The BYU College of Nursing was concerned when the NCLEX certifications for registered nurses changed recently. Many around the state feared that scores would drop, but BYU nursing students successfully held their average well above the national and state averages.
Dr. Renea Beckstrand, a professor in the College of Nursing, teaches the NCLEX prep course for senior nursing students. This year, 95 percent of graduating nursing students are enrolled in her one-credit-hour elective course.
“The two main things I stress in the class are to be spiritually prepared and to call upon heaven for help,” Beckstrand stated.
According to Beckstrand and others, the exam is incredibly difficult. It is computer adaptive, meaning that as you answer questions correctly the following questions are more difficult, and vice versa. The exam ranges from 75 to 265 questions depending on the student’s performance.
“It is a huge test; students don’t know when it will shut off. It could be up to six hours and is very difficult to pass,” Beckstrand said.
Every three years, the exam changes to ensure that no duplicate tests are distributed.
“Six thousand first-time NCLEX passers in the nation are asked within the first year of their careers what skills are most valuable in the workplace; based on their input, the test is created,” Beckstrand said.
This year’s exam proved to be more intense. Before the exam changed, the Utah state average came in with a 90.4 percent passing rate. With the recent NCLEX exam change, the state average has fallen to an 80.4 percent passing rate. The national average also fell ten percent this year.
“It is pretty amazing that the nation and state dropped by ten percent; we held about 15 percent above our state’s performance,” Beckstrand said. “It shows our program is doing things well.”
The BYU nursing program is selective in its acceptance and is very prestigious.
“We obviously come with a great group of students to begin with at BYU; we are spoiled because we have the cream of the crop,” Beckstrand said.
Sarah Legget, a senior nursing student, hopes to pursue cardiac-surgical nursing when she graduates. She plans to take the NCLEX in February of next year and is enrolled in Beckstrand’s class.
“The class has been incredibly helpful. The instructor gives us helpful mnemonics, testing tips and review sheets that cover important topics from our past lectures,” Legget said.
Beckstrand aims to help her students prepare for the exam with feedback from previous students and personal spiritual preparedness.
“I could read you email after email of thank-you messages thanking the spiritual light over the course,” Becsktrand said. “Students will tell me they felt impressed to look up one disease the morning of the test and they had three questions on that topic (on the test).”
She mentioned that she opens the class by searching the scriptures, praying and asking Heavenly Father to help her and the students remember the content they need.
Jeff Peery, the public relations supervisor for the College of Nursing, mentioned that the class and program prepare students in multiple ways.
“They’re not just teaching material to pass the test; the students are learning theory, and it’s not just book smarts,” Peery said. “They know how to apply the material.”
A wide range of information is available to help students pass, and the faculty and staff work hard to stay completely in tune to what standards are.
“We are free to teach whatever we need to at BY;, we have complete academic freedom and can teach exactly what is needed. That success is evident in our pass rates,” Beckstrand said.
Legget mentioned she feels better prepared because of the prep course.
“The class has decreased my anxiety for taking the NCLEX; I am grateful I was able to take this class. It has given me the tools I need to succeed,” Legget said.
Beckstrand added that once students are past the test anxiety, most of them do great with the knowledge they have been given at BYU.
“When you think of four years of your life and how comprehensive the test is in all categories, everything you have learned is covered in some way,” Beckstrand said
Some nursing programs across the United States require students to take a NCLEX preparation course before they are able to graduate and sign up for the exam.
“At BYU the class is optional and you are free and clear to sign up for the exam after graduation requirements have been filled,” Beckstrand added.
Overall, the course has proved to be a positive tool in students’ learning.
“How many colleges of nursing across the nation can say, my college is helping me prepare for this test spiritually, not just intellectually and emotionally,” Beckstrand said. “That is pretty special.”