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Cognitive Ability Levels

The three levels of ability tested in the CPNRE are:


This level combines the ability to recall previously learned material and to understand its meaning. It includes such mental abilities as knowing and understanding definitions, facts and principles, and interpreting data (e.g., knowing the effects of certain procedures or interventions, understanding a change in a client’s vital signs).

Knowledge/comprehension questions make up a maximum of 10% of the CPNRE.


This level refers to the ability to apply knowledge and learning to new or practical situations. It includes applying rules, methods, principles and nursing theories in providing care to clients (e.g., applying principles of drug administration and concepts of comfort and safety to the nursing care of clients).

A minimum of 55% of the questions on the CPNRE are at the application level.

Critical Thinking

The third level deals with higher-level thinking processes. It includes the ability to judge the relevance of data, to deal with abstractions and to solve problems (e.g., identifying priorities of care, evaluating the effectiveness of nursing actions). The practical nurse should be able to identify cause-and-effect relationships, distinguish between relevant and irrelevant data, formulate valid conclusions and make judgments concerning the needs of clients.

The critical thinking level of the cognitive domain represents a minimum of 35% of the questions on the CPNRE.

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