Updated: You Need to Repeat a Nursing Exam – Now What?

By Brad Cringle, Academic Advisor; Maureen Straight, Faculty Program Director, Associate Degree in Nursing program; Joanne Bonesteel, Faculty Program Director, Associate Degree in Nursing program; and Diane Wild Smith, Senior Academic Advisor

You have received your Nursing exam score report and it is not a passing grade. Now what?  Take a deep breath and focus on your goal.  You can do this with the right preparation.

Before you reschedule to take this exam again, reflect on how you prepared for this one. Ask yourself a few questions:  Did you have all of the required texts? Did you get your examination study information from an Excelsior College content guide?  Did you take advantage of all of the available resources, including many online resources which are included with the textbooks? Did you talk to your advisor or schedule a faculty phone call? Did your study habits include more than just reading?  Was it the content of the exam that was the issue or was it your test taking skills? Did you get your examination study information from the Excelsior College content guide?

Brad Cringle Academic Advisor School of Nursing
Brad Cringle
Academic Advisor
School of Nursing

Nursing advisors and faculty have put together a list of resources to help you be successful on your next attempt.  After you review these tips we hope that you will contact your advisor and discuss any and all of the suggestions on your study plan.  You can reach your advisor by calling 1-888-647-2388.

Start with the basics.

    • First, download the free Excelsior College content guide from the link below. If you already have the content guide, check to be sure it is the latest one by comparing its cover with the publication date of the most current copy on the website. Edits are sometimes made to these guides throughout the year to ensure currency of the exam content.  Review the examination content guide (study outline) to find out where you may be missing information. You can download the free exam content guide from this site: excelsior.edu/contentguides
  • Please make sure that you are using ALL of the required books listed in the content guide. Be sure to look carefully at each and every item listed under the major topics. All of the questions on the examinations can be referenced to the material from the required textbooks.  *See the Thrifty tip at the end of this article for further information on textbooks.
  • It is important to set aside designated study time. You can expect to spend a minimum of 135 hours to study and prepare for each of the three credit nursing theory exams. Please visit this site for a sample study plan: https://www.excelsior.edu/web/student-online-success-guide/what-is-a-study-plan
  • Since the Transition to the Professional Nurse Role exam is unique in its format, a video tutorial for how to use this particular content guide was created.  You will find the link listed next to the Transition to the Professional Nurse Role content guide on the website.  It is strongly recommended that you view it prior to your study for this exam: www.excelsior.edu/exams/transition-to-the-professional-nurse-role

Then get specific about the exam and how you want to approach it.

Diane Wild Smith, Senior Academic Advisor, School of Nursing
Diane Wild Smith, Senior Academic Advisor, School of Nursing

Consider these strategies for planning your study:

  • Compare the weak areas (below 70%) identified on the back of your last score report(s) to the information in the examination content guide. Study and learn this information from the required textbook(s) that are listed in our examination content guide.
  • Once you have identified the missing information from your initial exam studies, review the readings and compile a list of content questions that you may have. Make a note of the content areas that are difficult for you and then complete the reading assignments that correspond with these topics in order to learn and study this material.
  • Schedule a thirty-minute telephone appointment to speak with nursing faculty.  Please contact a nursing advisor to schedule a thirty-minute appointment with faculty after you have completed the steps above.  During the phone appointment with nursing faculty you can discuss questions you have from the assigned readings as well as the content areas that are difficult for you.  Please notes that the appointments are scheduled ten-to-fourteen days in advance.  However, you can make two separate telephone appointments, one per week, at the time of your call.
  • ON THE OTHER HAND, if you prefer, join a live online chat session with a nursing faculty member. You’ll find instructions for locating the Chat Schedule and Participating in a Live Chat session listed below:
    • Click on the Resources tab at the top of your My Excelsior home page
    • In the My Excelsior Community box click on the link, “Find them in My Excelsior Community”
    • Click on “Chat Rooms, Transcripts & Schedule” (on left)
      Review the Chat Schedule and date and time for an upcoming Nursing Theory Exam Chat.
    • On the date/time of the live Chat session follow the three steps listed above and then click on the link “Go to the Facilitated Chat Room” under the Chat Schedule.
    • *If you encounter any difficulties with the Chats, you can send an email to learn@excelsior.edu

Nursing Theory Conference Examination Series (NTCX)  If you feel that you need more instructional support, you may want to consider participating in a newly designed online conference that will facilitate your preparation for each examination. The Nursing Theory Conference Examination Series (NTCX) will begin in the fall 2015 trimester (starting 8/24/2015) with Transition to the Professional Nurse Role, Reproductive Health and Nursing Care Across the Lifespan 3. The remaining five will be introduced in early spring, 2016.  To learn more about the NTCXs, please visit the site listed below and click on NTCX tab.


Maureen Straight, Nurse Faculty, AD Nursing Program
Maureen Straight, Faculty Program Director, School of Nursing

After you have prepared for your exam you may want a “practice run”:

  • Register for the online practice exam after registering for the actual exam. The online practice exam contains two tests (forms A and B) with 100 questions on each test. You can review the tests (select the form you want to review) to see the questions you answered incorrectly and the rationale. This information should help you to focus your studies and assess your readiness to take and pass the actual exam on your next attempt. For more information, after logging into your MyExcelsior account, click on the Register tab at the top. Then, click on the link “Practice Exam Registration (all others)” in the Exam Registration box. We recommend that students wait until they are scoring in the 80’s before taking the actual examinations.

Test Taking Skills

  • After you take the practice exam, you may want to look at your test taking skills in those exams. This will allow you to change behaviors that may not be helpful when taking the test. This may be the whole key to your success now and in the future. Remember test taking is something that you will need to have great skills in, as you will be taking tests throughout your nursing program and the NCLEX exam for your license.
    • Consider: Do you change your answers? Do you miss key words? Do you know the nursing process? Do you infer information about the question from standards other than the text? Do you rush through the exam because you are worried about time?
  • The following book is one that supports the analysis and the practice of great test taking skills.  You may want to purchase* it. Test Success: Test-Taking Techniques for Beginning Nursing Students 6th edition (2012) by Patricia Nugent, ISBN# 978-0-8036-2818-2.
  • An important strategy for choosing the correct answer when you take the actual test lies in knowing the nursing process. After you have narrowed the answers down to two possible answers, go back to the question and examine it carefully to see what part of the nursing process the question is asking you to perform. The steps in the nursing process are:
    • Assessment
    • Diagnosis
    • Outcome Identification and Planning
    • Implementation
    • Evaluation

By identifying what part of the nursing process the question is asking you to perform, you will notice that there is only one correct answer.

Joanne Bonesteel, Faculty Program Director, School of Nursing
Joanne Bonesteel, Faculty Program Director, School of Nursing

If you are finding the questions that ask you to “select all that apply” to be challenging you can obtain additional practice with these type of questions using the following resources:

1.”Test Success: Test-Taking Techniques for Beginning Nursing Students” by Patricia M. Nugent and Barbara A. Vitale.

2. The following book will give you a chance to practice with “select all that apply” questions.   Davis’s NCLEX-RN Success with CD 3rd edition (2012) by Sally Lagerquist, ISBN# 978-0-8036-2164-0.

  • If you are unfamiliar with the nursing process as a problem solving method, go through the free Critical Thinking and Nursing Process tutorial. You can access this from your My Home page on your My Excelsior account – just click on “Critical Thinking and Nursing Process tutorial” which is located in the box that is entitled “My Online Courses, Practice Exams & Learning Aids”.

* Thrifty tip: You have the option of purchasing the textbooks and in select cases obtaining a digital rental by visiting the Excelsior College bookstore: www.excelsior.edu/bookstore . Another option is to visit the Excelsior College Library for information on eBooks and books: www.excelsior.edu/library. On the Library home page click on the link for eBooks + Books under Find It.  Lastly, if you’d like to purchase an eBook (F.A. Davis calls them Davis Digital or DDV) directly from F.A.Davis you’ll always receive a 20% discount and free shipping. The promo code is YWZMZBYS and their website is: www.fadavis.com