Historic Trends Provide Context to 2016 NAPLEX and MPJE Performance Data

Ensuring that the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination and the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination accurately measure the competence of candidates seeking licensure is of the utmost importance to the boards of pharmacy and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.

Ensuring that the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) and the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination (MPJE) accurately measure the competence of candidates seeking licensure is of the utmost importance to the boards of pharmacy and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). Therefore, the association and its members make certain that industry-standard best practices are adhered to in relation to exam development, scoring, and score reporting to further support the defensibility of the examinations.

As part of these best practices, every 4 to 5 years NABP conducts surveys of pharmacy practice to collect and validate information regarding the appropriate content on which to test. The analysis of the survey results supports the relevancy of the examinations’ competency statements. Next, a standard setting study is conducted to evaluate passing standards and to determine if any adjustments should be recommended. This study helps ensure that the performance standard is valid and appropriate for the expectations of knowledge, skills, and abilities in contemporary pharmacy practice.

If we assume that the abilities of a population of examinees with similar characteristics (such as new graduates from US pharmacy programs) do not vary dramatically from year to year, we would expect to see minor changes in pass rates over time. When a passing standard is changed as a result of a standard setting study, however, it can be expected that there will be a short-term decrease in the average pass rate. This occurred in 2010 when there was an adjustment to the NAPLEX passing standard, and the pass rate for first attempts for graduates of US programs decreased by 2.1% to 94.3%, and then increased in 2011 and 2012 to 97.1% and 97.4%, respectively. Similarly, there was a decrease in NAPLEX passing rates in 2015 and 2016 after a new passing standard was implemented in concert with the new competency statements and test specifications in November 2015. In addition to the larger percentage decrease, what also sets this period apart is that a decline in NAPLEX pass rates began in 2013—2 years prior to the adjustment to the passing standard. This trend may be observed because of a changing discipline. Over the past several years, the pharmacy curriculum has expanded, centering on training for clinician-based services as national and state organizations advocate for practitioner status; therefore, the knowledge expectations for entry-level pharmacists have expanded.

Although the MPJE pass rates among US graduates have remained relatively stable over recent years, slight fluctuations can still be seen from year to year prior to 2016, when, in mid-April 2016, the new competency statements, new test specifications, and new passing standard were implemented. This may be due to pharmacists’ increased scope of responsibilities in recent years involving the application of law into practice on a day-to-day basis. This is evidenced by the pharmacists’ accountability for prescription monitoring programs, sterile and nonsterile compounding requirements, and guidelines for handling hazardous materials.

It should be noted that although the national average pass rate for the examinations has shown a decrease of 6% from 2015 to 2016, many US pharmacy programs did not experience a decrease in pass rates for their 2016 graduates. In addition, many individuals who did not pass the NAPLEX or the MPJE on the first attempt scored well beyond passing score on the second attempt. Correspondence from some of these candidates reveals they took a much more serious and focused approach the second time around, which led to their success.

Through our examination programs, NABP supports our member boards of pharmacy by providing them with uniform, valid, and defensible tests to use in their licensing processes. And providing examinations that accurately determine whether licensure candidates meet the minimum competencies necessary to ensure that they can safely practice is an important part of assisting the boards in their mission to protect public health.

Carmen A. Catizone, MS, RPh, DPh, is the executive director/secretary of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.