What to Do If You Fail the NCLEX and Signs to Look Out For

nursing student studying for NCLEX exam

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Preparing for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is stressful enough. But if you’ve already taken the exam, you know it’s a taxing experience.

With so much on the line in your nursing career, looking for signs you failed the NCLEX when you take it is understandable.

NCLEX failure is serious, and it’s not an easy experience to brush off. However, it’s important to remember that failing the NCLEX doesn’t mean you’re done with nursing — it’s just one extra step in becoming a nurse.

nursing student

It takes six weeks to receive official NCLEX results, but there are ways to find unofficial results of your exam.

Since the NCLEX is an adaptive test using Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT), you can possibly find out if you failed or passed within the first 75 questions (also called “items”).

But if you know you failed the exam, what happens next in your nursing journey?

What Happens If You Fail the NCLEX

If you failed the NCLEX already, you’re not alone. 

You get to try again, but you’ll have to wait 45 days from when your results were released before you can retake it. 

If your nursing regulatory body (NRB) participates in the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN)’s Quick Results Service, you can purchase “unofficial” results for eight dollars within two business days after the exam.

Otherwise, official results are only available through your NRB six weeks after taking the exam. 

Retaking the NCLEX can be expensive and time-consuming after so much studying, though. In the time between receiving the bad news and retaking the NCLEX, you can invest in a supplemental resource catered to passing the exam.

Can I Fail the NCLEX at 75 Questions?

To pass the NCLEX RN or PN, test takers must correctly answer at least 75 questions (the minimum amount). Unfortunately, that means you can also fail the exam within those 75 questions or items.

The NCLEX is an adaptive test, and the CAT system reassesses your proficiency every time you respond to a question based on your prior responses and its difficulty. The systems’ assessment of your skills gets increasingly accurate as you respond to each question.

If the system finds that your nursing knowledge isn’t up to par based on your answers, it will definitely fail you – even at 75 questions.

10 Signs You Failed the NCLEX

Some of these signs will be more obvious than others when you’re taking the NCLEX or waiting for your official pass or fail score:

  1. You were given questions at random difficulty. 

NCLEX questions are supposed to increase in difficulty as you go along. But if they range from very easy to extremely difficult in no particular order, it might indicate failure.

  1. The exam shuts off before completing the minimum required questions. 

You will automatically fail if you answer enough questions incorrectly within the minimum amount.

  1. You received a lot of easy questions on the exam. 

Question complexity and difficulty increases with the number of correct answers you give. That means incorrect answers will be followed by easy questions each time until you fail or get questions right.

  1. You run out of time before responding to the minimum required questions. 

If the time limit (five hours) for the test expires before it shuts off, it indicates that you answered too many questions incorrectly.

  1. You received a bad pop-up from the Pearson Vue NCLEX Trick. 

Some NCLEX takers use the Pearson Vue NCLEX Trick to help them pass the exam. Although it’s not a 100% guaranteed sign, some NCLEX takers claim to see a “bad pop-up” at the end that indicates failure: 

NCLEX bad pop up
NCLEX takers may see this pop-up at the end of the exam if they fail it.
  1. The Pearson Vue Quick Results Service says you failed. 

As mentioned above, you can purchase unofficial results of your NCLEX exam for a fee.

  1. Your name and license number don’t appear on the state board of nursing. 

You can check your state board of nursing to find your name and license number – but if it’s not there, that most likely means you failed the NCLEX. 

  1. You weren’t familiar with the exam’s questions. 

Even if it’s a result of a lack of studying, starting off with complex questions could indicate failure early in the exam. 

  1. You weren’t given any questions on advanced nursing skills. 

If the exam didn’t give you questions related to higher-level nursing skills, it could mean that you’re answering too many questions incorrectly.

  1. An NCLEX Candidate Performance Report was sent to you. 

The Candidate Performance Report (CPR) is an NCSBN official report detailing your performance in each test plan’s topic areas. If you receive it, that means you failed the exam. 

To prepare for retaking the exam, you can utilize the CPR as a reference.

What You Need to Know About Failing the NCLEX

These are common questions about failing the NCLEX – before taking it and after receiving official results.

What do I do if I failed the NCLEX?

First, take a deep breath and think about what went wrong. Was it an issue with timing or pacing? Did you feel like there was too much information on one question? Or Did you run out of time? 

Knowing what went wrong will help you prepare for your next attempt, and utilizing resources like the CPR can help immensely.

You could retake the exam as soon as possible (after a 45-day waiting period) until you get that passing score.

How common is it to fail the NCLEX?

In short, it’s fairly common – and of course, more common for those who don’t study or have the right materials.

According to the NCSBN’s pass rates, here are the failure rates for the NCLEX-RN:

  • Overall, an average of 31% of all NCLEX takers will fail (including first-timers and retakers).
  • For first-time test-takers, an average of 18% of them fail.
  • For retakers, an average of 58% of them fail.

And for the NCLEX-PN:

  • Overall, an average of 30% of all NCLEX takers will fail (including first-timers and retakers)
  • For first-time test-takers, an average of 18% of them fail.
  • For retakers, an average of 62% of them fail.

Find out more about passing the NCLEX-PN.

How many questions can you miss on the NCLEX to pass?

You can miss up to 75 questions before officially passing the NCLEX exam.

But it’s important to note that pass and fail scores are more based on the NCLEX’s confidence interval.

You technically pass when correctly answering enough questions to remain above the passing line with a 95% confidence interval. And conversely, you can fail the test if they do not remain above that 95% confidence pass line.

How many questions on the NCLEX do you need to get right to pass?

You must get at least 75 questions correct, or achieve a 95% confidence level, to pass the NCLEX. 

Can you work as a nurse if you fail the NCLEX?

All nurses have to pass the NCLEX to acquire a nursing license and practice. If you fail the exam, you should reschedule and restudy as soon as possible to get closer to working as a nurse.

In some states, you must inform your employer once you learn you didn’t pass the NCLEX (if you’re already employed).

How many times can you fail NCLEX?

Test takers must pass the NCLEX within three years after their nursing school graduation. 

Even though most applicants pass the test on their first attempt, those who don’t are allowed to retake it 45 days after their initial test date. And while you can take the NCLEX as many times as it takes to pass, you have up to eight tries per year.

Taking the NCLEX in 2023? Read about new changes coming to the exam.

Pass the NCLEX with Stress-Free Tools

Failing the NCLEX can happen to you, but it’s not the end of your nursing career. If you fail, the next steps are to reflect and prepare for a retry.

There are multiple signs to look out for when taking the NCLEX to see if you, (even while you’re taking it), but it’s best to wait for official results. The best way to pass (and know if you’re passing) is using a trusted comprehensive learning resource with the right questions, explanations, study guides, and more.

If it’s your first time failing the NCLEX, or fifth, you can harness the tools to pass the next try.

Start with the best resource for nursing postgrads today.