One school says you have to take HESI before you can apply to their nursing program. Another school says you have to take HESI at the end of the program in order to graduate. So what’s the deal? What is this HESI, anyway? And more importantly, what do I need to do to pass it?!
In order to understand the rising popularity of the HESI, here’s a little background. HESI stands for Health Education Systems Incorporated. This is a company based in Houston, TX, that specializes in developing diagnostic tests for nursing and other healthcare fields. In 2006, they were bought by the giant publishing company Elsevier. Elsevier publishes many of the nursing textbooks that you probably already own, including Saunders NCLEX reviews and anything by Mosby. And have you been to the Evolve website lately? That’s Elsevier, too.
So back to HESI. There are actually 3 types of HESI: the HESI Admission Assessment exam (HESI A2), several specialty HESIs, and the HESI exit exam. Every HESI exam is taken on the computer, each one of them is timed, and they’re all supposed to be able to predict something. But what’s the differences, and what the heck are they supposed to be predicting?
HESI Admission Assessment exam (HESI A2)
The HESI A2 is frequently used by nursing programs as an entrance exam. The HESI A2 does NOT ask any questions about nursing. Instead, it tests you on seven general areas, including: reading comprehension, vocabulary and general knowledge, grammar, basic math skills, biology, chemistry, and anatomy and physiology. It also includes a learning style/personality assessment profile that is scored separately.
The purpose of the HESI A2 is to predict how well you’ll do in nursing school. Does it make sense now why many nursing schools use it as an entrance exam? Basically, the HESI company found out that students who score well on the HESI A2 tend to also do well in nursing school and go on to graduate. On the other hand, they found that the students who do NOT score well on the HESI A2 tend to drop out or fail nursing school.
“But what a minute,” you yell, “I thought you said that the HESI A2 doesn’t even ask any nursing questions?”
You’re right. It doesn’t. But the assumption is that the skills and knowledge you need to succeed on the HESI A2 are the same skills and knowledge you need to be successful in nursing school. It’s kind of like the SAT or ACT of nursing school. And of course, it can also make it easier for the nursing school to narrow down their loooong list of applicants.
HESI Specialty Exams
These are a little simpler to explain. HESI offers a specialty content exam for many of the specific topics you’ll be covering in nursing school. This includes an exam for Pediatrics, Maternity, Med-Surg, Psychiatric, Fundaments, Pharmacology, and probably some more that I’m forgetting right now. Most schools will give these specialty exams to you at the end of the semester. They’re helpful because they can measure how well you learned the material, and give you an idea of how much more you need to study and review in order to be prepared for NCLEX later on.
In some nursing schools, the score you get on the HESI Specialty Exam is used to calculate your final grade for that class. But at other nursing schools, it is simply a way for you to get some feedback on how you’re doing, and doesn’t count toward your grade at all. Check your syllabus or ask your nursing program how they typically to do it.
HESI Exit Exam
This is perhaps one of the most controversial and least understood of all the HESI exams. Emotions tend to run high when nursing students talk about it, because the HESI exit exam can sometimes be the deciding factor as to whether they get to graduate. Or not graduate. Eek.
The purpose of the exit exam is to try and make sure that a nursing student is ready to take NCLEX. If you do well on HESI, you’re supposed to be more likely to pass NCLEX. If you do poorly on HESI, then your chances of passing NCLEX are lower.
The reason that nursing schools frequently use exit exams has to do with their NCLEX pass rate as recorded by the State board, and their accreditation status. Without going into too much detail, here is a summary of how it works. If a nursing school has too many students who fail the NCLEX the first time they take it, then their NCLEX pass rate gets lower. It doesn’t even matter if the student passes on their 2nd try, because pass rates are only calculated using the first attempt. So if the school’s NCLEX pass rate gets too low for too long, then they could lose their accreditation as a nursing school.
So it makes sense that nursing schools would want to feel reasonably confident that the new nursing graduates they’re sending out are ready to face the world…and pass NCLEX on the first try. And one way that they do that is by requiring students to pass the HESI exit exam before they can graduate.
So That’s HESI in a Nutshell
So now that you know what all the different HESI’s are, what’s YOUR opinion about how it’s used by nursing schools? Do you have any questions about HESI that I haven’t answered? Because you KNOW that someone else out there is going to have that same exact question. So ask it now in the comments section of this post; I’d love to answer it for you!
And stay tuned for some tips on how to succeed on HESI…
Nicole is a Professional Nursing Tutor with over 15 years experience, and the founder of Your Nursing Tutor. She has a BSN, and an MA in Clinical Psychology. Nicole specializes in providing easy-to-follow, proven study methods (like the Silver Bullet Study System) that transform frustrated nursing students into calm, confident nurses! When she’s not helping students through her Live Tutoring Membership, Nicole loves spending time with her husband, homeschooling their 6 kids, and staring at sunflowers.