Matt Gade, Deseret News
PROVO — Matt Anderson has known he wanted to be a nurse since he was a child.
He was born with a congenital heart defect and always appreciated a good nurse on any of his trips to the hospital or annual cardiology visits.
He wanted to learn "to do the kind of things that people did for me when I was a kid," Anderson said.
"Nursing is an art. It's a science, but it is also an art," he said. "It's learning to care for an individual and to care for them objectively, not judging them for their life choices."
Now in his fourth year of nursing school at BYU, Anderson, 25, says the experience has been invaluable to him.
And while he already works with patients, Anderson has yet to take the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX, developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. He can't sit for the exam until after graduation in December, and he can't get a license to practice until he successfully passes the exam.
Luckily, however, being at BYU gives him some sort of advantage, as the school has the highest passing rate in the state and one of the best in the nation.
The nearly 96 percent passing rate has remained consistent at BYU, even though the board updates the test every three years, making content harder to predict and the up-to-six-hours-long test even more difficult to pass.
"No matter how much they've studied, no matter how much they know, it can find a question they don't know," said Renea Beckstrand, who teaches the NCLEX prep course at BYU.
Beckstrand said the computer testing method used for the examination has the ability to "learn" what each test-taker knows. It is ultimately looking for a 95 percent confidence level that each applicant will be a safe practitioner.
According to a summary of first-time candidates, BYU nursing grads pass at a rate of 16 percent above their peers within the state and 13 percent higher than the national average.
Nationally, more than 45,000 people sit for the exam each quarter, with an average rate of about 89 percent passing.
Beckstrand said BYU professors, and likely those at other schools, make it a point to be "tied in" and aware of the national standards, which increase in intensity each year.
"We tell students, 'You can't mess around with this,'" she said. "And most students will rise to the challenge. They have a healthy respect for it and are not too fearful."
The test offers a possibility of up to 265 of 3,500 available questions, but it can also figure a pass or failure after just 75 questions. No one gets the same test or length of test, and it turns off after it reaches that prediction of safety.
Applicants pay $200 to take the exam. It can be taken multiple times, but with a 45-day interval between each attempt. Some employers hire nurses on condition that they pass the test in a certain time frame, and others won't hire a nurse until they are fully licensed.
Jasmine Burson, 23, of Murray, recently graduated from the nursing program and passed the NCLEX in June. She now works as a nurse in the intensive care unit at Intermountain Medical Center, but she remembers feeling relieved when the test was over.
"I plan on keeping my license up to date so I never have to go through that experience again," Burson said. "The test covers everything you learn in four years of nursing school so you have to think back to all that."
If asked to take the test again today, Burson said she likely wouldn't be ready.
But, as Beckstrand said, students are sometimes too hard on themselves.
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