Frequently Asked Questions About NP Certification

As I go about the country teaching review courses to NPs preparing to take their certification exam, the same questions are asked to me about NP certification. Here are my responses to the most commonly asked questions. If you have a question that is not addressed here, please feel free to ask me via email:

All of the questions on either exam will be multiple choice. There are no short answer or fill in the blank questions. Students tell me that there are a few multiple multiples (Ex.: Response 1. a, b, and c; Response 2. b and d), but the vast majority of the questions are multiple choice questions. There may be a few sequential questions (those which depend on the situation in the previous question), but, the vast majority of questions are multiple choice questions.

No, you may have had case studies in school, but the questions on the exam are usually brief and to the point. There may be 2 or 3 statements leading into the question, but I've never had students tell me that they had longer question stems than indicated above.

The exams used to be comparable. Beginning March 1, 2010 ANCC's exam test content has changed. I invite you to review the changes at American Nurses Credentialing Center.

No, it does not turn off after you've answered enough questions to pass. You may have had this experience with the NCLEX if you took it on the computer, but this is not true of the NP exam. Be prepared to answer all 150 or 175 questions depending on the exam that you're taking.

No, there is not an equal distribution of cardiac, respiratory, neurological, etc. questions on the exam. In fact, you may take the exam on the same day as one of your classmates, and you'll receive different questions. One test may have 6 questions on hypertension, another exam may only have 2 questions. It's the luck of the draw. Be prepared to answer questions in random order on a variety of topics.

Sure, if you want to spend twice the money and have twice the stress!!! Seriously, TAKE ONLY ONE! I tell students all the time that if they know enough to pass one exam, they'll know enough to pass the other exam. If they don't know enough to pass one exam, they won't pass the other one either.

The AANP (American Association of Nurse Practitioners) exam is computer based. It changed from being a paper and pencil exam to a computerized exam in 2003. Unlike ANCC's exam, there are only 150 questions on this exam. There are 15 sample questions. You'll be able to schedule your AANP exam once AANP has received all of your information (application, transcripts, payment, etc.). This exam, just like the ANCC exam tests basic, entry level information. It doesn't test what you will have learned after 5 years in practice or 10 years in practice. I remind students all the time that you don't have to be a "whiz kid NP" to pass the exam. You'll have about 3 hours to complete the exam. This can change! Make sure that you read the information that AANP sends you regarding your exam and be sure to read your admission ticket carefully BEFORE the exam. You should expect results in the mail about one to two weeks after you take the exam.

ANCC's (American Nurses Credentialing Center) exam is computer based. You'll be able to schedule the exam once ANCC sends you confirmation that all of your information (application, transcripts, payment, etc.) has been received. There will be 175 questions on the exam, but 25 are sample questions. That is, only 150 count toward your final score. (No, they don't indicate which ones are samples!). This exam tests basic, entry level information. It doesn't test what you will have learned after 5 years in practice or 10 years in practice. I remind students all the time that you don't have to be a "whiz kid NP" to pass the exam. You'll have about 3 hours to complete your exam. This can change! Make sure that you read the information that ANCC sends you regarding your exam and be sure to read your admission ticket carefully BEFORE the exam. You should expect results in the mail about one week after you take the exam.

Generally, you have about 3 hours to take either exam. This corresponds to about 60 questions per hour (or one question per minute) that should be answered in order to finish in the allotted time. Some questions will require a little more thought and thus a little more time. Other questions will require less of your time. The bottom line is that you will have about 3 hours to take the exam. This should be plenty of time. In fact, for some students this may be too much time because it allows them to go back and change answers. Statistically, your odds of changing a response to a correct answer are lower than the reverse. In other words, your first impression about an answer is usually correct and if you change it, you're more likely to change it to an incorrect answer. Stick with your first impression!

Association of Nurse Practitioners 512-442-4262.  American Nurses Credentialing Center 800-284-2378.

Students tell me that they receive a preliminary "pass/fail" on the computer screen after they have completed the exam. An official paper copy of your results will usually follow in about one week.

Generally, 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 students don't pass the exam on the first attempt. Don't despair, students have passed the certification exam without taking a review course! Students who take APEA's review course have a 98-99% pass rate on the exam on their first attempt. If a review course isn't in your budget or can't be fit into your time schedule, consider purchasing access to an online review course or purchasing an audio version of the review course on an mp3 player. APEA no longer produces review course CDs; be cautious about any that you see for sale on other sites.
The advantage of the APEA review course is that it helps students identify their strengths/weaknesses in exam content, learn to approach and answer multiple choice questions, and develop a study plan. The course is a real time saver because the information is organized in a concise manner to allow students to maximize study time.

Many students feel that a review course is helpful in their preparation for the exam. This is an individual decision. The APEA review course is organized so that students review a quantity of information in a short period of time. The course is organized according to subject area. Another reason to take a review course is to improve test-taking skills. Important content points are driven home by lots of multiple choice practice questions in APEA's review course. Many students tell me that they've learned more in 2.5 days at the APEA review course than they did in 2 years of graduate school.

I'd start with a couple of different review books. A review book tends to organize information in a concise manner for the reader and keeps you from being distracted by extraneous information or topics that you're not likely to see on the certification exam. If the information in the review book is something that you're not familiar with, I'd use a text book or my notes from school to clear the issue. A textbook is too comprehensive to use to study for your exam.

This is another individual decision because students have individual learning needs. The majority of students take the review course about 8 weeks before or after graduation. Some students want to take the course in close proximity to the time they will take the exam because this allows them to have recently completed a comprehensive review of all the material. Students feel like the information is "fresh" in their brain at the time they take the exam. Many students have told me that they felt the review course gave them "momentum" going into the exam. Another group of students prefers to take the review course within 4-12 months prior to graduation. Many students have told me that taking the review course at this time helped them to focus on what was important while they were still in school. They also learned a lot of clinical pearls during the review course that helped them as they completed their clinicals. The main disadvantage to taking the course at this time is that the student may actually learn lots of new information at the course instead of it being a thorough review. The main advantage is that it allows the student plenty of time to identify strong and weak points and study accordingly.

Take some time to evaluate your scores and re-assess where your weaknesses are. Passing the exam requires more than just mastering the material. You've got to be able to approach the questions and know how to answer them. If you didn't pass the exam, it's likely that your weakness is in one of these two areas. I'm always willing to help students develop a plan to approach the next exam.

Congratulations! Preparing for the exam is the first step to attaining certification. Since you've been out of school for a while, you're different from the new graduate who is preparing for the exam. Your approach may be different too. If you're working in general practice, you may have an easier time preparing than someone who is working in a specialty area. Consider taking APEA's review course so that you'll get a good overview of the material as well as beginning to get re-focused to take the exam. Remember, you've got to approach your exam with a new grad mentality. I find this hard to do for NPs who have been in practice for a while. Experienced NPs are able to consider many different aspects of a patient's care. Because of this, they ask themselves what I consider to be the most dangerous thing you can say while taking your exam, yeah but.

You should have developed a plan after your review course for studying based on your identified strengths and weaknesses. If you feel comfortable with the material, consider practicing multiple choice questions. These will get you in practice for the questions you'll see on the exam and help you continue to learn more information as the exam nears. Consider the Certification Prep Exam or APEA's online testing center.

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