More BSNs are Taking and Passing the National Licensure Exam on Their First Attempt

Graduates of nursing programs must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) before they can practice. Analyses of the number of nursing graduates who take this exam and pass it on the first try are good indicators of the nursing pipeline and help to estimate the future supply of nurses.

HealthAffairs.org analyzed data from 2001 through 2014 to identify trends in the enrollment and pass rates on the NCLEX. One significant trend is that the number of nurses taking the exam for the first time has dramatically increased since 2001.

In 2014, there were 157,879 people who took the NCLEX exam for the first time. This represents an increase of 1.8% between 2013 and 2014 and 130% from 2001 to 2014. Almost all of the people that took the NCLEX passed it—only 2.1% of those who took the exam in 2014 did not pass on their first attempt.

Another trend is the increase in the number of BSN graduates taking the exam. In 2014, there were 5.1% more of these graduates taking the exam than in 2013. The increase between 2001 and 2014 was a whopping 177%.

In contrast, the number of nurses with associate’s degrees who took the exam slowed and decreased in 2014. This is the first drop in at least the past twelve years. Also, fewer of these AD nursing graduates passed the exam on the first try in 2013 and 2014 compared to previous years. Some of these people will pass on future tries, but this data suggests that the number of new nurses with associate’s degrees is leveling off as more and more opt for the BSN. This study also noted a significant decline in the number of diploma-prepared nurses taking the exam for the first time over the past five years.

Since 43.3% of the first time takers of the NCLEX were BSNs, this data provides further evidence of the sizable increase in the number of BSN-educated nurses. This is consistent with the goals of stakeholders in the healthcare field who tout the desirability of BSN-educated nurses due to their superior skills in patient care.


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