How to Prepare for the CCNS Exam
As you prepare to take the CCNS exam, for those educated as clinical nurse specialists, we would like to share the following suggestions and tools to assist you:
One of the most important study tools is the test plan, also known as an exam blueprint, which can be found in the CCNS Exam Handbook. 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 CCNS 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 are the Exam References, also known as the Exam Bibliography, included in the CCNS Exam Handbook. 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.
Sample Exam Questions
The exams are more application- and analysis-oriented, than recall-oriented, so some items may require you to apply the information provided to a patient situation. For example, an item might provide vital signs, symptoms and lab values for a particular patient and ask, "What would you anticipate?" or "What would you do?"
Any activities in your practice of application of information to patient situations (such as with case conferences or patient rounds) could be helpful in preparing you for the exam. A number of sample exam questions for adult, neonatal and pediatric are included in the CCNS Exam Handbook.
Exam Review Course
Consider taking or purchasing an exam review course. Courses are offered at AACN's NTI Conference held each year in May or at TRENDS Conferences. 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 and traveling to the testing site together and support one another every step of the way.
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 an area. We suggest that you plan your study emphasis and time in proportion to the weight of the topic.