How I Passed My Nurse Practitioner Board Certification Exam

5 Min Read Published September 6, 2018
How I Passed My Nurse Practitioner Board Certification Exam

By Danielle Leveck, DNP, ACNPC-AG, CNS, RN, CCRN 

You’ve just graduated Nurse Practitioner school and probably feel a sense of accomplishment and relief, then you realize you truly won’t be able to relax until you pass your board exam.

For me, the last semester of my DNP program was so busy, that I barely felt I had time to research or study for my board exam. The following includes why I chose the board exam I did, my timeline for studying, the materials I used, and day of the exam tips. Also, although I tested for the Acute Care Nurse Practitioner exam, some of these tips are relevant to other nurse practitioner board exams as well. 

Which Exam Do I Take to Become an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner?

There are two available board exams for the Acute Care Nurse Practitioner; one is through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and one through the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN).

Both will certify you as an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, so which do you choose? When I began this decision-making process, I found little to no valid information regarding why I should take one exam over the other. Therefore, the information I am providing is solely through my own experience and the experience of my colleagues.

Of my classmates, I was one of the few that opted to test through the AACN, however, I am very satisfied. In comparison to the experiences of my colleagues who tested through the ANCC, my exam was heavily based on critical care scenarios. Because I have always been a critical care nurse and now work as a Nurse Practitioner in critical care, the AACN exam was a better fit for me.

I will also note, the customer service center at the AACN was much more responsive when processing my application, answering my phone calls, and responding to my questions throughout the process. Thus, I registered for the exam online two weeks prior to graduation, paid the fee, had my transcripts and education validation sent to the AACN the day of graduation, and roughly two weeks later, received my authorization to test. 

What Review Materials Should I Use? 

For the Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Board exam, there are several review options. I purchased the Barkley & Associates At Home Review, but many of my colleagues attended a Barkley Live Review Course and found it very helpful.

>> Explore Nurse Practitioner Certification Review Materials*

Of note, the Barkley review is more specific to the ANCC board exam (I took the AACN exam). However, there was nothing comparable specific to the AACN exam, so I chose to try Barkley and was satisfied. Another available board exam review is through Fitzgerald and while I have not used it, some of my colleagues were pleased with the materials. 

The Barkley At Home Review provided me with audio CDs, a review book and manual, and a practice exam. Additionally, when registering for my exam through the AACN, I was provided with 100 plus AACN specific practice questions and an exam outline.

Finally, I felt I needed more practice questions, so I signed up for a subscription to Board Vitals online question bank. 

Of note, Barkley, Fitzgerald, and Board Vitals have reviews and study questions available for all Nurse Practitioner board exams, not just Acute Care. 

How Long Should I Study?

I graduated the third week of May and post-graduation I allowed myself one week of rest before studying. I planned a trip the first week of July, so loosely decided I wanted to take my board exam at the end of June before my trip. This left me a five-week window to study. Here is the schedule I followed for studying:

Week 1: Study 3-5 hours per day, Monday through Friday (worked Saturday and Sunday)

  • Completed two Barkley review lectures with coinciding chapters in the manual and book, as well as, completed all AACN review questions. 

Week 2: Study 3-5 hours per day, Monday through Friday (worked Saturday and Sunday)

  • Completed three Barkley review lectures with coinciding chapters in the manual and book, as well as, 150 Board Vitals review questions. 

Week 3: Study 5-6 hours per day, Monday through Friday (worked Saturday and Sunday)

  • Completed remaining Barkley review lectures with coinciding chapters in the manual and book, as well as, 500 Board Vitals review questions. 

Week 4: Study 5-6 hours per day, Monday through Friday (worked Saturday and Sunday)

  • Reviewed my weakest areas in Barkley again. This included making notecards and memorizing content related to Endocrine, Respiratory, and GU. I also completed two Barkley practice exams (would not recommend spending additional money on these), and around 300 more Board Vitals questions. I also reviewed the exam outline from the AACN and made study guides on the topics not covered by my Barkley review. 

Week 5: Study 8-10 hours per day, every day, no work

  • This was by far my most intense week of studying. I reviewed all Barkley sections again, completed 750-1000 Board Vitals questions, then reviewed all of the AACN questions and AACN exam outline again. 

Additional Information 

  • Study with a trusted friend who will help you and not distract you
  • Work out or walk in the middle of every study day
  • Have healthy snacks available and hydrate
  • Pay special attention to your sleep pattern during the 5 weeks, assuring you are on a schedule and achieving high-quality z’s. 
  • Minimize stress as much as possible. 

What Should I Do on the Day of the Exam?

At this point in my career, I realized that if I do not know the information on the day of the exam, I will not know it at all.

The night before the exam, I stopped studying around 8 pm, watched a TV show, and went to bed early.

I arrived almost an hour early to the testing center and listened to music in my car while I waited to go in.

After the exam, my best friend met me for a congratulations hug and we went out to lunch to celebrate both of us being board certified.  

Best of luck to all of the new Nurse Practitioners studying for your board exams, you will be great! 

Danielle LeVeck, DNP, ACNPC-AG, CNS, RN, CCRN is an ICU Nurse Practitioner, blogger, writer, and social media influencer, who strives to empower and inspire nurses from all backgrounds, to partake in regular self-care and multidisciplinary teamwork, for the sake of providing optimal patient care. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook for her latest. 

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