I Didn't Pass, Should I Retake the NCLEX?
If you get your NCLEX results and it says you didn't pass, you may feel defeated and want to give up. That's completely normal, and you can take a few minutes to feel bad, be disappointed, and get mad. You may even start wondering, "should I even bother to retake the NCLEX?" If that's what you're asking yourself right now, then the next question should be, "did I graduate from my nursing program?" The answer to that is obviously "yes!" Yes, you did. You endured long hours of studying and clinicals and have learned so much! Don't let one test deter you from your goal of becoming a licensed nurse! So don't panic, and most importantly, DON'T GIVE UP!
No nursing student or graduate ever wants to think about not passing the NCLEX exam, but according to the NCSBN, almost 20% of first-time test takers in the U.S. don't pass on the first try. When internationally educated candidates are factored in, it's over 30% who don't pass the first time. You are not the first one to not pass, and you won't be the last candidate who doesn't pass! In fact, there's a pretty good chance that at least one of the nurses you worked with during your clinical rotations didn't pass on the first try. Not passing on the first attempt is not a sign of weakness, ignorance, or that you'll never be a licensed nurse. It simply means you need to try again.
Before you try again, there are a few things you need to do.
First, find out your state's rules on retesting from the board of nursing in the state you have applied for licensure. All states allow for retesting but the time between test dates may vary. The NCSBN will allow testing candidates to take the exam up to 8 times in a year, but you must wait at least 45 days between test dates. Go ahead and get your retake scheduled! You will need to pay for the test again, so just be prepared for that. But your application to your state board of nursing, and background checks, transcripts, etc., are all already taken care of, so there aren't as many steps to becoming eligible to test this time. Rescheduling at the same testing center might be helpful too since you will already be familiar with it, and familiarity can make you more comfortable.
2. Make a Plan
Once you know when you are scheduled for the retest, it's time to make a plan! Your Candidate Performance Report ("CPR" - isn't that an ironic abbreviation???) will come in handy for developing a plan. The CPR shows each content area of the exam and identifies the areas you were below the passing standard. These are the areas you will want to focus on. Also, try to think about the questions you had on your exam and see if you can remember the ones you struggled to answer. What was it about the questions that made them difficult? Write down those questions or whatever you can remember of them so you will remember areas to focus on. Then consider these questions and how you can address them for your retest:
- What kinds of questions did you have the hardest time with? Prioritization? Medications? Application?
- Did you have trouble with certain question formats?
- Were there any outside circumstances that may have interfered with your ability to give your best performance on the exam?
- Did you experience test anxiety?
- Did you get enough sleep and have something to eat before testing?
- Did you have to work the day or night before?
- Were you able to devote enough time for studying?
- Did you follow a study plan or take a review course?
3. Prepare for a Retake
Once you know your retake date, mark it on your calendar and set a schedule for studying. Write down your commitment for studying and post it where you can see it every day. Post it for your family to see as well if you need to! Your family needs to know your commitment to getting across the finish line and becoming a Registered Nurse, and it will be up to you to tell them how they can best support you.
When you took the NCLEX the first time, you were probably only a few weeks out of your nursing program. The information and clinical experiences were all still fresh because you were using it on a daily basis in school. But this time, you will have been out of school for at least a few months, maybe more. So, keeping the information fresh is going to be up to you. Once you know the content areas that you didn't meet the passing standard, go back to your textbooks and review those areas. Think about the questions you had on your first attempt and look up those topics to refresh or relearn what you need. Find YouTube videos that have simpler explanations of topics you have a hard time with. Answer practice questions every day - shoot for a minimum of 50 but 100 is ideal. Find a different way to study this time than the way you studied for your first attempt. If you tried studying alone last time, find someone to study with you. Seek out a buddy from school, find a nurse who graduated recently and review your areas of weakness with them, call one of your nursing instructors and ask for a pep talk and advice. Find an app for your phone that provides practice questions and answer questions when you are waiting for appointments or when you might normally play a game or get on social media. But seriously, the best advice I have is to find a tutor or a good review course! Like I said, you will be 3 or more months removed from nursing school by the time you test. A good NCLEX review course will get you back in the mindset, help you approach questions in the best way, and help you better understand the concepts you struggled with on your initial test. It may seem like a big price tag to pay for a review course, but it's money you are investing in your future! Paying for a review course could very well keep you from having to pay to retake the test again!
4. Believe in Yourself!
Most importantly, you need to believe in yourself! Before you walk into the testing center for your retest, get your mindset straightened out and be confident in your knowledge and abilities. It can be easy to get down if you don't pass the NCLEX. Allow yourself to feel the disappointment, anger, frustration, embarrassment, or whatever other feelings you have, and then turn that into determination! You have devoted years of your life to becoming a RN. You made it through your challenging nursing program. And you can pass the NCLEX!
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