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Dealing with Failing the NCLEX

Updated on December 6, 2012

Dealing with Failing the NCLEX

You got admitted into nursing school. You completed all of your quizzes, unit tests, and final exams. You completed all of your clinical assignments. You graduated and received your diploma or degree. You sat through several hours of grueling NCLEX questions and waited in fear by your mailbox or e-mail for the results only to find out…you failed.

Lots of smart students fail the NCLEX every year. It is not a test of intelligence. It is not a test of who will be the best nurse. It is just…a test. The important thing to remember is that the test, like most other tests in life, can be taken more than once. Most can take the NCLEX again about three months after failing it. Is it embarrassing to tell your friends and family that you failed? Yes. Is it embarrassing to tell your employer or prospective employer you failed? Sure. Does it feel like you got punched in the stomach when you failed? Absolutely. Just remember to keep the big picture in mind, though. You may have lost a single battle, but you will win the war. You will pass. I have known accomplished LVNs, LPNs, and RNs who have failed their respective exams 4, 5 or even 6 times. They bounce back, and become MSNs, FNPs, midwives, military nurses, nurse managers, directors of nursing, and even nursing instructors at major colleges and universities.

Stages of Grief after failing the NCLEX

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross once stated that as humans, we go through five stages of grieving including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance (a good mnemonic to remember this is “DABDA,” and is also tested on the NCLEX quite often).


When one first fails the NCLEX, they may feel that there must have been some sort of mistake. I have heard of students wanting to call the board or the Pearson VUE center to make sure that the result is correct. Almost always the results are, unfortunately in these cases, correct. Many leave the exam thinking they passed and it comes as a shock when the fail (the opposite can, and often does happen).


Many students feel angry after finding out that they failed the NCLEX. Many nursing students from vocational programs spend a whole year of intense five-day preparations for the NCLEX, while associate’s degree nurses spend two years plus prerequisites, and bachelor’s degree prepared nurses spend four long years preparing for the exam. Many nurses spend a lot of time earning their degrees, spending late nights up burning the midnight oil and juggling family and work responsibilities. Many nurses spend tens of thousands of dollars, perhaps some even more than six figures (if they attended a four-year private school) on their degree. Somehow, it just doesn’t seem fair. This can understandably cause anger in a nurse.


A lot of nurses think that maybe if they just go to bed and sleep it off, or if they hope or pray really hard that the result will change. This is not likely. It is only during the later stages that a nurse can actually move forward in achieving their goal.


Many nurses understandably get depressed after finding out that they failed the NCLEX. Future plans are put on hold and self-expectations are lowered. I know many nurses who sat in their beds for days after passing the exams, or lost their appetite, or even lost their will to continue on to study. The nurse has to adjust their line of thinking so that they can eventually move to accept the result and move on to passing the exam the next time. The important thing to remember is that though the NCLEX exam is important it is just that…an exam. Failing it is not the end of the world. However, sometimes failure can be overwhelming. If you or someone you know is experiencing severe depression or wants to commit suicide, hurt themselves or others, please contact a mental health professional immediately to seek professional assistance. No nurse should have to go through that alone.


Once the nurse has gone through the earlier stages, they can move on to accept their failure. It is only after the nurse has truly accepted failure that they can move on to climb the NCLEX mountain once more and reach the top. Get motivated again. Pass the test.

If you failed the NCLEX, you can take it again, and again, and again, if necessary. The important thing to remember is to not give up. If you study, reassess your situation, and realize what you did wrong and what you can do to improve, you will pass the NCLEX and achieve your dream of being a nurse.



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    • NicktheNurse profile image

      NicktheNurse 5 years ago from Huntington Beach, CA

      Thanks Alocsin! There is hope for many who have failed. Thanks for reading!

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I imagine it can be quite a shock to fail the exam after you've studied for it forever. But as you say, fortunately you can just take it again. Voting this Up and Useful.