Should I Take the NCLEX Again?

Some people may never have to consider retaking the NCLEX, but it’s a certainty that others will. The most important advice we can give to repeat test takers is: Don’t despair. There is hope. We can get you through the NCLEX-RN® exam.
RELATED: See what Kaplan educators are doing to help students achieve success when retaking the NCLEX. 

How to Interpret Unsuccessful Test Results

Most unsuccessful candidates on the NCLEX-RN® exam will usually say, “I almost passed.” Some of you did almost pass, and some of you weren’t very close. If you fail the exam, you will receive a diagnostic profile from NCSBN. In this profile, you will be told how many questions you answered on the exam. The more questions you answered, the closer you came to passing. The only way you will continue to get questions after you answer the first 75 is if you are answering questions close to the level of difficulty needed to pass the exam. If you are answering questions far above the level needed to pass or far below the level needed to pass, your exam will end at 75 questions.

The image to the right shows a representation of what happens when a candidate fails in 75 questions. This student does not come close to passing. In 75 questions, this student demonstrates an inability to consistently answer questions correctly at or above the level of difficulty needed to pass the exam. This usually indicates a lack of nursing knowledge, considerable difficulties with taking a standardized test, or a deficiency in critical thinking skills. 


The image to the left shows what happens when a candidate takes all 265 questions and fails. This candidate “almost passed.” The candidate answers question 264 and the computer does not make a determination when it selects the last question. If the last question is below the level of difficulty needed to pass, the candidate fails.
If the last question is above the level of difficulty needed to pass, the candidate passes. If you took a test longer than 75 questions and failed, you were probably familiar with most of the content you saw on the exam but you may have difficulty using critical thinking skills or taking standardized tests.

The information contained on the diagnostic profile helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses on this particular NCLEX-RN® exam. This knowledge will help you identify where to concentrate your study when you prepare to retake the NCLEX-RN® exam.

Should You Test Again?

Absolutely! You completed your nursing education to become an RN. The initial response of many unsuccessful candidates is to declare, “I’m never going back! That was the worst experience of my life! What do I do now?”
When you first received your results, you went through a period of grieving—the same stages that you learned about in nursing school. Three to four weeks later, you find that you want to begin preparing to retake the NCLEX-RN® exam.

How Should You Begin?

You should prepare in a different way this time. Whatever you did to prepare last time didn’t work well enough. The most common mistake that candidates who failed make is to assume that they did not study hard enough or learn enough content. For some of you, that’s true. But for the majority of you, memorizing more content does not mean more right answers. It could simply mean more frustration for you.
The first step in preparing for your next exam is to make a commitment that you will test again. Decide when you want to schedule your test and allow yourself enough time to pre- pare. Mark this test date on your calendar. You can do all of this before you send in your fees and receive your authorization to test. Remember, you cannot retake the NCLEX-RN® exam for 45 to 90 days, depending on your state board of nursing, so you may as well use this time wisely.
The next step is to figure out why you failed the NCLEX-RN® exam. Check off any reasons that pertain to you:

  • I didn’t know the nursing content.
  • I memorized facts without understanding the principles of client care.
  • I had unrealistic expectations about the NCLEX-RN® exam test questions.
  • I had difficulty correctly identifying the Reworded Question.
  • I had difficulty staying focused on the Reworded Question.
  • I found myself predicting answer choices.
  • I did not carefully consider each answer choice.
  • I am not good at choosing answers that require me to establish priorities of care.
  • I answered questions based on my real-world experiences.
  • I did not cope well with the computer-adaptive test experience.
  • I thought I would complete the exam in 75 questions.
  • When I got to question 200, I totally lost my concentration and just answered questions to get through the rest of the exam.

After determining why you failed, the next step is to establish a plan of action for your next test. Remember, you should prepare differently this time. Consider the following when setting up your new plan of study.

  • You’ve seen the test.

    You may wish that you didn’t have to walk back into the testing center again, but if you want to be a registered professional nurse, you must go back. This time you have an advantage over the first-time test taker: you’ve seen the test! You know exactly what you are preparing for, and there are no unknowns. The computer will remember what questions you took before, and you will not be given any of the same questions. However, the content of the question, the style of the question, and the kinds of answer choices will not change. You will not be surprised this time.

  • Study both content and test questions.

    By the time you retest, you will be out of nursing school for 6 months or longer. Remember that old saying, “What you are not learning, you are forgetting”? Because this is a content-based test about safe and effective nursing care, you must remember all you can about nursing theory in order to select correct answers. You must study content that is integrated and organized like the NCLEX-RN® exam.
    You must also master exam-style test questions. It is essential that you be able to correctly identify what each question is asking. You will not predict answers. You will think about each and every answer choice to decide if it answers the reworded question. In order to master test questions, you must practice answering them. We recommend that you answer hundreds of exam-style test questions, especially at the application level of difficulty.

  • Know all of the words and their meanings.

    Some students who have to learn a great deal of material in a short period of time have trouble learning the extensive vocabulary of the discipline. For example, difficulty with terminology is a problem for many good students who study history. They enjoy the concepts but find it hard to memorize all of the names and dates to allow them to do well on history tests. If you have trouble memorizing terms, you may find it useful to review a list of the terminology that you must know to pass the NCLEX-RN® exam. There is a list of those words at the end of this book.

  • Practice test-taking strategies.

    There is no substitute for mastering the nursing content. This knowledge, combined with test-taking strategies, will help you to select a greater number of correct answers. For many students, the strategies mean the difference between a passing test and a failing test. Using strategies effectively can also determine whether you take a short test (75 questions) or a longer test (up to 265 questions).

Optimize your next testing experience

Choose a familiar testing site.

Select the time of day that you test your best. (Are you a morning person or an afternoon person?)

Accept the earplugs when offered.

Take a snack and a drink for your break.

Take a break if you become distracted or fatigued during the test.

Contact the proctors at the test site if something bothers you during the test.

Plan on testing for six hours. Then, if you get out early, it’s a pleasant surprise.

Say to yourself every day, “I will pass the NCLEX-RN® exam.”