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The November 2009 Nursing Licensure Examinations had the highest number of takers - 94,462 - in the history of the exams. It also had the lowest number of passers at 37,527, or 39.72% of 94,462 takers.

Padilla said a large number of repeat takers -71% - failed the board exam last November, which dragged down the passing rate. On the other hand, 49% of first-time board takers passed the exam last November.

The PRC official said last year's board exam used a new test framework that examines critical thinking. She denied, however, that the test was harder compared to tests done in previous years.

"The basic knowledge is still the one being tested. It depends on who is taking the exam. Some people topped the exam because they found it easy while others found it hard," she said.