Frequently Asked Questions About CCNS Certification

How does the new APRN Consensus Model impact the CCNS certification program?

Implementation of the Consensus Model for APRN Regulation: Licensure, Accreditation, Certification and Education, which goes into effect in 2015, will impact your CNS certification options. For more information, review Frequently Asked Questions about the Consensus Model for CNSs, available on the Practicing APRN Resources page.

Candidates must apply for the CCNS initial exam by December 31, 2014.

What is CCNS certification?

CCNS certification is a credential granted by AACN Certification Corporation to those who meet the eligibility requirements and pass the CCNS exam as an adult, pediatric or neonatal acute and/or critical care clinical nurse specialist (CNS). CCNS certification validates your expert knowledge of specialized nursing care of the acutely and critically ill to patients, peers and, most importantly, to yourself. CCNS certification promotes continuing excellence in the field of acute and critical care nursing.

Who is eligible to sit for the CCNS certification exam?

The CCNS exam is for those who have completed an educational program as an acute and/or critical care clinical nurse specialist (CNS). The CCNS credential may be used by nurses in some states as a proxy for advanced practice nursing licensure.

What are the CCNS exam eligibility requirements?

Current unencumbered licensure as an RN or APRN in the U.S. is required. An unencumbered license is not currently being subjected to formal discipline by any state board of nursing and has no provisions or conditions that limit the nurse’s practice in any way. A copy of your RN or APRN license must be submitted with your application. 

Candidates must submit original graduate-level transcripts and a signed Educational Eligibility Verification Form documenting completion of a graduate advanced practice education program that meets the following requirements.

The curriculum includes, but is not limited to: 

  • Biological, behavioral, medical and nursing sciences relevant to practice as a CNS, including pathophysiology, pharmacology and physical assessment
  • Legal, ethical and professional responsibilities of the CNS
  • Supervised clinical practice relevant to the specialty of acute/critical care

The curriculum meets the following criteria:

  • Curriculum is consistent with competencies of acute/critical care CNS practice
  • Minimum of 500 supervised clinical hours in all roles of the CNS within program
  • The supervised clinical experience is directly related to the knowledge and all role components of the acute/critical care CNS
  • Two (2) didactic courses with content specific to care of acutely and/or critically ill patients, with content in alignment with the CCNS Test Plan and in the same patient population as the CCNS exam application.

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Are the CCNS certification exams accredited?

All AACN Certification Corporation exams are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). AACN’s APRN certification exams are recognized as meeting the national criteria for APRN licensure by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and by individual state boards of nursing.

What does “board certified” mean? Are AACN certifications considered board certifications?

Board certified is a term primarily used by physician organizations. Only 3 of the 34 national nursing certifying organizations that are members of the American Board of Nursing Specialties (ABNS) label their credentials/programs in this way. While an organization may use the term board certified when referring to their nursing certification programs, it does not reflect a different or higher level of certification.

Board certified in the nursing world simply refers to certification from a nationally-accredited organization that is governed by a board of directors. As such, AACN certification programs are, indeed, board certified. 

How many items are on the CCNS exam?

The 3 1/2-hour CCNS exam consists of 175 multiple-choice items; 155 are scored and 20 are used to gather statistical data on item performance for future exams. On each exam, 78% of the items address content where the age of the patient spans the developmental spectrum. The remaining 22% of each exam addresses care of acutely and/or critically ill adult, neonatal or pediatric patients.

What is the application process?

After your application is reviewed and eligibility verified, an approval-to-test postcard and email will be sent to you from our testing service, Applied Measurement Professionals, Inc. (AMP). You may then schedule your exam by calling a toll-free number or going online to to make your testing appointment. You are given a 90-day window to schedule and sit for the exam.

When is the CCNS exam offered?

The CCNS exam is administered by computer at AMP testing centers. Testing is offered Monday through Saturday twice daily at 9:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at more than 175 testing sites across the U.S.

For more information about the CCNS exam, refer to the CCNS Exam Handbook.

How long does it take to process a CCNS exam application and for me to be approved to sit for the exam?

It generally takes 2 to 4 weeks to evaluate and process a CCNS exam application. Processing may be delayed when the application is incomplete, supporting documentation is missing, or eligibility must be confirmed directly with the school and/or during academic breaks or holiday periods.

How do I prepare for the CCNS exam?

The CCNS Exam Handbook contains a list of recommended references used by the item writers who helped develop the CCNS exam, along with a list of products available through AACN. We also suggest reviewing the Test Plan, bibliography and sample questions included in the CCNS Exam Handbook, available online or by sending an email to

Once I pass the exam, how long is my CCNS certification effective?

CCNS certification is recognized for a 5-year period.

What options do I have to renew my CCNS certification?

CCNS certification is recognized for a period of 5 years. Renewing candidates may complete one of the following renewal options.

  • Option 1 - 1,000 Practice Hours and 60 CE Points
  • Option 2 - 1,000 Practice Hours and Exam
  • Option 3 - 60 CE Points and Exam

For complete information about the CCNS renewal requirements, please refer to the CCNS Renewal Handbook.

What are the CCNS renewal by practice hours eligibility requirements?

Candidates renewing by practice hours must have been actively involved in the direct care of acutely and/or critically ill patients in all roles of the clinical nurse specialist within the U.S. for a minimum of 1,000 hours over the certification period, and maintain current unencumbered RN or APRN licensure. An unencumbered license has not been subjected to formal discipline be any state board of nursing and has no provisions or conditions that limit the nurse’s practice in any way.  

Care is defined by the performance of activities that exemplify the eight characteristics that contribute to optimal outcomes. This care may be directed toward a patient/population, nursing personnel and/or other disciplines/organizations/systems. For details, refer to the CCNS Renewal Handbook.

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