Data Spotlight: An Assessment of First-Time NCLEX Test-Takers by Degree Type

In 2010, the Institute of Medicine called for at least 80% of registered nurses (RNs) in the U.S. to be baccalaureate prepared1. The latest data from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing indicates that 65.2% of the RN population is educated at the bachelor’s level or above.2 Figure 1 depicts a 10-year trend in the number of first-time NCLEX® test-takers for baccalaureate and associate degree nursing program graduates. Over the last 10 years, the number of associate degree prepared test-takers increased slightly by 4.5%, while the number of baccalaureate degree prepared test-takers increased by 50.8%. 
Figure 2 presents the NCLEX annual pass rates for first-time test-takers by degree type. The number of nurses who took the exam each year is provided above each data point in the chart, and the actual percent pass rates are provided in the data table. Baccalaureate program graduates have a higher overall annual pass rate as compared to associate degree nurses. The annual pass rates for both baccalaureate and associate degree graduates remained relatively consistent from 2017 to 2019. However, there has been a steady drop in overall pass rates since 2019. The good news is that the drop is not large, approximately 4 percentage points from 2020 to 2021 for both groups. This decline in pass rates may be related to the stress and fatigue associated with the pandemic as well as delays in testing times post-graduation. 

Figure 1: Number of First-Time NCLEX Test-Takers

Line chart of number of first-time NCLEX test-takers by Degree Type from 2012-2021.

Figure 2: NCLEX Annual Pass Rates

Line chart of NCLEX Annual Pass Rates for First-Time Test-Takers. Data is comparing pass rate between bachelor and associate degrees.

1Institute of Medicine (2011). The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

2National Council of State Boards of Nursing. (2021). The 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey. Journal of Nursing Regulation, Volume 12/Supplement, S1-S96. Retrieved from:  

2National Council of State Boards of Nursing. NCLEX Pass Rates. Available at: Accessed May 2022.