You've completed your nursing education but didn't pass the test that signifies you're ready to become a full-fledged nurse: The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). How do you bounce back after failing? Nurses who've been there, as well as experts, say it takes inspiration, dedication and diligence.
"Don't give up," advises Cheryl, a South Carolina RN who passed the NCLEX-RN in June 2005 on her second try. "You persisted until you graduated from nursing school, and you will also have to persist and apply yourself until you pass the state boards."
These tips will help you bounce back and recharge for your next try at the NCLEX:
Realize You're Not Alone
"It's not necessarily something nurses talk about, but you might be surprised by how many people have failed [the NCLEX] once or even twice and gotten their careers on track anyway," says Donna Cardillo, RN, a Sea Girt, New Jersey-based career coach and author of Your First Year as a Nurse. In fact, 12.6 percent of US-educated and 61.4 percent of internationally educated RN candidates failed the NCLEX-RN on their first attempt in 2010, according to statistics from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Also in 2010, about 13 percent of US-educated and 52 percent of internationally educated LPN/LVN candidates failed the NCLEX-PN on their first try.
Analyze Your Failure
Figuring out where you went wrong can help you avoid similar mistakes next time. Cheryl knew she was failing while at the computer taking the exam. "My stomach was in knots," she says. "I was miserable when I left."
Cheryl immediately recognized the cause of her difficulties: Because she had taken several years to complete her RN education while working as an LPN, she had learned some of the concepts she was expected to know long ago, and she didn't use them in her everyday practice.
Other reasons new graduates fail the NCLEX the first time include illness, lack of sleep, a family crisis, disorganized post-graduation study or being distracted in the test setting, according to Patricia S. Yoder-Wise, RN, EdD, a professor in the School of Nursing at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.
Overcome Stumbling Blocks
Once you've assessed why you failed, think about what you need to do differently. Studying with NCLEX books and enrolling in a review course can increase your confidence about passing the exam the next time, Yoder-Wise says. Sample tests available online or at the library can help you become familiar with the test format and questions. Previous nursing instructors also may be able to help you study or recommend study aids. Some nursing schools may even pay for a review course.
Cheryl signed up at a review center, where the staff custom-designed a review plan based on the strengths and weaknesses her NCLEX results revealed. Cheryl committed herself to several months of on-site video instruction at the review center. She also studied independently every day. Cheryl found the review course's test-taking strategies particularly helpful. "It gave me my confidence back," she says. "I realized I really did know this stuff."
Overcoming an initial failure on the NCLEX is a testament to your character and the kind of nurse you'll be, says Rachael, another South Carolina RN. She passed the NCLEX-RN on her second attempt in 1988, and the fact that she took it twice has not adversely affected her nursing career. "You can't get stuck in depression or self-doubt if you fail the first time," Rachael says. "If you're going to wallow in this, then you would break down the first time a patient dies, and you wouldn't make it as a nurse anyway."
While failing the NCLEX embarrassed her at first, Rachael has no regrets, saying it means she can better relate to the struggling students she has trained and oriented through the years. She could even sympathize with a brother-in-law who failed the bar exam on his way to becoming a lawyer. "I can relate to some things that other people can't relate to," Rachael says.