.

But how do schools use the score you achieve on the exam? It all varies according to the institute. Some will have a minimum cutoff score, others will ask for a minimum percentile rank, and others will need clarification about their requirements. For a quick NLN PAX review, you can access the NLN PAX Exam Prep application.

What is the HESI Test?

What is the HESI Test?

The acronym, HESI, represents Health Education Systems Incorporated. The HESI exams are not only for nursing programs but are often requirements for other healthcare schools. Hence, healthcare fields commonly require the HESI test.

Now, the HESI nursing exam includes more than an entrance exam. Instead, multiple exams fall under the HESI institute, each for a particular reason. The HESI A2 test is the one used as an entrance exam. The HESI Exit Exam is one that schools administer at the end of the nursing program to evaluate whether students are ready for the NCLEX exam.

The HESI A2 exam covers additional topics compared to the PAX test. However, they cover similar issues, including the knowledge every prospective nurse student should have. Hence, they are often confused by individuals who want to apply to nursing school. Regardless, it is essential to check with the school you are applying to so you can know which exam they require.

What’s the Difference Between PAX RN and HESI Exam?

What’s the Difference Between PAX RN and HESI Exam?

It is important to note that the PAX RN and HESI exams are pre-admission tests schools use before admitting you into their programs. However, there are numerous distinctive details. Below is a deep analysis of the difference between PAX RN and HESI tests.

What topics are covered

The exam for registered nurses offered by the NLN is abbreviated into NLN PAX-RN. It covers three main subjects, each assesses a different critical skill you, as a potential nursing student, must have. These are below.

  1. Verbal Ability (includes learning style and personality profile questions): evaluates your skills in critical thinking, vocabulary knowledge and understanding, and reading comprehension.
  2. Mathematics: the math section assesses basic abilities in a few topics. These are geometry, fractions, algebra, decimals, word problems, conversions, reasoning, problem-solving, and basic operations.
  3. Science: as a nurse, you should know fundamentals in chemistry, anatomy, physiology, physics, biology, microbiology, ecology, and health sciences.

As mentioned earlier, the HESI A2 covers more topics compared to the PAX RN. Hence, PAX RN vs. HESI topics are similar, but the HESI includes more sections on the exam. Below is a list of all eight fields on which you will solve questions during the exam.

  1. Mathematicsindividual topics include the basics of addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, ratios, decimals, and proportions.
  2. Grammar: you must demonstrate your knowledge of grammatical concepts, errors, parts of speech, and overall comprehension.
  3. Physics: while you will dive deeper into biology and chemistry, physics is still necessary. Hence, general topics included are energy, Newton’s laws, projectile motion, optics, light, and friction.
  4. Vocabulary & General Knowledge: how strong is your vocabulary basis? This is where your words, definitions, and overall vocabulary is evaluated.
  5. Reading Comprehension: you will face some paragraphs that require reading, followed by questions about themes, meanings, and a general understanding of the paragraph.
  6. Anatomy & Physiology: this section includes terminologies, anatomical systems, structures, and fundamentals.
  7. Biology: the biology segment revolves around basics, such as metabolism, cells, and respiration.
  8. Chemistry: expect to answer questions that address chemical bonding, reactions, the periodic table, and chemical reactions.

How Long is the Exam?

The length of the HESI A2 exam will vary. If you are sitting for it on an official Prometric test site, you will have only 4 hours to complete it. Other locations, such as postsecondary institutes, might provide more leniency and give students five or more hours to finish the exam.

The recommended time to spend on each section of the HESI A2 exam is as follows:

  • Verbal ability: 30 minutes
  • Mathematics: 50 minutes
  • Physics: 25 minutes
  • Vocabulary: 50 minutes
  • Reading comprehension: 60 minutes
  • Anatomy: 25 minutes
  • Biology: 25 minutes
  • Chemistry: 25 minutes

As for the PAX RN exam, it is known to have less time to complete it merely because there are fewer overall sections. Hence, expect to spend around 3 hours to complete the exam, with the time divided as follows:

  • Vocabulary: 40 minutes
  • Science: 40 minutes
  • Mathematics: 40 minutes

How Many Questions?

The number of questions on the PAX RN exam is 160 in total. Forty questions are in the mathematics section, sixty are related to science, and sixty are verbal-related questions.

As for the HESI A2 exam, there are a total of 339 questions. The number of questions is as follows:

  • Anatomy: thirty questions
  • Math: fifty-five questions
  • Biology: thirty questions
  • Chemistry: thirty questions
  • Physics: thirty questions
  • Verbal ability: twenty-nine questions
  • Vocabulary: fifty-five questions
  • Reading comprehension: fifty-five questions

What are the Passing Scores?

This section covers the score you need to learn how to pass the PAX RN exam and the HESI test. Remember, each school might have different minimum requirements and a cutoff score for you to get accepted. Hence, consult the schools you want to apply to for a clearer idea of what score to attain.

The passing score for the HESI exam is often 75%. For instance, South Texas College requires a minimum of 75% on each section of the HESI test.

As for the PAX RN exam, the same applies. It depends on the school you want to enroll in. For example, the College of Lake Country in Illinois admits the top students according to their percentile ranks.

Other things you need to know

As a refresher, this section will touch on some vital information mentioned before and elaborate further on novel pieces of information.

The HESI A2 exam is meant for both registered and licensed practical nurses. As for the exam cost, it ranges anywhere between $35 to $75. You will find the ultimate study guide and preparation resources through Elsevier. This company administers the HESI exams and offers e-books and case studies to students.

The NLN Pax exams are for those striving for a certificate, bachelor’s, or associate degree in registered nursing or practical nursing. The cost is a little more expensive, somewhere between $45 and $100. The best PAX RN study guide is through the NLN website.

Which Nursing Entrance Exam is Easier?

Which Nursing Entrance Exam is Easier?

It is almost impossible to decide which of the two nursing school entrance exams is more complicated. They have different lengths and allocated time. Diverse schools ask for various exams. However, comparing their average test scores might be more manageable.

According to a journal, the average PAX score is 100 out of 200. According to NursingExams.org, the average test score is 75%-80%. Hence, it is evident that the PAX exam is more complex, as it has a lower overall average.

Regardless, things differ according to the individual. Some struggle more with the HESI A2 exam as it is perceived to be much lengthier compared to the PAX exam. But the PAX RN exam is one of the most common nursing entry tests, which is why others regard it as more complex.

Wrapping Things Up: HESI vs. PAX RN: What’s the Difference?

The main distinction between the HESI and PAX RN exams would be the topics covered. Briefly, the HESI covers eight fundamental subjects, which people refer to as individual tests. As for the PAX RN, it includes only three primary subjects.

In the end, nursing schools utilize both or either exam as a pre-admission entrance exam. It will vary according to the institute you want to enroll in. Hence, it is wise to contact your desired school beforehand to determine which test they expect from you. Finding an institute that allows either test result is rare, so ensure you are sitting for the right one.

If you enjoyed this post, check out our other related articles below:

> HESI vs. HESI A2: What’s the Difference?

> HESI vs. NCLEX: What’s the Difference? Which is Harder?

> HESI vs. TEAS: What’s the Difference? Which is Harder?

Picture of Professor Conquer
Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

If you found this helpful, help us out by sharing this post!


Readers of this post also read...

Is AP Chemistry Worth Taking?

Is AP Chemistry Worth Taking?

Perhaps you’re a high school junior or senior considering to take AP Chemistry and are weighing the merits of this challenging yet rewarding course. Known for its rigorous academic demands and significant time investment, AP...

Read More
How Old is Too Old to Go to College?

How Old is Too Old to Go to College?

One common misconception about college is that only students in their teens and early twenties attempt college. Unfortunately, this misconception has stopped many older people from enrolling in college to further their education. But the...

Read More