Ann Blackford


College: Nursing

UK College of Nursing Board Exam Scores for RNs Higher Than National Average for Past Decade

Published: Oct 24, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 24, 2013) − While the national first-time pass rate for the board exam that enables a nurse to become a licensed registered nurse (RN) in their home state is 93.7 percent, University of Kentucky College of Nursing students have consistently maintained an average 97 percent first-time pass rate for the past 10 years.


The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) requires a candidate for licensure to pass an examination that measures the competencies needed to perform safely and effectively as a newly licensed registered nurse.


The National Council of State Boards of Nursing recognizes that the best way to guard the safety of the public is to ensure that nurses entering the workforce have the necessary knowledge and skills to practice. To meet that goal, the Council is devoted to developing a psychometrically sound and legally defensible nurse licensure examination consistent with current nursing practice.


"The UK College of Nursing has maintained a 97 percent first-time pass rate over the last decade," said Patricia Burkhart, associate dean of undergraduate studies and professor in the College of Nursing. "However, based on the difficulty level being increased to ensure patient safety, we are increasing student preparation for the NCLEX in an effort to maintain our status."


Jennifer Cowley, a registered nurse and senior lecturer at the College of Nursing, says that faculty work very closely with students starting in their first semester of their sophomore year regarding test-taking strategies for NCLEX success. Faculty members have administered standardized specialty exams for many years in every clinical course, referred to as “HESI tests.”


"We are looking closer than ever at the data that these exam results give us that might help us not only identify who is likely to achieve “NCLEX success” but also identify who is at risk for NCLEX failure," she said. "We work with students, helping them to identify their weak areas and strategize with them to improve future exam scores."


The clinical component throughout ther program is also key for helping students to think critically.  In their last semester, students are required to purchase adaptive testing software that allows them to practice literally thousands of NCLEX questions – and just like NCLEX, the level of difficulty of the questions is based on individual student response. In addition, in-class practice question time allows students to strategize about how to select the correct answer with faculty present to help facilitate their clinical reasoning.


Kara Lester, president of the December 2013 graduating class, said that she can see why the College of Nursing is such a highly regarded program because of the preparation she is receiving to take the board exam. At the beginning of her senior year, students were required to complete HESI remediation where they had to review content based on their scores from previous semesters. 


"Despite the many hours it took me to complete this assignment, it helped me review old concepts and gave me an idea of where I was in my preparation for the NCLEX," she said. "The program prepares you for the NCLEX using a combination of strategies."


The nursing tests throughout each semester are designed to develop critical thinking skills using application questions. Also, content-related HESI examinations are required after each semester that serve as a review and helps prepare for finals. More recently, the program has replaced all paper testing with computerized testing to simulate the NCLEX.


"As a senior having experienced the transition first-hand, I see the positive impact that this will make on my ability to mentally prepare for the NCLEX," Lester added.


In addition to this preparation, faculty encourages students to participate in an NCLEX test-prep course such as Hurst or Kaplan where content and test-taking strategies are reviewed.


"I feel confident preparing for the NCLEX knowing that I have access to so many resources and wonderful faculty to encourage me along the way," Lester said.  "UK’s College of Nursing has given me the skills and tools I need to not only pass the NCLEX but more importantly to become an excellent nurse."

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