The Next Gen NCLEX® Pass Rate: A First Look at the Numbers
Published on Sep 26, 2023. Updated on Oct 24, 2023.
April 2023 marked the launch of the Next Generation NCLEX® (NGN) exam, a significant update to the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) for nursing graduates. In today's Osmosis by Elsevier blog, we'll explore the fresh score averages and delve into key contributing factors.
The National Council Licensure Examination®, known as the NCLEX, is an exam nursing graduates have to take before obtaining their license that ensures they're prepared to provide safe and competent care to patients.
A major update to the NCLEX exam is the recent shift to the Next Generation NCLEX (NGN), released on April 1, 2023, for both Registered Nurse (RN) and Practical Nurse (PN) test-takers. This revision came after years of preparation by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), which develops and maintains the NCLEX.
The new exam was created to better measure test-takers clinical judgment and ability to make complex decisions. Since its release, many nursing students and faculty have been anxiously awaiting to see how the first round of test-takers performed, and the NCSBN recently published the results!
NCSBN displays pass rates in a percentage. The percentage represents the percentage of students who passed the exam from the total number of students who took the exam during that time frame. So, as an example, if a class of 100 students took a pharmacology exam and 90 of those students passed the exam, but 10 failed it, the pass rate for that exam would be 90%.
As shown in the table below, the April to June 2023 pass rate was 94.32% for the RN exam and 90.07% for the PN exam.
In comparing these results to previous years, the pass rate for RN and PN first-time test-takers is the highest it's been in several years! The pass rates for all test-takers, including repeat test-takers and internationally educated test-takers, have also increased.
What This Means
A shift in pass rates is exciting news for patients and health organizations, as a higher passing percentage equates to more RNs and PNs entering the workforce. That's especially important now due to the critical shortage of nurses!
So, what has contributed to the pass rate increase? Likely, there are multiple factors.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a dramatic impact on nursing education and NCLEX pass rates. Starting in early Spring 2020, nursing programs rapidly transitioned from primarily in-person instruction to fully remote learning, with many students removed from their clinical settings. At the same time, students faced even more challenges outside of school, like loss of employment and childcare, as well as illness and fear.
Though programs have mostly returned to a "new normal" with in-person or hybrid classes, the pandemic's impact on the NCLEX pass rates has persisted due to several years of nursing graduates having their education disrupted. In looking at the pass rate chart, there was a minor dip in 2020 but more significant drops in 2021 and 2022. Therefore, it's important to consider that the 2023 April-June pass rate may be artificially elevated as we come out of a pandemic-related decline.
NGN Questions and Scoring
Another factor to consider is the NGN question types and new scoring methods.
Each test-taker now gets three or more (depending on the length of their exam) case studies. Each case study contains six questions about Layer 3 of the Clinical Judgment Measurement Model (CJMM), and all six questions reference one case scenario. This new structure allows test-takers to think more like a nurse, connecting electronic health record information to patient symptoms and responding to changing clinical data.
Also new to the exam is how some test questions are scored, including "partial credit" scoring, where the test-taker earns some points even if they did not get the entire answer correct, like "select all that apply" (multiple response) questions.
Student and Faculty Preparation
Last but not least is the incredible work that both nursing instructors and students have done to prepare for the new NCLEX.
Many faculty have "flipped" or "scrambled" the classroom, bringing more opportunities for students to practice clinical judgment through active learning strategies like case studies, escape rooms, and simulations. They have also provided students with opportunities to practice the new NGN question styles through resources like Osmosis by Elsevier and HESI.
Nursing program graduates also deserve a huge amount of credit. In the months leading up to the new exam, students undoubtedly experienced nervousness and fear of the unknown and responded by thoroughly preparing for the exam.
For now, the extent to which these and other factors contributed to the increased pass rate is unknown. Future research will more accurately capture what leads to a higher success rate in this first cohort of NGN test-takers. It will be important to see if the high pass rates persist as future groups of students take the exam.
Of even greater significance, and what should be at the center of all nursing education decisions, is the impact on patients. While it's encouraging to see an increase in pass rates, which equates to more nurses entering the workforce, the hope is that the patients they treat experience better outcomes overall.
About the Author
Liz Lucas, EdD, RN, CNE, has been an RN since 2008 and has an EdD with Emphasis in Nursing and Health Professions Education. Liz's clinical background is in oncology, and she later transitioned into nursing academia, where she taught in a pre-licensure nursing program for several years. Liz feels passionate about building a strong nursing workforce through increasing education accessibility and believes in the role of technology in that pursuit. At Osmosis by Elsevier, Liz manages the nursing assessment and scripting teams. Liz currently lives near Baltimore, MD, with her husband, two sons, and their dog.
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