So, You Didn’t Pass Your NCLEX® Exam…

Failed NCLEXYou took the boards and failed to pass. That is tough to take and deeply discouraging, but don’t let it take the wind out of your sails. It’s not the end of the world and there are things you can do to continue on to your goal. According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), 72% of those who repeat the exam pass. 

Take note that you “failed to pass” your exam. You may not have passed the NCLEX® exam, but if you got this far, you certainly haven’t failed. So let’s get down to the business of next steps and get you ready to lasso the boards and pass them.  

Your Next Step

By now you have received the NCLEX® Candidate Performance Report (CPR) that shows your performance in each of the test’s content areas. The NCSBN recommends using this CPR as a guide as you prepare to retake the exam.

Here are the steps to retake the NCLEX®, straight from the NCSBN:

  • Contact your BON/RB and notify them that you plan to retake the exam.
  • Determine what fees or materials you need to submit to the BON/RB.
  • Re-register with Pearson VUE and pay the fee.
  • Wait to receive your new ATT.
  • Schedule your new exam.

Per NCSBN policy, you need to wait a minimum of 45 days between each exam. This length of time is determined by the BON/RB and will be reflected in the new ATT’s validity dates.

Candidates who have applied for licensure/registration with a participating board of nursing/regulatory body (BON/RB) will be permitted to take the NCLEX® eight times a year, but no more than once in any 45-day period.

To pass NCLEX®, you have to understand it.

Most test-takers study for the test, few try to understand how the test works. In other words, understanding how the exam actually functions to test your knowledge. That is extremely important when it comes to NCLEX® because it is a computerized adaptive test (we will explain), not one that is graded by traditional methods. If you know the animal you are dealing with you have a better chance of taming it, and in this case, that means passing the exam when you meet again. Anne Wendt, RN, PhD, CAE, is director of the NCLEX® Examination Department and she explains the testing function.

“The NCLEX® is a computerized adaptive test (CAT) that increases the efficiency of the testing process. Each candidate’s test is unique and assembled interactively as they are tested. (Make a note of that- the test questions are assembled for you based on how you are taking the test.)

“The computer calculates a candidate’s ability based on the individual’s responses to items, and then it searches for an item that matches it to show next. This process is repeated until a pass or fail decision can be made. CAT therefore administers only those items that best measure a candidate’s ability.”

It’s not the number of questions you answer, it’s the difficulty that counts

You’ve heard the stories. “I passed with 75 questions answered.” “The test shut off and I failed with 75 questions answered.” Any NCLEX® stories that base pass/fail grades on the number of questions answered are false. That’s because the board exam doesn’t grade you on the number of questions you answer, it passes or fails you based on the number of difficult questions you answer successfully.

Louellyn Monera, RN, BSN, a certified psychiatric nurse in California, developed items for the RN test. She provides a great explanation of how the computer assembles the questions according to how the candidate is taking the test.

“Item difficulty changes depending on your answers. Everybody starts with an easy question, and if you don’t answer that, you’re given another easy one. If you do answer it, then you get a moderate question, and if you answer that, a hard one. At some point, it becomes clear you are going to pass or not, and the test stops. It’s a myth that if the test stops at 75 questions, it means you’ve passed, because it can go both ways.

“Exam results are based not on the number or percentage of items answered correctly, but the difficulty of the items a candidate can answer correctly 50% of the time.”

Anne Wendt says that “Passing candidates answer 50% of the more difficult items correctly, and failing candidates answer 50% of easier items correctly.”

Proceed slowly and methodically through the questions

Nurses who write the exam questions say that it is very important to understand the question, so exam takers should read the question two or three times. Going through the exam to complete a lot of questions doesn’t work because the more you rush the more mistakes you are apt to make. The old adage of “Slow and steady wins the race.” holds true with the boards.

Nurse Studying NCLEX

Yes, you’re going to have to study too

Study before your next exam, but study differently. If you didn’t rely on one before, now is the time to use a board review system. It will structure your study, manage your time, acclimate you to reading and think about the questions differently than you did the first time around. It will also prepare you for the types of questions you will see on the exam and help you to answer the difficult ones.

When you choose a board review system, look for the following features:

  • Board review questions have detailed explanations
  • Questions, answers, and explanations are written from nurses and nursing educators
  • Difficult questions are emphasized in the question bank
  • The study system matches the exam format closely

You can do this

You have already proven you have the tenacity to succeed. You got through nursing school while managing life and its complexities, so you can pass the boards too. It takes the same commitment and dedication. All you have to add is strategy. We’ve given you some of that here. So saddle up – you can tame that bucking bronco of an exam!