Failing A Nursing School Exam

August 16, 2020

Long time no talk! 

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Today we’ll be discussing a rather taboo subject, failing an exam.

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Raise your hand if you’ve failed a nursing school exam.


Raise your hand if you’re scared of failing a nursing school exam.


Welcome to the club! We have t shirts and fruit snacks! Welch’s fruit snacks to be specific.


Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s dive in.


At most nursing schools there is a set passing standard. In my own experience, it was 75% on exams and your final average. To further clarify, your test average had to be 75% before your professors factored in any other work for your final average. I’ve heard some schools say 70%, 78%, and even 80%.


While I was in nursing school there was no rounding. So this means if you get a 74.9% as your final average, you failed the course for the semester and have to repeat it the following year. 


One of the worst feelings I experienced while in school was going into a final exam sitting at a 74.8 in a class with only 3 exams including the final you’re about to take, knowing that with all your other assignments factored in you are sitting at an “A” average, and absolutely terrified if this final exam is about to make or break you.


Truthfully speaking I never dealt with test anxiety until I started nursing school, and let me tell you, it can be debilitating.


Correct me if I’m wrong but I feel like most people who are in nursing school or graduated from nursing school can say that they’ve failed an exam before. And if they haven’t, well gold stars for them.

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My fast advice and final thoughts:

  • Challenge exam questions within reason. What I mean by this is come with your receipts (said plainly – bring evidence to support your case) – this could be a PowerPoint slide from your professor or a specific page in your textbook. If you’re able to do this, you may be able to earn points back on an exam by getting the question thrown out. This should go without saying, but also be respectful when doing this. You attract bees with honey.
  • Attend and pay attention during exam reviews. Some of these questions or variations of them may show up on your cumulative final exam. This is free game I’m giving you right here.
  • Meet with your professor ASAP! If there isn’t an organized exam review for the whole cohort you can schedule a time to individually review your exam and get in-depth explanations on anything you missed. You can also use this time to ask for help in general. My favorite question to ask during office hours was “How do you recommend studying for your class?”
  • Invest in a comprehensive NCLEX book and do practice NCLEX questions as they relate to the content you are currently studying.
  • Go to tutoring sessions. I know this isn’t offered everywhere but if you have a center for nursing excellence at your college or university or if upperclassmen offer weekly tutoring at your school, take advantage of this!
  •  Find a study group. Not all study groups are good so maybe you have to start your own.  Always come prepared for the study group. Don’t come to the study group thinking that you’re just going to sit around, gossip, eat food, and have everyone teach you everything. It’s ok to come not knowing everything but still make an effort to review the material and come with questions. Study groups should be a mutual relationship.
  • Formulate a new study plan. If you’re not happy with your exam results, not even to say that you failed necessarily, you need to be doing something different. Maybe you need to stop studying in bed. Maybe you need to start studying on campus or at a coffee shop. Maybe you need to actually write out notes and have someone quiz you instead of only reading PowerPoints repeatedly.
  • Start studying early. I know it can get hard with all the assignments that are thrown in your direction but taking small steps every day towards your goal will ultimately help you. You may not be able to sit down and study for 6 hours each day for each class, but maybe you can take at least 1 hour and anything over that is a bonus. When I was studying I’d meet my minimum daily requirement but then I’d dedicate any extra hours studying for whatever exam I had in the coming week.
  •  I briefly mentioned this earlier but have people quiz you. This exposes what you do or don’t know. Memorization will only take you so far. I’ll admit, there is some stuff you just have to pump and dump but the overwhelming majority of information you need to take the time to develop a good understanding. The person that quizzes you doesn’t need to have any prior nursing knowledge. Just hand them the powerpoints or an exam blueprint and tell them to ask questions about the highlighted material. You can also ask your classmates to do this with you in person or on facetime because they know best how nursing school questions are worded.
  •  Use the Grades App. This app allows you to calculate the grades you need to make on each exam that semester in order to finish with the average you’d like. It gives you a good idea early on so you’re not constantly asking your professor to calculate what you need to finish with or even worse, you’re not blind-sided with a failing grade at the end of the semester. 



  Failing an exam is a devastating feeling but at some point, you have to pick yourself up and get back to work. Nursing school moves at such a rapid pace that you don’t have time to sit around crying and feeling sorry for yourself because you need to start studying for the next exam. After exams, I’d take the evening off, have a good meal, binge a few episodes of tv I missed out on and went to bed early. Sometimes I couldn’t do all of this, but I always took time to relax and decompress after an exam in an effort to reset in preparation for the next exam.


That’s all that I have for you guys today! Definitely reach out if you have any questions on this topic or if there’s something, you’d like me cover in an upcoming blog post!

As always, thank you so much for reading, and I’ll talk to you guys soon!

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