The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX)® has been the benchmark certification exam in registered and practical nursing for decades. NCLEX-RN® pass rates vary substantially by state and degree level assessed. Nationally, the 2019 pass rates averaged 72.8 percent, with an 83.51 percent pass rate for first-time test takers and a 38.38 percent pass rate for repeat test takers.
Jean Foret Giddens’ 2009 editorial in the Journal of Nursing Education criticizes first-time pass rates of NCLEX as indicators of program quality with several arguments. One of her main arguments is that the program focuses on maintaining NCLEX pass rates may be compounding disadvantages for students who perform well in clinical settings but have poor exam performance. To read more about the critiques of the NCLEX First-Time Pass Rate, click here.
In her 2014 Marquette University doctoral dissertation, Tammy L. Kasprovich studied the experiences of nurses who failed the NCLEX-RN on their first attempt, but later passed. Her 15 interviews with nurses who fit this educational profile suggest that a range of non-academic factors led these students to fail on their first attempt. Some examples being external pressure before the exam and internal pressure during the exam. In addition to the impacts that first-time pass rates exert on
program design and student body composition, Taylor, Loftin, and Reyes note three institutional NCLEX strategies with particularly negative consequences for the nursing workforce. One of the negative consequences being that institutions are in danger of falling below the NCLEX first time pass rate threshold commonly reduce their cohort sizes and tighten admissions requirements despite the ongoing need for new RNs. To read more about the negative consequences of this standard, click here.
Research conducted by nurse educators over several decades suggests that an overemphasis on NCLEX-RN first-time pass rates may be harming curricular innovation and student diversity within programs and has the potential to limit enrollments and constrain the supply of RNs entering the workforce. While researchers cited in this brief uniformly support the use of the NCLEX-RN as a professional licensure exam, they argue that scores should be interpreted with caution, seen within the broader admissions and demographic contexts in which programs operate, and modified by other indicators of program graduates’ professional success beyond their initial attempt to pass the NCLEX.
To read the full report of the findings conducted by Hanover’s Research, click here.