In 2016 a pharmacy professor developed a blog post about five reasons why people fail the NAPLEX. Now years later, he revisits the topic here.
Authored By: Christopher Bland, Pharm.D., BCPS, FIDSA
Article Posted 17 April 2023
The NAPLEX is an examination pharmacists take to become licensed. While many pharmacy schools have high passing rates, people inevitably fail this test each year. Here, an experienced pharmacist and educator discusses reasons why people fail the NAPLEX.
For most recent pharmacy school graduates life is good, as they pass their licensure examinations (including the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination [NAPLEX]) and officially become a new pharmacist. Some recent graduates however do not pass the NAPLEX – and it happens more than you may think!
In recent years, a disturbing trend of decreasing pass rates has been demonstrated, especially from this past year. First time pass rates across all American College of Pharmaceutical Education (ACPE) accredited programs has dropped to 80% in 2022 with all attempt pass rates dipping to 78%. This number was as high as 95% in 2013 so over the past decade we have seen close to a 20% drop in the pass rate.
Why is this happening? There are a number of valid reasons in my experience as a clinical faculty member and board review provider for a number of schools/colleges of pharmacy over the past decade. What are they and what can you do to prevent/overcome these potential pitfalls? We will discuss in this column and examine some reasons why people fail the NAPLEX.
1. You don’t have the endurance
What is the longest exam you have ever taken in pharmacy school? Quite possibly it is 2 or 3 hours. This is complicated by the fact that by the time you sit for the NAPLEX you have been out of the classroom for a year with little to no examinations during clinical rotations. You have up to 6 hours to take the NAPLEX and a good number of students will require this amount of time to complete the 225-question exam. Students are exhausted after this exam.
When preparing for the NAPLEX you should set aside large blocks of time in the weeks prior to the exam to mentally and physically test yourself. Practice taking 225 questions at a time to simulate the actual exam. While there are some practice examinations out there, many of them are shorter than the NAPLEX so don’t fully stress you to your maximum. Most schools have AccessPharmacy and there is now a full 225 question practice exam that I highly recommend doing prior to the exam. If you don’t have access to this resource, then compiling 225 questions and up to a 6 hour time block is a great idea to do at least one time prior to the exam. Not the night before though! Your day before the exam should be one of relaxation not cramming.
2. You studied the wrong things
I have given live in-person NAPLEX reviews across the country each year for over the past decade. Many times I will ask students if they have read the NAPLEX competency statements to see what is being evaluated on the exam. I often in return get a lot of blank stares as they have never heard of them.
While many study the things they learn well on rotations, there are a number of competencies, such as sterile/nonsterile compounding as well as calculations (potential for fill in the blank [i.e., constructed response]) that are a major component of the exam. The most recent competency statements as of April 2023 can be found here.
3. You made your exam even more difficult
Taking an exam of this magnitude is difficult enough. How can you make it harder? By not doing the common sense things that could help you.
Get a good night’s sleep. Eat a healthy breakfast the morning of the exam-something you know you tolerate well.
Many students travel out of town to take the exam as early as possible. Do not wait until the last minute to find the test site…this can add unwanted stress to an already stressful situation. Treat this day and exam like the important day it is!
4. You procrastinated too long
You meant to study in the summer. Then you said you would start in the Fall. Then New Year’s Day came and went. And now it is April.
Here is the good news. You still have time but you need to get rolling. Where are you weak? I know you like metformin and atorvastatin. How about bevacizumab? Or even emtricitabine? The key is to hit the areas hard that you either weren’t exposed to a lot on rotations (see #2 above) or that are areas where you know you need work.
5. You have a short attention span
Social media has exacerbated this already difficult problem. Reels. Stories. You name it. Students have told me they struggle with any lecture greater than 30 minutes. So how are you supposed to concentrate on an exam to evaluate important details within a patient case? One word that you missed could be the difference in you getting the question correct.
How do we help this? You probably won’t like my answer but here it goes. Starting a couple of weeks before the exam, stay off social media. It is built for short bursts of info which is not helpful for the exam. Practice a lot of questions. Read your favorite book when you want a break that forces you to read paragraphs and long chapters.
…I hope these are helpful for you to prevent you from actually failing the NAPLEX. If you do, refocus and you can pass on the next attempt!
Looking for concise video drug reviews? Check out Teach Me Pharm!
Curious to read the article about why people fail the NAPLEX from 2016?
Here it is…