Today in the chart

When a Friend or Co-worker Fails NCLEX®

By sharing these tips, you can provide tools for navigating the challenge of NCLEX® retest success.

Not passing NCLEX® is an experience filled with frustration, self-doubt, and uncertainty about the future. But here’s the truth: failing NCLEX® doesn’t define anyone’s nursing journey. It is a setback that does not have to be a roadblock. The crooked road of repeating NCLEX® may lead to becoming a better nurse.

Despite improvements in pass rates since the April 2023 launch of Next Generation NCLEX®, roughly 10% of test-takers don’t pass on their first attempt. Because most people who fail NCLEX® approach their retest using the same preparation strategies, repeat pass rates are low; in fact, less than 50% of repeat test-takers are successful.

If you know someone who has found themselves struggling to pass NCLEX®, you can help. Your support, guidance, and encouragement can lift their despair. By sharing these tips, you can provide tools for navigating this challenge of NCLEX® retest success.  

Be Kind to Yourself

Not passing NCLEX® is devastating. This setback doesn’t define your future as a nurse. Practice self-care and take time to decompress. The greatest kindness you can give yourself is a positive mindset. Remind yourself of these important things:

  • Staying positive will help you learn and succeed.
  • You are not starting from scratch.
  • You can work out what went wrong and apply that to prepare for your next attempt.
  • You can be successful on your next attempt.

Think About Thinking

NCLEX® success is more than memorizing content. Focus on applying critical thinking as the foundation for your retest preparation. Critical thinking hinges on understanding “why, “linking that understanding to previous learning, and applying it to nursing practice (clinical decision-making and clinical judgment). This is what every NCLEX® question links to application to a clinical scenario.

Use critical thinking to:

  • Decipher what went wrong.
  • Understand the content in question rationales.
  • Monitor progress for retest readiness.

Adopt Lifestyle Practices that Support Thinking and Learning

Now is the time to take seriously the things that will improve your ability to think, focus, learn, remember, and retrieve learned content to apply to questions.

  • Get enough sleep (eight hours a night is the goal!)
  • Eat a healthy diet
    • Limit processed foods, sugary foods, caffeine, and alcohol.
    • Include healthy brain foods like fish, beans, nuts, and greens.
  • Get physical activity.
  • Give your brain rest using a practice that works for you; meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and journaling are some examples.

Understand What Went Wrong

When did the exam shut off?

  • 85 questions - ending with 85 questions suggests knowledge gaps; missing passing level questions throughout those 85 questions.
  • 150 questions - ending with 150 questions suggests strategy errors; above passing level and then dropping below either due to minor knowledge gaps or strategy errors (loss of focus, misreading questions, missing keywords.)
  • Somewhere in between - the longer the attempt, the more likely minor knowledge gaps, loss of focus, or strategy errors contributed to the result.

What does the Candidate Performance Report (CPR) reveal?

  • Near or above passing in most categories suggests minor knowledge gaps or strategy errors.
  • Below passing in most categories suggests knowledge gaps.

Commit to a Study Plan Based on Your Needs

Creating a study plan and sticking to it will boost positive thinking and keep you on track for success. Identify needs based on what the test analysis revealed.

Knowledge Gaps

Addressing knowledge gaps is time-consuming and requires committed, focused time segments.

Practicing questions and reading rationale is a passive approach to learning that will not address knowledge gaps. Carve out uninterrupted study time to focus on learning and understanding content. When addressing knowledge gaps

  • Handwritten study notes - this boosts learning and memory.
  • Quiz yourself on study notes to reinforce the learning.
  • Continue practice tests and watch scores increase as knowledge gaps are addressed.
  • Don’t rely on luck. The NCLEX® computerized format will find your weak areas. It’s not like playing the lottery. You have to know and understand NCLEX® passing level content.

Strategy Errors

Strategy errors contribute to missed questions despite knowing and understanding the question content. These can be related to misreading questions, missing keywords, rushing through questions, or losing focus during testing.

  • Read each question carefully, identify keywords, and read every response to the question.
  • Improve your focus. some text
    • Set aside longer periods for practice tests.
    • Take all practice tests without interruptions.
    • Develop lifestyle habits to improve focus (i.e., stop the scroll!)

Test Anxiety

Nearly everyone who fails NCLEX® reports test anxiety, which is now ramped up with the stakes being higher for passing on the next attempt. Managing test anxiety happens before test day.

  • Practice relaxation strategies that quiet your mind.
  • Address negative thinking, which contributes to anxiety, by embracing a positive thinking mindset.
  • Gain reassurance through progressive improvement in practice test scores.

Use a Reliable Prep Resource for Question Practice

Pick one good NCLEX® prep resource, use it, and trust it. There is no value, only confusion, in using multiple resources. If practice test scores are not improving, use critical thinking to identify problem areas. Review every question on every practice test. Are knowledge gaps continuing to be a problem? If so, revisit your strategy for learning and understanding content.

Use the NCLEX® Prep Resource to Determine Your Readiness

Reviewing a few questions here and there will not support learning and understanding.

Take every practice test as if it were NCLEX®. Know the benchmark for product readiness.

Review your overall results in each NCLEX® Client Needs Category to ensure you are above the benchmark for every Category. If a Category is not at the passing level, create practice tests composed of questions only in that Category.

Schedule NCLEX® retest when practice test scores consistently exceed every Client Needs Category benchmark.

Use Reliable Resources for Help

What worked for one person might not work for another. People will say, “I used……” and offer advice. Be cautious. Use critical thinking to examine your needs and trust yourself. You made it through nursing school; you know how to think.  

Avoid doing the same thing and hoping for a different outcome. Finding an expert who can help you may be the best money you spend. A tutor may be able to help you understand the content, but an NCLEX® coach can help you decipher what went wrong and create a plan for success.

I have been coaching for NCLEX® success for over a decade and have created a method for identifying and fixing what went wrong. Check out my book, Overcoming NCLEX Failure: A Guide to Retest Success, or visit my website to set up a consultation for coaching.

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