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My experience preparing for the CPNE (Clinical Performance in Nursing Examination) with Excelsior College

Updated on December 6, 2012

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Overview of the CPNE

The CPNE is a three-day long clinical examination that is required for completion of the associates degree in Nursing (ASN) at Excelsior College, which is a distance-education nursing program based out of Albany, NY. It is required before you can take the NCLEX. I took and passed my exam in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The first night of the CPNE, usually a Friday evening, is done with fake patients and consists of skills stations. You have to correctly time an IV drip, perform an IM or SQ injection, pack and dress a wound, and do an IV push. Some of these skills require math calculations learned in nursing school, but are pretty routine and there are no surprises. You have two opportunities to pass these.

Days two and three, usually a Saturday and Sunday, are spent with three patients. The three patients consist of two adult patients and one pediatric patient. If you fail one adult and one pediatric patient, then you are done, meaning you could potentially get a total of five patients.

Using the CPNE guide provided by Excelsior College

Excelsior College provides a CPNE manual. I don’t think that it was particularly important. In fact, I only read it once. Most of the learning and preparation, I found, would need to come from private, external sources.

Excelsior CPNE Supplies Packet

Excelsior contracted with a third party company for their CPNE skills packet. It had an IV bag and fake medications and a fake plastic wound. I practiced these every day until I could do them in my sleep.

Tina and Sebastian’s Workshop (

I attended Tina and Sebastian’s CPNE workshop in San Jose, CA. Though they have since discontinued their business to focus on family and their nursing careers (they are an awesome couple and have their priorities straight!), their workshop was nothing short of awesome. I believe it was five days long, and they would lecture a little bit in the morning and then we would go to different skills stations to practice on mannequins that were just like the ones at Excelsior’s CPNE sites, and also practiced patient care scenarios on each other. One of the most important things that they provided were the “Grids” which were mnemonics that students can use to remember what to do in certain patient assessment situations. One of the ones that they provided was for a neurological examination. I believe it was C-O-P-S, which stood for “check the anterior fontanel; orientation; PERRLA; and Strength/Sensation” or something like that. It was really beneficial, and it followed the CPNE manual perfectly. If you know the grid and you knew how to do the skills listed on the grid, then there was really no way you could fail unless your clinical evaluator was very, very subjective (which does happen). Another thing that I learned at Tina and Sebastian’s workshop was how to write care plans. I had, up until that point, been an LVN in California (LVNs are known as LPNs in most other states) and had never written a care plan. The workshop showed me how to write a care plan and to use the Mosby book of nursing diagnoses. I tabbed the book with post-it notes with the most common NANDA diagnoses for quick reference. Be sure not to write in the book—I believe only tabbing with post-it notes was allowed.

I practiced patient care scenarios with my family and memorized my grids forwards, backwards, and probably could recite them in my sleep. It worked, because I passed my CPNE the first time. Preparation is key with the CPNE. If you practice and prepare, you will succeed in passing this notoriously difficult exam, and then you will go on to passing the NCLEX and achieve your dream of becoming a registered nurse (RN).



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