How to Prepare for Your Certification Exam
As you prepare to take an AACN Certification Corporation exam, we would like to share the following suggestions and tools to assist you. (For CNML exam information, please visit the AONE Credentialing Center webpage).
One of the most important study tools is the test plan, also known as an exam blueprint, included in the exam handbook for your certification program. The test plan is broken down by content area with each assigned a percentage indicating how the topic area is weighted on the exam.
For each patient problem listed under Clinical Judgment you'll want to familiarize yourself with signs and symptoms, lab values, blood gases, potential medications and side effects, anticipated procedures and general nursing interventions related to the patient problems outlined.
You may want to do a self-assessment of the topics under the Clinical Judgment body systems that are weighted most heavily on the exam, checking the topics that you know you need to review, including any patient problems that you do not see often in your practice.
A core of items on the specialty certification exams deal with the Professional Caring and Ethical Practice components of the AACN Synergy Model for Patient Care. These questions may be asked about any age across the life span.
For example, if you are taking the adult CCRN you will likely see items related to pediatric or neonatal patients and families; this will alert you that they are Synergy items — not Clinical Judgment items.
Another source of information is the exam reference list, also known as the exam bibliography, included in the exam handbook for your certification program. This is a list of references used by the item writers to validate the correct answers to the exam questions.
If you find that during your in-depth study of the test plan you need information on lab values or medications related to a particular condition, use one of the resources listed on the exam bibliography, or you can refer to any recently published (last five years) acute or critical care nursing textbook.
While each of the exam handbooks contain a handful of sample exam questions, the practice exam questions booklets include a compilation of questions to help you prepare to take the exam. Correct answers, along with the related test plan and exam bibliography, are included. Practice exam questions booklets can be purchased in the AACN Online Bookstore.
Self-Assessment Exam (SAE)
Online Self-Assessment Exams (SAEs) for the Adult CCRN/CCRN-E/CCRN-K and PCCN exams are available for purchase.
Each SAE provides practice questions written by many of the same volunteers who wrote the certification exam items. Each item on the SAE includes rationales for correct and incorrect answers. CERP credit is awarded upon completion if a score of 70% or more is achieved.
Consider taking or purchasing an exam review course. Courses are offered throughout the U.S. or consider taking an exam review at AACN's NTI Conference held each year in May.
The AACN Online Bookstore features a variety of educational and clinical products including video and audio review courses that you may find helpful.
Consider forming a small exam study group to share ideas. Candidates who pool their resources and study together may be more confident in their knowledge and more likely to succeed at passing the exam.
Consider scheduling to test at the same time, traveling to the testing site together and supporting one another every step of the way.
Certified Nurses & Other Colleagues
Talk with certified nurses to find out what tools they used to prepare for the exam and what study tips they might offer.
Make arrangements to shadow a nurse who works on another acute or critical care unit, to expose you to different patient types — especially if you have primarily worked on a single unit.
Check with your unit manager or educator — or even your local AACN Ambassador — to see if they can be of assistance in setting up a clinical experience within your facility or at another hospital in your area.
If you are retesting, review the printed score report that you received after taking the exam and identify in which areas you have the most opportunity to improve.
Concentrate your studies on the most heavily weighted topic areas as listed on the test plan, but remember that the other areas are important, too — especially if you scored a low percentage in a particular area.
We suggest that you plan your study emphasis and time in proportion to the weight of the topic.