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Why Passing the NCLEX® in 75 Questions Doesn’t Matter (YOU are NOT your NCLEX® score)

I talk very little about “passing the NCLEX® in 75 questions” and other “popular” topics related to passing in as few questions as possible.

There’s a simple reason for that . . . . it simply doesn’t matter!

As nurses and nursing students we are driven, successful, and competitive when it comes to education.  After all, getting into nursing school is beyond difficult on its own.

Because of these traits we love to compare ourselves to others and get stuck in the hamster wheel of comparisons to other nurses . . . it’s worthless!

I promise you that after completing orientation and after your first year as a nurse NO ONE will ever ask you how many questions you got on the NCLEX®.

In one study, out of 478 graduates who received tutoring for the NCLEX-RN®, “33 (7%) had failed five times, 321 (68%) had failed three times, 96 (20%) had failed twice, and 28 (5%) were taking the exam for the first time. Thus, 95% of [the] student body in 2010 had failed the exam at least twice” (Atemafac, 2014).

Yes, you read that correctly . . . 95% had failed the NCLEX® AT LEAST twice.

I currently work in a downtown Level I Trauma Center in a 34 bed ICU in a hospital that is larger than 95% of ALL hospitals in the United States . . . and you know what?  There are several nurses on my floor that DID NOT pass the NCLEX® in 75 questions and even some that didn’t pass on their first attempt . . . gasp! OMG! How can we let them work on our floor?

Because the ONLY important thing about the NCLEX-RN® is that you EVENTUALLY pass!

10 Real Life Tips About the NCLEX

So little valuable advice is actually given about taking a holistic and healthy approach to the NCLEX-RN.  Instead, too much emphasis is placed on passing in as few questions as possible and many students feel that unless they pass on their first attempt they are essentially worthless and somehow less of a nurse for it.  Here are ten REAL LIFE tips about the NCLEX that I think will help you develop a healthy relationship to this beast of a test.

  1. It is impossible to know everything you need to know or might be confronted with on the exam . . . you just can’t!
  2. When the test shuts off you ARE going to freak out.
  3. You will spend the 48 hours after the test thinking you failed.
  4. Life is NOT over if you do not pass.
  5. Regardless of how long it takes you or how many attempts you can still reach your goals.
  6. Employers will NOT ask you how many questions it took you to pass.
  7. Failing once doesn’t mean you will fail twice . . . failing twice doesn’t mean you will fail three times (get the picture).
  8. Use your failure as an advantage  . . . you know what to expect.
  9. YOU are not a test result.
  10. The NCLEX® is a necessary evil . . . schools are not teaching right!

Let’s talk a bit more about some of these 10 tips . . . because no one else is . . . and so many nursing students are struggling.  I want to put an end to nursing students feeling so bad about themselves and tying their self-worth to a stupid exam.

NRSNG.com has created an app that makes NCLEX® prep fun and engaging . . . it’s called RN Crush!

Try RN Crush!

It is Impossible to Know Everything

The NCLEX® is essentially a test with an enormous bank of questions on 1,000,000,000,000 different variables.

Think about it.  

You are testing on 8 ambiguous categories covering birth to death and ANY possible disease, medication, procedure of complication that can occur during the life span.

You are taking an entirely unknown amount of questions for an unknown amount of time.

When it comes down to it you have no idea what you will actually be tested about and you can’t possibly remember every fact and figure you have been presented with during school.  I just opened my old MedSurg book . . . 1846 pages how in the world could I ever learn all that PLUS pharm, peds, ob, fundamentals, community health, mental health, and the ever important therapeutic communication?

Plus . . . get this!

The awesome thing about failing is that you get a Candidate Performace Report that outlines how you did on each section of the test.  Did you know that you NEVER get to know how you did on the test unless you fail?  I would kill to know how I did but this report is only available to those who do not pass.  Use this report to focus your studies for the second time around.

You ARE Going to Freak Out

When I was in nursing school I worked VERY hard and did well.  I studied daily for two years and practised NCLEX questions every single day.  I did well on predictor exams and was pretty confident going into the exam . . .

BUT . . . 

When the exam screen shut off . . . I had NO IDEA if I had passed or failed . . . I left the testing center and called my wife and said “I have NO idea if I passed or failed horribly”.  That’s really how the test works.  Until you have the final results, don’t stress over the outcome.  You can’t do anything at that point and no matter how you did you will still feel pretty confident you failed.

The test simply shuts off after it is satisfied with the results leaving you with nothing better to do but rush home and attempt the Pearson Vue trick and refresh your browser over and over for a few days.

Life is NOT Over

Sadly,  the emotional impact of failing the NCLEX-RN is usually devastating to the students self worth and confidence.  Here at NRSNG.com we get dozens of emails a day from nursing students, nurses, and nursing instructors.  Without fail EVERY day we get an email from a student who has just failed the NCLEX.

  • This doesn’t mean you aren’t smart
  • This doesn’t mean you won’t make an AMAZING nurse
  • This doesn’t mean you won’t pass next time
  • This doesn’t mean you are worthless

As a charge nurse on my unit I am responsible for 12-15 nurses during any given shift . . . Looking at the assignment board prior to the shift starting I assess whether or not we have a “good” staff or not based solely on the the following 5 criteria ALONE.

How to be a “GOOD Nurse”:

  • Do you know your shit (I mean crap)?
  • Do you care about your patients . . . honestly?
  • Are you hungry to learn more?
  • Do you recognize when you are over your head?
  • Do you ask for help when you ARE over your head?

Notice how I didn’t include on that list “passed the NCLEX® the first time in 75 questions”?

Closing Thoughts

While it is not an enjoyable experience, I like the concept of the NCLEX® and I think that every exam should be computer adaptive as it tests much closer to the skills and knowledge of the test taker.  I think the problem lies more in that schools love to talk about critical thinking but sadly have little idea on how to actually teach critical thinking.

Schools are pushed to improve first time pass rates without analyzing HOW or WHAT teachers are actually teaching . . . instead they throw out more and more practice exams, more hoops to jump through prior to letting students graduate, and further distance themselves from the student!

Struggling students are seen as a liability and removed from programs.  Why aren’t nursing schools evaluating and assisting struggling PROFESSORS?

With the cost of the test running more than $300 and the fact that you are unable to obtain employment without FIRST passing the exam the total cost can be THOUSANDS of dollar due to lost wages, testing fees, and other lost earnings and costs of not passing the NCLEX® this is a HUGE burden on the student . . . what are we doing to help these students?

NRSNG.com is committed to helping nursing students learn the information they need to know . . . we don’t believe in reading from powerpoint slides, we don’t believe that instructors should be allowed into classrooms if they don’t have the students best interest at heart, and we believe that nursing school and the NCLEX® don’t have to be so DAMN freaking hard!

The NCLEX® is not the end all be all in nursing!  It is an essential step to becoming a nurse . . . true . . . but learning HOW to be a nurse is more important . . . our goal is to give you those skills.

Try RN Crush!

What are your thoughts?  Do you have tips for other students?  Share them below.

 

Atemafac, J. (2014). Consequences for Nursing Graduates of Failing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Walden University ScholarWorks.

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Date Published - Jul 2, 2015
Date Modified - Apr 5, 2016

Jon Haws

Written by Jon Haws

Jon RN CCRN is a critical care nurse at a Level I Trauma center in Dallas, TX. His passions include learning about anatomy and physiology and teaching. When he isn't busting out content for NRSNG.com he loves spending time with his family.

2 Comments

  1. Nancy lombardi

    My daughter got a 75 when it closed she thinks she failed for sure. Did she

    Reply