A woman wearing glasses is sitting at a desk with books, contemplating why she failed the HESI but successfully passed the NCLEX.

You Failed the HESI But Passed the NCLEX: Why?

The main reason why you may have failed the HESI exam but still passed the NCLEX is due to the differences in structure, content, and difficulty levels of the two exams. While the HESI exam is designed to assess your knowledge and readiness for the NCLEX, it is not an exact replica of the NCLEX.

In this post, we will dive deeper into the HESI and NCLEX exams, explore their differences, and discuss possible reasons for your results. We will also provide strategies for success in both exams and offer encouragement to help you stay motivated on your journey towards becoming a competent nurse.

Differences Between the HESI and NCLEX

Structure and Content

The HESI exam consists of multiple-choice questions that cover a wide range of nursing content areas, including medical-surgical, pediatrics, obstetrics, and psychiatric nursing. It also includes specialty areas such as community health, leadership, and pharmacology.

On the other hand, the NCLEX is a computerized adaptive test (CAT) that adjusts the difficulty level of the questions based on the candidate’s responses. It focuses on assessing the candidate’s ability to apply critical thinking and clinical judgment in various nursing situations.

Difficulty Levels

The HESI exam is generally considered to be more challenging than the NCLEX. It often includes complex questions that require in-depth knowledge and understanding of nursing concepts. Conversely, the NCLEX is designed to test the candidate’s ability to make safe and effective decisions in a clinical setting, focusing on prioritization, delegation, and patient safety.

Reasons for Failing the HESI but Passing the NCLEX

Different Test Formats

The difference in format between the HESI and NCLEX exams can contribute to varying performance outcomes. The HESI’s multiple-choice questions may not adequately reflect the complexity and critical thinking required in the NCLEX. This mismatch in format can lead to lower scores on the HESI but does not necessarily indicate a lack of competence for the NCLEX.

Varied Content Emphasis

While both exams cover a wide range of nursing content, the emphasis on specific topics may differ. The HESI exam may focus more on theoretical knowledge and content recall, while the NCLEX places greater emphasis on the application of knowledge in real-world nursing scenarios. Therefore, your strengths in one exam may not necessarily translate to success in the other.

Mindset and Test Anxiety

Psychological factors, such as test anxiety and mindset, can play a significant role in exam performance. The pressure and stress associated with the HESI exam, which is often taken during nursing school, can impact your ability to perform at your best. However, by the time you reach the NCLEX, you may have developed better coping mechanisms and a more confident mindset, allowing you to perform better despite the inherent stress of the exam.

Strategies for Success in Both Exams

Study Techniques

  • Develop a comprehensive study plan that covers all content areas tested in both exams.
  • Utilize a variety of study resources, including textbooks, review books, online practice questions, and study groups.
  • Focus on understanding concepts rather than memorizing information.
  • Practice answering different types of questions to improve critical thinking skills.

Test-Taking Strategies

  • Familiarize yourself with the format and structure of both exams.
  • Learn how to approach and dissect questions to identify key information.
  • Practice time management to ensure you have enough time to complete the exam.
  • Utilize strategies such as process of elimination and educated guessing when necessary.

Stress Management

  • Develop healthy coping mechanisms to manage test anxiety and stress.
  • Engage in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or exercise.
  • Take breaks during study sessions to avoid burnout.
  • Seek support from friends, family, or a therapist if needed.

Failing the HESI does not define your abilities as a nurse. Use this experience as an opportunity for growth and learning. Identify your weaknesses and develop a plan to improve in those areas. Remember that failure is a stepping stone to success.


Q: How can I balance studying for both the HESI and NCLEX exams simultaneously?
To balance studying for both exams, create a study schedule that allocates time for both exams. Focus on the areas of overlap in content and prioritize those topics. Utilize study resources that cater to both exams to maximize efficiency.

Q: Can I use my HESI study materials to prepare for the NCLEX?
Yes, while the exams are different, there is some overlap in content. Reviewing your HESI study materials can help reinforce foundational knowledge that is relevant to the NCLEX.

Q: What should I do if I perform poorly on practice exams for both the HESI and NCLEX?
Use poor performance on practice exams as an opportunity for improvement. Identify the areas where you struggled and focus on strengthening your knowledge in those areas. Seek additional resources or study groups for extra support.

Q: Should I retake the HESI if I failed but passed the NCLEX?
While retaking the HESI is not necessary if you have passed the NCLEX, it may be beneficial if you wish to strengthen your knowledge in specific content areas. Consider speaking with your nursing school advisor to determine if retaking the HESI is recommended.

Q: Can my performance on the HESI impact my chances of getting a job as a nurse?
Generally, employers focus more on your NCLEX performance rather than the HESI. The NCLEX is the standardized exam that demonstrates your competency as a nurse. However, it is always beneficial to showcase strong performance in all aspects of your nursing education.

Q: How can I stay motivated after failing the HESI?
Understand that failure is a part of the learning process. Reflect on what went wrong and use it as motivation to improve. Set small, achievable goals, celebrate your progress, and remind yourself of your ultimate goal: becoming a competent nurse.

Q: Can I use my NCLEX study resources to prepare for the HESI?
While there may be some overlap in content, it is recommended to use HESI-specific study resources to prepare for the HESI exam. These resources are tailored to the HESI format and content areas.

Q: How can I manage my time effectively while studying for both exams?
Prioritize your study time based on the weightage and content areas of each exam. Create a study schedule that allows you to cover both exams adequately. Utilize time management techniques such as setting achievable study goals and breaking your study sessions into manageable chunks.

Q: Can I retake the HESI after passing the NCLEX to improve my score?
Whether you can retake the HESI after passing the NCLEX depends on your nursing school’s policies. Some schools may allow retakes for personal growth and improvement purposes, while others may not. Check with your nursing school advisor for specific guidelines.

Q: How can I overcome test anxiety for both the HESI and NCLEX?
Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and visualization, to manage test anxiety. Engaging in regular exercise and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can also help reduce stress levels. Additionally, seek support from friends, family, or a therapist who can provide guidance and strategies for managing test anxiety.