The Family Nurse Practitioner Certification Exam

After years of study and dedication to your education, graduating from a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program is something to be proud of. You know all too well the countless hours of study and the amount of dedication required to become an effective FNP, but there’s one more crucial step. You must verify all you have learned by taking one of the FNP certification exams.

By passing a nationally recognized, standardized exam that’s been developed by a team of qualified nurse practitioners and medical experts, you can obtain certification as an FNP and showcase your expertise and commitment to quality care. In fact, the exam is now required for FNPs to practice in all but three states in the United States.

How Does Certification Differ from Licensure?

Sometimes licensure and certification can be confused. Licensure is the clearance to practice as an FNP in a specific state or states. Nurses and advanced practice nurses like FNPs must meet licensure requirements of the state in which they live and plan to work in order to care for patients or assume any nursing role. Requirements for licensure will vary on a state-by-state basis. FNPs must be able to present their state board of nursing with the appropriate proof of education, clinical hours, agreements with an overseeing physician (if required), and, in some cases, proof of national certification before they can see their first patient as an independent clinician. The American Nurses Association (ANA) says licensure is designed to “protect the public by ensuring a minimal level of professional competence.”

Certification is one component needed for FNPs to obtain licensure. The ANA says certification proves students have “mastered a body of knowledge and acquired skills in a particular specialty or area.” In fact, certification has become so important for practice that governmental health care bodies including Medicare, Medicaid, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and private insurance companies now require that FNPs be certified for credentialing purposes and to receive reimbursement for the services they provide.

The Nitty Gritty of Certification

There are currently two credentialing bodies that offer certification examinations for FNPs. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) offer certification for FNPs, plus exams for gerontology, adult, pediatric, acute care, and others.

Each test and its requirements vary slightly. Most FNP certification exams require students to sit for the test 20–90 days after registering. Both exams are administered at independent testing centers across the country, and pass/fail results are available immediately after the exam. Certification certificates will arrive by mail in three to four weeks. Paper and pencil testing may be available, but students will need to contact their testing organization to find out more.

The ANCC Exam

The ANCC’s exam requires applicants to fill out an online application, present proof of graduation from an accredited NP program, and have an active RN license to apply for the test. The exam itself is computer based and has 175 questions. Applicants are given three and a half hours to take the exam with a half hour for directions and practice. Practice areas on the exam include:

  • Foundations of advanced practice nursing.
  • Health care policy.
  • Professional roles.
  • Clinical assessment.
  • Clinical management.
  • Organization.

Fees for the ANCC exam range between $290 and $395 depending on the nurse’s membership in specific nursing organizations like the ANA or the AANP.

The AANP Exam

The AANP Certification Program (AANPCP) offers a three-hour examination with 150 questions. Areas of nursing practice that will be evaluated during the exam include:

  • Assessment.
  • Diagnosis.
  • Planning.
  • Evaluation of care.

The cost for the exam is reduced for AANP members and ranges from $240 to $315 for non- members.

How FNPs Can Prepare for the Certification Exam

Deciding what material deserves the most attention when preparing to study can be challenging, but don’t let that keep you down. Creating a study plan and committing to a set number of study hours every week will help. Gather current texts and resources to reference, and use sample questions or practice materials from your certifying agency to identify areas of weakness.

When the test arrives, make sure you get a good night sleep (no cramming), locate the testing center or have accurate directions, arrive early, and get the required testing center admission paperwork together the night before. Above all, believe in yourself!

Maintenance and Renewal Information

Maintaining or renewing your certification will vary depending on your certifying body. However, be prepared to show proof of approved continuing education, documented proof of a minimum number of practice hours, and maintenance of your RN license. Renewals vary between five and seven years depending on the type of certification held. Familiarize yourself with the organization’s requirements, so there aren’t any surprises when it’s time to renew.

Nursing@Simmons Helps You Achieve Certification Success

Preparation for your certification exam will begin during your FNP training. From classroom instruction to each exam, your Nursing@Simmons professors are working to help you achieve this goal. 

Certification is designed to showcase your mastery and commitment to patient care, and the team at Simmons College continues a long legacy of preparing nurse practitioners to practice with confidence.