Is the HESI harder than the NCLEX?

by Nicole on September 12, 2012

There are all sorts of rumors when it comes to the HESI Exit Exam, and plenty of websites available that provide questionable information.  One of the more common rumors that I hear spread around is that the HESI Exit Exam is more difficult than the NCLEX exam.  Students who hear this rumor then get frustrated, because they are afraid that they will fail HESI and not be allowed to even attempt NCLEX.

But is the rumor true?

Yes, HESI probably is a little bit harder than NCLEX for most students…but it will also seem a little bit easier for other students.  Read on so I can explain why.

NCLEX and HESI questions are selected in completely different ways

NCLEX uses Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT) technology so that every student receives questions selected based on their knowledge level.  If you answer a question correctly, the NCLEX software will present you with a more difficult question.  If you answer a question incorrectly, the NCLEX software will present you with an easier question.

As you answer more questions, NCLEX will identify at what difficulty level you can answer only 50% of the questions correctly.  Obviously, this will be different for everybody.  If your personal difficulty level is above what NCLEX research shows is needed for a safe, beginning nurse, then you pass.  If your personal difficulty level is below what NCLEX research shows is needed, then you fail.

HESI questions, on the other hand, are static.  That means that if you and your classmates are all taking the same version of the HESI Exit Exam (there are several different versions available for your school to purchase), then you will all see the same exact questions, regardless of how many you get right or wrong.

The purpose of the HESI is to predict how likely you will be to pass NCLEX.  The better you score on HESI, the more likely you are to pass NCLEX.  The lower you score on HESI…well, you get the idea.  It’s not a definite “cause and effect” type thing, but it is strongly supported by research.

So let’s think through this logically.  If doing well on HESI predicts that you will also do well on NCLEX, then the HESI writers will want to choose HESI questions that are at least as difficult as the bare minimum to pass NCLEX.  And if I wrote the HESI, I would actually want to choose HESI questions that are a little bit harder, just to be sure!

So the difficulty level to pass HESI probably is a little bit more difficult than the minimum needed to pass NCLEX.  Which means that if you’re like the average, safe, beginning nurse, then HESI will feel like it was more difficult than NCLEX.

On the other hand, if you manage to get to a very high level of difficulty on NCLEX (which means you probably also got a really high HESI score), then NCLEX will probably “feel” like it is more difficult than HESI did.

So is HESI harder than NCLEX?  The honest answer is that it depends on the student.  If you score within a couple hundred points of passing on HESI, then NCLEX probably feels easier.  But if you score really high on HESI, then NCLEX probably feels harder.  Which means that the rumor that “HESI is harder than NCLEX” is both true and false.

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