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If At First You Don't Succeed: Passing the NCLEX-RN The Second Time Around

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Every year between 10% and 18% of nursing school graduates are not successful at their first attempt at the NCLEX-RN. These students are understandably devastated. Read on to explore the reasons students are not initially successful at the NCLEX-RN and what strategies can help.

Specializes in Med/surg with Neuro/cardiac focus. Has 11 years experience.

If at First You Don't Succeed with NCLEX - Don't Give Up

If At First You Don't Succeed: Passing the NCLEX-RN The Second Time Around

After the pinning ceremonies are done and the diplomas are handed out many nursing students feel that their lives as Registered Nurses (RN’s) have begun. Then the reality of needing to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) sets in. Statistics show that between 10%-18% of students do not pass the NCLEX-RN on their first attempt (Registered Nurses' Experiences of Passing the NCLEX-RN After More Than One Attempt | Journal of Nursing Education (healio.com). A failed attempt at the NCLEX-RN is a devastating blow to many. Rhoda Sommer, MSN-ED, owner of One on One NCLEX Tutor and coauthor of the book NCLEX-RN for Dummies, is all too familiar with that devastation.

The Shame Associated with Being Unsuccessful

Sommer, an RN who tutors students after a failed attempt (or two) at the NCLEX-RN, says counseling students who are heartbroken is a big part of her job. “A person’s self-worth drops like crazy, and in the first session with a student, all they do is cry,” Sommer says. According to Sommer anxiety is common, and a person needs to grieve before they are ready to begin to study to retake the NCLEX-RN. According to Dr. Tammy Kasprovich in a 2017 study of students who failed their first attempt at the NCLEX-RN, a person’s feelings of depression lasted anywhere from a few days to a few months. That study also found that it is important for students to change their negative self-talk if they are to ultimately succeed at the NCLEX-RN. Rhoda Sommer says she finds celebration of small successes is an important part of her work with students. Sommer says she celebrates each benchmark a person passes.

According to Kasprovich, some students find the support of close friends and family important when preparing to take the all-important exam a second time, but Sommer says she has seen the pressure family and friends can add also. “It’s hard when a spouse or parent is saying ‘You can’t do this’ when {a student} knows they need to do this.” Sommer says.

Pressure All Around

Students who fail their first attempt at the NCLEX-RN often report feeling both internal and external pressure before the initial attempt. One source of stress comes when a student already has a job as a graduate RN in a hospital. These graduate RNs have been working as Registered Nurses in the hospital and making Registered Nurse salaries when they are suddenly demoted to nurse tech after their unsuccessful NCLEX attempt. Some students, having secured positions as graduate nurses, have bought cars or rented expensive apartments before passing the NCLEX. To add insult to injury, neither hospitals nor nursing schools provide much support for graduate nurses who do not pass the NCLEX on the first attempt, and some would-be RN’s have reported being dismissed by once-friendly peers when they do not pass the test. In fact, hospitals often give a student a deadline by which they need to reattempt the NCLEX-RN, adding to the examinee’s stress level. If Sommer had one piece of advice to offer students preparing to take the NCLEX-RN, it is this: Pass the NCLEX-RN first, then get the job, the car and the apartment. The NCLEX-RN is stressful enough without the added pressure, she says.

Failing to Plan/Planning to Fail

Many people who fail the NCLEX on their first attempt are stunned and many have failed to adequately prepare for the exam the first time, Sommer says. Some think they can wing it and pass the NCLEX-RN.  Many students who come to her got A’s in nursing school and were a leader of study groups, says Sommer. She says many students just don’t study for the exam. Students sometimes believe they can rely on “tricks”-rumored strategies about what answer to choose if a test taker does not know the answer to a question.  For example, it is a rumor that if there is a question about diet and you don’t know the answer, select the answer that involves chicken. Such tactics are rarely good test-taking strategies.  Sommer also advises that planning a vacation just before the exam is not a good idea. Similarly, it’s best to reschedule the test if you are sick or there has been a major unforeseen life stress (such as a death in the family) just before the exam. Sommer says it is best to avoid anything that disconnects you from NCLEX material just before the test.

Winning Strategies for Success

Kasprovich found that strategies that help people pass the NCLEX-RN include looking for keywords, not reading too much into a question, and eliminating obviously wrong answers. In Kasprovich’s study, students who took and passed the NCLEX-RN a second time practiced NCLEX style questions to build their confidence. Rhoda Sommer employs the same strategy at her private business, One on One NCLEX Tutor. Sommer says students in her program are encouraged to take as many questions as they can per day, and that can be as many as 300 NCLEX-RN style questions.  

Conclusion

After nursing school graduation it can be devastating for individuals who do not pass the NCLEX RN the first time. It can seem that everyone around them is passing the test and moving on. There is still room for success, and the help is there for those who look for it. Rhoda Sommer helps people find success on the NCLEX-RN the second time around. She says she has found her dream job.

References

Kasprovich, T. P., & VandeVusse, L. P. (2018, April). Registered Nurses' experiences of passing the NCLEX-RN after more than one attempt. Journal of Nursing Education, 57(10), 590-597. doi:10.3928/014834-20180921-04

Sommer, R. (2021, September 24). MSN, ED, Nursing educator. (M. R. Ellen Cole, Interviewer)

Ellen Cole, MSN-RN is a Medical-Surgical Nurse in Portland, Oregon. Ms. Cole's views are her own. She does not represent any institution.

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