NCLEX Pass Rate: What it Means and Why It Matters

Ana-Marcela Lopez / Abound: Nursing »

Becoming a certified nurse is a gratifying moment for nursing students worldwide. However, getting to the start of your career isn’t always easy—especially when it comes to exam time.

The National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX, is a turning point in the lives of recently graduated nursing students; how they perform on this exam dictates their ability to work in the healthcare field. Because passing the exam is so vital, students applying to college nursing programs find a lot of value in knowing a school’s NCLEX pass rate

If you’re interested in nursing but concerned about passing the NCLEX when you graduate, this article is for you. We’ll cover everything to know about the NCLEX pass rate, including what it means, why it matters, and how the NCLEX pass rate can help you decide on the right program for your educational future. Let’s get started!

What Is the NCLEX?

The National Council Licensure Examination is an assessment used to decide whether a recently graduated nursing student is ready to practice in a healthcare setting as an official nurse. This exam tests graduates on everything they need to know about nursing and how to provide safe and effective patient care.

There are two types of NCLEX exams for different levels of education: the NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-PN.

  • The NCLEX-RN exam is for graduates from an Associate’s Degree in Nursing program or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. These individuals must pass the NCLEX-RN test to legally get their license and practice nursing. It is specifically designed for prospective registered nurses.
  • The NCLEX-PN exam is catered toward graduates from a licensed practical nursing (LPN) program or a licensed vocational nursing (LVN) program. This test is required to practice nursing legally as a practical nurse.

What Subjects Does the NCLEX Focus On?

The NCLEX focuses on various essential aspects of working as a professional nurse. Both the NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN cover four focus areas:

  1. How to provide a safe and effective environment for patient care
  2. Health promotion and maintenance practices
  3. Maintaining psychosocial integrity
  4. Maintaining physiological integrity

The safe and effective care section is divided into two categories depending on whether you’re taking the NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN test.

  • For the NCLEX-RN test, the safe and effective care section prioritizes care management, safety, and infection control.
  • For the NCLEX-PN test, the safe and effective care section focuses on coordinated care, safety, and infection control.

Additionally, both the RN and PN exams cover four subcategories for physiological integrity:

  • Reduction of risk potential
  • Basic care and comfort
  • Physiological adaptation
  • Pharmacological therapy (for NCLEX-PN) and pharmacological and parenteral therapies (for NCLEX-RN)

What Is the NCLEX Pass Rate?

The NCLEX pass rate describes the percentage of students who successfully pass their NCLEX exam after they’ve graduated from a nursing program. The NCLEX pass rate indicates the quality of a nursing program and is an essential indicator for prospective nursing students looking for a high-quality education.

Recent trends have found that the NCLEX pass rate is dropping, raising concerns about choosing a quality program for many prospective students. According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), the NCLEX pass rate for 2022 amounted to the following:

  • First-time US-educated test-takers fell to a 79.9% pass rate
  • Repeat US-educated test-takers had a 43.74% average pass rate
  • First-time international test-takers had a pass rate of 43.18%
  • Repeat international test-takers had a pass rate of 27.75%
  • All test-takers combined fell to a pass rate of 63.4%

How Is the NCLEX Exam Scored?

The NCLEX exam follows a specific scoring protocol that differs from a standard percentage-based grading system. Instead, the NCLEX exam is graded with a pass-fail system. The exam implements Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT) to personalize and assess individual exams.

This system means that whenever a question is answered, the computer will base its next question on whether the previous questions were answered correctly. Based on this, the computer selects questions that you have a 50% chance of getting correct.

During the exam, you answer questions until the system determines whether you’ve earned a passing or failing grade. This decision is made based on one of the following rules.

The 95% Confidence Interval Rule

In this system, the computer ends your test when it is 95% sure that you have passed or failed the exam.

The Maximum Length Exam Rule

This second system is used by some computers when the test-taker is very close to the passing standard. The computer provides items until you reach the maximum number of items. When this happens, the computer disregards the 95% interval rule and determines whether you’ve passed or failed based on your final ability estimate.

Run Out-of-Time Rule (R.O.O.T.)

This grading rule occurs when the candidate runs out of time before answering the maximum number of questions. When this happens, the computer cannot decide with 95% certainty whether the candidate passed. Instead it uses one of the following alternative rules:

  • If the candidate does not answer the minimum number of questions, the result will be a failed exam.
  • If the test-taker has answered the minimum number of questions, the exam is scored with the final ability estimate computed from the completed items.
  • If the final estimate is above the passing standard, the candidate passes; if below, the candidate fails.

Why Does the NCLEX Pass Rate Matter?

The NCLEX pass rate matters for many reasons that can influence your future education and may change the way you approach your decision for a nursing program. Below is a breakdown of the most important reasons that the NCLEX pass rate matters for prospective students. Schools can use myriad approaches to get students ready for the NCLEX. Featuring a first-time NCLEX pass rate of 98.73% in 2020, the University of the Incarnate Word Traditional Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program not only emphasizes the use of clinical experiences with patients of all ages, but also instills in its nursing students the need to adopt an attitude of service and empathy—a mindset crucial for such an emotionally demanding field.

The NCLEX Pass Rate Indicates a Program’s Quality

The NCLEX pass rate is the primary indicator of the quality of a nursing school program and is used to evaluate its effectiveness. It is a snapshot of how well the program has prepared its students for the licensing exam. Lauren Sciocchetti, Director of Undergraduate Admission at Neumann University, states, “it is important to compare the pass rate of all of the schools you are researching, especially since it is easily searchable and available online.” 

The higher the NCLEX pass rate, the better the program is considered to be. A school’s pass rate also indicates its commitment to providing quality education for nursing students.

The Pass Rate Influences Admissions and Progression

NCLEX pass rates also influence an institution’s admissions and progression policies. Schools with higher pass rates typically have stricter admission requirements, and a joint intervention strategy for schools with low pass rates is increasing admission requirements.

Low NCLEX pass rates may also lead to a nursing school changing its progression policies. Students may encounter more stringent expectations and must meet specific academic standards to continue the program.

The Pass Rate Helps You Decide the Best Program for Your Future

An essential part of understanding the NCLEX pass rate as a prospective student is that the pass rate can help you decide on the best program for your educational future. If you’re a prospective nursing student, finding a school that suits your educational needs and expectations is essential. Consider a school’s pass rate before deciding on whether it can adequately prepare you for your licensing exam.

What to Know About the NCLEX Exam

Here are a few commonly asked questions about the NCLEX for you to consider.

What Happens if I Fail the NCLEX?

Graduates who fail the NCLEX will receive the NCLEX Candidate Performance Report (CPR). This report will outline your areas of weakness identified in the exam to help you focus on what you missed the first time. You must wait a minimum of 45 days after your first attempt to retake the NCLEX.

How Many Questions Need to Be Answered Before I Pass?

Because the NCLEX is graded with a pass-fail system, test-takers don’t always complete the entire exam. However, individuals taking the exam need to answer a minimum of 60 questions to have their test graded.

The maximum number of questions is 130, with 15 pre-test questions that are not considered in the final score. Graduates are given five hours total to complete the NCLEX.

Is the NCLEX Hard to Pass?

The NCLEX is undoubtedly a stressful experience for prospective nurses. This additional stress can sometimes make things seem more overwhelming than they need to be. Before you get too bogged down by the idea of an important test that you’ll be taking in a few years, let a school’s NCLEX pass rate help you understand which schools will make sure you’re ready by exam time.

Your college education will help you understand what to anticipate from the test, so when the time comes, you can confidently approach the NCLEX. At the very least, you can rest assured knowing that you can always practice, study, and retake the exam if need be. “When researching schools, you may want to ask what support structures are in place to help with test prep for the NCLEX exam,” says Neumann’s Sciocchetti. This can help you decide the best path for you to be successful in passing the NCLEX.

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