Faculty successfully responds to new NCLEX® test plan

Students in lecture hall

At-A-Glance Facts


The Health Career Programs at Kankakee Community College in Kankakee, Illinois, include an Associate Degree in Nursing program, with an advanced placement pathway for licensed practical nurses as well as a licensed practical nursing program. The nursing education program, which has completed its site visit for accreditation by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, admits seventy students each year.


The National Council of State Boards of Nursing revises the test plan for NCLEX every three years, with the most recent revision in 2013. HESI products are updated to reflect any modifications, so the director of the nursing program was able to concentrate on working collaboratively with faculty to make adjustments in teaching and the curriculum to reflect the changes. The program made a smooth transition and has a three-year average pass score of 95 percent.


“The key factor in the success of the students is that the faculty know we always need to improve what we’re doing,” says Kellee Hayes, MSN, CNE, director of nursing at Kankakee Community College (KCC) in Kankakee, Illinois. This includes fine-tuning the curriculum based on testing reports and responding to changes in the NCLEX test plan.

Adapting to Change

Every three years, the National Council State Board of Nursing (NCSBN) uses findings from employer and new graduate RN surveys to modify the test plan for NCLEX so it better assesses competencies that align with the institutions where new graduate nurses are practicing.

When the last new test plan was released in 2013, Hayes and her faculty team, which have been using HESI products for several years, took steps to make a smooth transition to ensure the program’s high pass rates continued. “We sat down and went through the test plan together,” she says, adding that the group also reviewed past NCLEX reports to identify weak areas. “Then we divided up the HESI case studies by faculty member so we would make sure we used them throughout the curriculum.”

Because Elsevier updates HESI products to reflect new test plans, the faculty could concentrate on continually improving the learning experience for students. This was particularly important given that the NCLEX pass score increased in 2013. Hayes says the biggest difference faculty made was in “flipping” their classrooms. “We are focused more on the learning activities in class, which includes the HESI case studies and the EAQ (Elsevier Adaptive Quizzing),” she says.

One of the challenges with a new test plan is that typically it is not available until April, only a month before graduating students have to take the new NCLEX exam. Hayes credits HESI with preparing students so the program maintained a successful pass rate even with the increased passing score. The program’s three-year average pass rate is 95 percent, including a 98 percent pass rate in 2013.

“We shared all the information we received about the new test plan with students,” Hayes notes, emphasizing that faculty need to keep informed when a new plan is released. “You need to take ownership of it.”

Having a team approach and integrating HESI into the curriculum were also key elements that helped KCC transition to the new test plan and continue its quest for educational excellence.

Facilitating a Faculty Team

The nursing program at KCC has nine full-time faculty members who are in the RN and LPN programs and three in the certified nursing assistant program.

“A key part of the success of this program is having faculty buy-in,” Hayes says. Faculty meet at least monthly, providing the opportunity to review HESI reports and discuss how to manage identified weaknesses. For instance, Hayes, who teaches obstetrics, found that the reproductive portion of the obstetric curriculum needed attention, so she “beefed up” the information and now has students work in teams of two or three to create a presentation and handout on an assigned topic.

Faculty members review any new HESI products and attend education sessions from the Elsevier product representative. Faculty then decide whether the product is something they want to add to the program. “Through their support and endorsement, we integrate the product into the program and add it to syllabi, and they continue to reinforce it with the students,” Hayes says. “Getting that input and buy-in has really helped make us successful. They make the final decision.”

“The faculty are just awesome,” Hayes adds. “They really want the students to succeed.”

Integrating HESI

The nursing program first started using the HESI Exit Exam in 2006 and over the years has expanded to include other products. “In 2010, we started with the HESI benchmarking exams, and we use those as final exams in our courses that have more than two credit hours,” Hayes says.

The program added the HESI Admission Assessment (A2) Exam the same year. The year 2012 brought the addition of the Computer Adapted Test (CAT) for the HESI Exit Exam and SimChart, followed by the HESI Case Studies and Practice Test in 2013 and EAQ in 2014, which Hayes says, “has been the favorite among students.” Students can select from multiple questions to create custom quizzes that help them study for upcoming tests. “We also use EAQ to get them into the content before they come to class,” Hayes says. “We give them points for getting a certain score on the adaptive quizzing.”

Faculty review the summaries from benchmarking exams to identify learning gaps so they can make revisions as needed. For example, when the HESI Med/Surg Exam identified areas where students did not do well, faculty decided to reassign case studies in those areas for the next semester. Hayes increased use of the practice tests and assigned the tests to students.

Enjoying Success

“We maximize use of the products in our curriculum,” Hayes says, referring both to faculty and students. The products have been helpful in the program’s success. For example, Hayes notes that HESI Exit Exams have been “spot on” in predicting success on NCLEX. She also reviews data from CAT.

Hayes tells the story of one student who had to take the Exit Exam six times before he passed. When he passed NCLEX, he attributed his success to taking the exams and completing the remediation. Hayes adds that students can build their own remediation package online.

At KCC, the pass score for benchmarking tests is set at 850. The amount of remediation is based on a sliding scale, with lower scores requiring more remediation.

“Faculty love the HESI products,” Hayes says, adding that faculty find particular value in the case studies and practice tests for the classroom. “They are great learning tools to help students put all the pieces together.”

Making a Difference

Hayes has taught at KCC for ten years, becoming director in 2012. “I’ve been a nurse for thirty years, and I always knew I wanted to teach,” she says. “It’s so gratifying to see students grow.” Kankakee is a small community, so Hayes frequently runs into graduates of the program. “It’s great seeing them out there knowing that they are well prepared.”