Frequently Asked Questions about NP Certification

by Margaret A. Fitzgerald, DNP, FNP-BC, NP-C, FAANP, CSP, FAAN, DCC
Are you preparing to take the NP certification exam? Are you confused about which organizations offer what kind of certification, or wondering about test content or focus? Here are the answers to common questions about NP certification.
 
 
Are you preparing to take the NP certification exam? Are you confused about which organizations offer what kind of certification, or wondering about test content or focus? Here are the answers to common questions about NP certification.
 
What agencies offer NP certification exams?
NP certification is offered by a variety of non-governmental agencies.

The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP, www.aanpcertification.org) offers year-round computer-based testing for adult, family and gerontologic nurse practitioner certification. Starting in 2013, the AANP will also offer adult-gerontology primary care NP certification.

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC, www.nursecredentialing.org) offers year-round computer-based testing for family, adult, acute care, geriatric, pediatric, adult psychiatric-mental health, and family psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner certification. Starting in 2013, the ANCC will also offer adult-gerontology acute care and adult-gerontology primary care NP certification.

The National Certification Corporation (NCC, www.nccwebsite.org) offers year-round computer-based testing for women’s health and neonatal nurse practitioner certification.  In addition, a paper test is offered once a year in the fall.

 
The
Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB, http://www.pncb.org) offers year-round computer-based testing for pediatric primary care and acute care pediatric nurse practitioner certification.
 
How many questions are on the NP certification examinations?
The currently available ANCC exams consist of 175 questions or test items. Of these, 150 items count toward your score, with the remaining 25 questions being sample items that might be used on future exams but do not contribute to your exam score. These items are integrated throughout the exam, not listed in a separate section.  Sample test questions are found in most NP certification examinations.
 
The AANP exams consist of 150 test items with 15 items as sample questions that do not contribute to your final score; your results are determined on performance on 135 questions.
 
The NCC women’s health and neonatal NP exams have 160 items with 10 sample items.
 
The Pediatric Nursing Certification Board acute care and primary care pediatric NP exams contain 175 questions each including 25 sample items.
 
How are the NP certification examinations similar?
The content of all the NP certification examinations reflect the broad base of knowledge and the critical thinking skills necessary for entry-level NP practice. The largest sections are typically dedicated to assessment and intervention of the health problems common to the chosen area of practice. Additional content area typically includes choice of the appropriate diagnostic studies and screening tests and the subsequent interpretation of findings. Content in the intervention section usually includes questions on both pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic therapies, as well as principles of therapeutic communication. The remainder of the examination is usually devoted to areas such as health promotion and disease prevention.
 
How do the NP exams differ?
The family NP exam reflects the broad scope of knowledge necessary to care for patients of all ages, including pregnant women. The adult NP certification examinations focus on the care of patients from adolescence to elders, while the gerontological NP test focuses on health care issues for adults older than 55-65 years. The pediatric NP exams focus on the care of children and young adults, usually up to age 22; a thorough knowledge of pediatric development and family systems is critical for success on these exams.
 
The focus of the women’s health nurse practitioner exam is on the health care of women throughout the reproductive lifespan and beyond. A nearly equal amount of the test’s content is concentrated on obstetrics and gynecology, with about 10% devoted to general primary care issues.
 
The adult and pediatric acute care exam focuses on the care of acutely or critically ill adults or children, and includes a section on health promotion and disease prevention as well as follow-up care. The psychiatric-mental health certification examinations focus on the knowledge base needed to provide mental health care and particular psychotherapeutic interventions. The adult psychiatric-mental health NP scope of practice begins in adolescence, while that of the family psychiatric-mental health NP is across the life span.
 
Are some of the NP exam questions about issues other than clinical issues?
The ANCC exams contain a section on issues such as scope of practice, healthcare ethics, reimbursement, research and other professional matters. This section represents approximately 25% of the total exam, depending on the area of certification. The AANP exams do not contain such a section, while the women’s health and neonatal NP examinations have a small section on these issues, typically less than 2% of the total test content.
 
How do I find out if I passed my NP certification examination?
The computer-based NP examinations provide your results upon completion of the test, usually with written confirmation of results sent within a few weeks of your test date.
 
What credential will I earn once I am certified?
Each certifying agency recommends a specific credential. Check with your certifying agency for specific information on the credential you will earn.
 
There is so much to review for the exam! Where do I start with my study?
Start with reading the materials from your certifying agency. The exam candidate’s information can be found on the agency’s website and usually contains a detailed summary of the exam content.  You will note that exam content is quite broad, as is NP practice. Recognize that the content of the exam reflects the mix of patients that could come through the door of an average practice over an extended period of time, such as a year, rather than the mix you see in an average day. For example, with the adult and family primary care-oriented exams, you can expect as much testing on diabetes mellitus, the most common of endocrine problems, as on thyroid dysfunction, and a distant second in its frequency.
 
I need help deciding when I should take a review course.
Each person has different learning needs, of course.
 
However, we recommend that you take our course a number of weeks prior to the respective exams. This is to allow for needed continued, focused study after the review course, thus increasing the likelihood of success in achieving certification.
 
NPs take the Fitzgerald Health Education Associates
NP Certification Review and Advanced Practice Update at various times prior to the exam. Here are some examples of the different times and benefits to each:

·  The early reviewer – This is usually the NP student attending review while in the NP program, with certification exam between 3-12 months in the future. This group tells us that the course helps to pull together the enormous amount of new information they have gathered during the NP program. An added bonus is the ability to apply the knowledge gained as a result of review in the clinical area during clinical rotations and as a great preparation for a comprehensive end of program examination.

·  The new or soon-to-be NP graduate attending review within 1-3 months of the certification exam –This group tells us that the course helps to organize their thoughts and new knowledge base without the pressures of school. In addition, the course helps to clarify difficult concepts and direct study just prior to the exam. Also, this group invariably tells us that they are very happy that they took their course a number of weeks prior to the exam in order to allow for further study.

·  The NP who is currently in practice but not currently certified –This group tells us that the course is helpful in focusing study toward the content areas of the exam. Since the NP board certification exams are geared toward the entry level NP, the review course helps the experienced NP look at clinical situations from the view of a novice, avoiding the “yes, but” view of scenarios that the seasoned NP develops with practice.
 
How can I find out more about the Fitzgerald Health Education Associates NP Certification Exam Review and Advanced Practice Update Courses?
Click here for Fitzgerald Health Education Associates, Inc. NP Certification Review and Advanced Practice Update courses.
 
Click here to read an FHEA News article about the Consensus Model for APRN Regulation and NP certification examinations that will be retired in 2014.
 
Updated 6.29.12