How COVID Affected NCLEX Scores

The NCLEX exam, or the National Council Licensure Examination is a standardized test that every state regulatory board uses to determine if a candidate meets eligibility requirements to become licensed as a nurse. Administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, there are two levels of NCLEX exams, and which test you take depends on the pre-licensure program from which you graduated.  Graduates of practical nursing programs sit for the NCLEX-PN. In several states, such as California, practical nursing programs are known as vocational programs. Those who have graduated from a pre-licensure program for registered nursing; whether an Associate Degree Program in a community college, a Baccalaureate Degree Program in a 4-year college or university, or a Master’s Entry Level Program; are eligible to sit for the NCLEX-RN. 

As to be expected, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an effect both on how well potential nurses were able to prepare for the NCLEX and the outcomes of the exam. The challenges to complete one’s last semester of nursing courses and comprehensive exit exams in a learning environment that quickly changed to virtual, select a review course and implement a study plan, schedule taking the NCLEX with changes in availability of testing sites, and meet ongoing employment and personal responsibilities were exacerbated by the onset of the pandemic in March 2020.

Illinois NCLEX Scores

The results of Illinois’s Nursing Program NCLEX scores can be found here. NCLEX results are reported by program and exam type by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR). The NCLEX score averages changed in the following ways in Illinois: 

  • Master’s Entry Level Programs, MSN: the NCLEX-RN pass percentage average declined by 3.3 percent from 2019 to 2020.
  • Baccalaureate Degree Programs, BSN: the NCLEX-RN pass percentage average declined by 0.45 percent from 2019 to 2020.
  • Associate Degree Nursing Programs, AAS in Nursing: the NCLEX-RN pass percentage average declined by 4.93 percent from 2019 to 2020.
  • Practical Nursing Programs, PN Certificate: the NCLEX-PN pass percentage average declined by 2.23 percent from 2019 to 2020.

The nursing program NCLEX pass rate for first time test-takers required by the Illinois Nurse Practice Act is 75%. Program outcomes in Illinois in 2020 compared to 2019 were:

  • MSN Entry Level Programs: 100% of programs achieved an NCLEX-RN program pass rate of 75% or greater in 2019 and 2020.
  • BSN Programs: 94% of programs achieved an NCLEX-RN program pass rate of 75% or greater in 2019 and 90% did so in 2020.
  • AD Nursing Programs: 93% of programs achieved an NCLEX-RN program pass rate of 75% or greater in 2019 and 86% did so in 2020.
  • PN Programs: 87% of programs achieved an NCLEX-PN program pass rate of 75% or greater in 2019 and 84% did so in 2020.

Illinois NCLEX Score Analysis

As shown above, there was a drop in the percentage of nursing students who passed the NCLEX in all categories for 2020 as compared to 2019. This article from nurse.org provides some insight for the lower pass rates, including having student clinicals delayed or canceled. Beyond the changes made to many nursing programs as a result of COVID, the article also outlines some changes that were made to formatting and scheduling NCLEX. 

Apart from all nursing and NCLEX-related factors, the last factor to consider is that the COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful for many people. The high degree of external stress is another potential contributing cause. 

Confidence in our Illinois Colleges and Universities

Despite the drop in the percentage of students who passed, IACN has confidence in both our nursing students and in our colleges. A significant piece of data is that the pass rate of Illinois candidates who sit for the NCLEX is consistently higher than the national average. In 2020, 88% of Illinois candidates passed the NCLEX-RN while 87% did so nationally. For the NCLEX-PN, 87% of Illinois candidates passed the NCLEX-PN while the national pass rate was 83%.

We have much to be proud of relative to the commitment of Illinois nursing graduates and programs. Illinois nursing faculty continue to promote strategic innovation and sensitivity to their students to facilitate success as graduates.  Learn more about how IACN institutions have adapted in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic here.