Note: The author and Pharmacy Times apologize, especially to the affected schools, for any unintentional errors that were originally included in this article. Corrections were quickly made, and this article is now up-to-date.

Following a change in the exam format on November 1, 2016, the NAPLEX (North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination) national pass rates dramatically declined from an average first-pass rate of about 92% down to a surprising 86%.1,2 In part, this was likely due to a longer exam format (250 questions instead of 185 questions) and a new non-adaptive, fixed form exam.3 Given the dramatic decline, which pharmacy schools are still standing out as top NAPLEX performers?
US News & World Report – Top 20 Schools
A common criticism of the report by US News & World Report is that it is based on peer assessment surveys of administrators and faculty from peer institutions instead of metrics like NAPLEX pass rates, residency placement rates, or job placement rates.4 Even with that in mind, the top 20 schools from the 2016 ranking performed significantly better in 2016 compared to all other pharmacy schools:
  2016 Average NAPLEX Pass Rates
Top 20 Ranked Schools 92.8% +/- 4%
Remaining 109 Schools 84.9% +/- 8.3%
All 129 Schools 86.1% +/- 8.3%
Although the numbers do suggest an edge for the “top” 20 schools on NAPLEX performance, it is possible that the status of a “top” school is a self-fulfilling concept. If pre-pharmacy students with the highest GPA and PCAT scores are more likely to attend “top” schools, it is also more likely that these students will have a higher chance of success on the NAPLEX independent of the quality of the pharmacy education provided by the school.
The Top NAPLEX Performers of 2016
There were 20 schools that achieved a score of 94.4% or higher (the national mean of 86.1% plus the standard deviation of 8.3%). Of these 20, only 7 schools achieved a first-time pass rate equal to or higher in 2016 compared to their 2015 performance:
School 2016 NAPLEX Pass Rate US News & World Report Rank
University of Washington
Belmont University
Northeast Ohio Medical University
Southwestern Oklahoma State University
University of Kentucky
University of Utah
Shenandoah University
As shown above, 4 of the 7 schools listed were assigned a relatively “low” US News & World Report ranking yet they outperformed the field and also improved compared to their 2015 first-time NAPLEX pass rates.
The Lowest Ranked Schools per US News & World Report
Six schools are tied for rank #98 in the 2016 article by US News & World Report, although several schools were unranked as of the 2016 report. Despite the report's ranking, these schools performed BETTER compared to the national average:
  2016 Average NAPLEX Pass Rates
All 129 Schools 86.1% +/- 8.3%
Bottom Ranked Schools (rank #98):
  • Belmont University
  • Howard University
  • Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine School of Pharmacy
  • Lipscomb University
  • Palm Beach Atlantic University
  • Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Georgia
87.49% +/- 7.39%

NAPLEX 2017 and the US News & World Report Ranking
Because the new NAPLEX exam started on November 1, 2016, most graduates in 2016 likely completed the “old” version exam. In contrast, all graduates this year will be taking the new, 250-question NAPLEX. If the exam is actually more difficult due to an increased number of questions and the non-adaptive format, the full impact of the NAPLEX change will be demonstrated in the 2017 NAPLEX first-time pass rates, which will be released in early 2018 by the NABP.
The fact that the “worst” ranked schools on the US News & World Report Ranking list had a higher NAPLEX rate compared to the national average highlights the weakness in the ranking itself. For prospective pharmacy students, there are a multitude of different factors that play a role in the quality of education that a school provides.  Because of the methodology used in the ranking, the scores can quickly become a measure of school popularity rather than objective academic performance.  

Instead, the pharmacy community and prospective pharmacy students should consider objective metrics like NAPLEX first-time pass rates, a comparison of the 2015 versus 2016 NAPLEX scores, and job placement metrics to help rank and compare the quality of education provided by each pharmacy school.
  1. National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). NAPLEX Pass Rates for 2014-2016 Graduates Per Pharmacy School. Accessed March 4, 2017.
  2. Kane SP. Pharmacy School NAPLEX Pass Rates (2005-Present). ClinCalc: Updated February 13, 2017. Accessed March 4, 2017.
  3. National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). NAPLEX and MPJE 2017 Candidate Registration Bulletin.  Accessed March 4, 2017.
  4. US News & World Report – Education Ranking & Advice, Graduate Schools, Pharmacy. Accessed March 4, 2017.