AANP vs. ANCC Certification: Which Exam Is Right for You?

Students taking an exam.
Students taking an exam.

During their last few semesters, nurse practitioner (NP) students prepare to take a licensure exam after earning their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Graduates can choose to take either the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) exam — and though both lead to a license, the two tests differ. When considering the AANP vs. the ANCC, how can you determine which exam is best aligned with your career goals?

AANP vs. ANCC Exam Comparison 

There are several differences between the AANP and ANCC exams. Considering your career goals is helpful when deciding which one to take. Here are some helpful tips to understand exam nuances and how best to prepare.

Career Considerations

NP students debating which exam to take should reflect on where they would like to take their practice. While there is some overlap between specialties offered by the AANP and ANCC certifications, they also offer different areas of focus to choose from. 

The AANP offers three different NP certifications to choose from: 

  • Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner (AGPCNP)
  • Emergency nurse practitioner (ENP)
  • Family nurse practitioner (FNP)

The ANCC, on the other hand, offers five NP certifications:

  • Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner (AGPCNP)
  • Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP)
  • Family nurse practitioner (FNP)
  • Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP)

Subject Content

Another aspect to consider when deciding between these exams is the content breakdown. 

AANP Exam Domains

Both the AGPCNP and the FNP examinations feature two content domains: The first domain includes the categories assessment, diagnosis, planning and evaluation. The second domain focuses on patient age. 

The ENP examination features five domains: Medical screening, medical decision making/differential diagnosis, patient management, patient disposition and professional, legal and ethical practices. 

ANCC Exam Domains

The FNP and PMHNP certification examinations each feature five content domains. The FNP domains are assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation and evaluation. The PMHNP domains are scientific foundation, advanced practice skills, diagnosis treatment, psychotherapy and related theories and ethical and legal principles.

Both the AGNP certification examinations have three domains: The AGPCNP domains are patient assessment process, plan of care and professional practice. The AGACNP domains are core competencies, clinical practice and professional role. 

Number of Questions

Both test options have a 1.2 minute average time per question, though there is no limit for the time spent per question. 

  • AANP Questions: The AANP has 150 questions – 135 are scored and 15 are pre-test questions – with a time limit of three hours. 
  • ANCC Questions: The ANCC exam a total of 175 questions – 150 are scored, and 125 are pre-test. The test time limit is 3 1/2 hours for the ANCC. 

Question Format

Knowing the types of questions on the exam helps you prepare and study more efficiently and effectively. You’ll feel more comfortable taking the exam after making yourself familiar with each type of question and some test-taking strategies that apply to each type.

  • AANP Format: The AANP exam contains only straightforward multiple choice questions. 
  • ANCC Format: The ANCC is also a multiple-choice exam, but it contains a few different types of questions such as drag-and-drop, multiple answer questions and “hot spot” items. 

Exam Cost

Another differentiator is the cost of taking the AANP vs. ANCC exams.

  • AANP Exam Cost: The cost to sit for this exam is $315, though joining the AANP lowers that cost to $240.
  • ANCC Exam Cost: The ANCC exam is $395 for nonmembers and $295 for members.

There may be other discounts for members of other associations. 

ANCC vs. AANP Pass Rates

Each exam also has a different pass rate, which may vary based on specialization.

  • AANP Pass Rates: In 2020, 85% of first-time test takers passed the FNP exam, 86% passed the AGPCNP exam and 89% passed the ENP exam. 
  • ANCC Pass Rates: In comparison, 86.6% of test takers passed the ANCC exam on their first try in 2021. 

Pass rates can vary greatly between nurse practitioner programs. Spring Arbor University’s MSN-FNP graduates are a part of a community known for their inspiring outcomes, with an above-average first-time pass rate of 88%. Spring Arbor’s highly effective online coursework and in-person residency for hands-on training prepare you for the licensure exam and help you grow as a nursing professional.

How to Tackle Test Preparation 

Deciding which exam to take is the first step to preparing for licensure. Committing to a test far in advance will help you narrow down which topics to study. Here are a few tips to help guide your efforts.

Keep Yourself on Track with Study Goals

It’s recommended to begin preparing for the licensure exam about six or more months before your test date. For current students, it can be tough to stay focused on your test prep while you’re still in school. This is why making study goals is essential to help you keep yourself accountable. For example, you can set a weekly goal of reviewing exam subjects for five hours. Make a calendar with checkboxes beside each week and check them off once you’ve met your goal. Seeing an empty box can help remind you to stick with your goal.

You can take your study goals one step further and plan study topics each week. If there’s a particular area that you struggle in, such as pediatrics, you may want to commit several weeks of study time specifically to pediatrics. Outline test content ahead of time and give yourself enough time to dive deep into review.

Know Your Study Needs

Knowing how you learn best is key to helping you establish a plan to study. If you are a visual person, use flash cards. If you need to take notes while you read, keep a live document. Current students can also try figuring out their weaknesses early on, then improve on them. As a starting point, try looking over old exam results from your courses to see which areas you earned the lowest scores. This can indicate where you need to brush up on your knowledge.

Another useful tool is practice tests, which can help you determine your weak points. At the end of the test, practice exams show you the questions that you missed and give you the correct answers. Most practice licensure exams will give you a score breakdown of how you performed in each subject area, too.

Prepare Yourself for Test Day

Planning to take the AANP or ANCC is one task. However, to achieve the best score, you also need to prepare yourself to actually take the test. Try not to stay up too late or study too intensely the night before so that your mind is clear and refreshed for test day. If possible, take a break from studying the day before the test. A well-rested mind typically has an easier time retrieving information. If taking a break makes you anxious, then do a light review and focus on your problem areas.

Eating a healthy, well-balanced meal before your test will also help you perform better. It’s tough to focus on the exam while you’re hungry or running on low energy.

Many students feel that they perform better on tests at different times of the day. If you test better in the morning, make sure you choose an early test time. If you’re not a morning person, waking up too early may not work to your advantage and could even negatively affect your test performance.

So Which Exam Is Right for You?

With a full understanding of the AANP vs. the ANCC exams, you’ll be ready to choose the exam that can set you on the path to beginning your practice and improving patients’ lives. You also can choose to sit for both exams, bolstering your level of nursing knowledge and certification.

Spring Arbor University’s online MSN program offers four NP specializations to choose from: Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP); Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP); Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP); and Adult-Gerontology Primary Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP). SAU students can graduate ready to pass their licensure exam of choice with above-average first-time pass rates. Advance your nursing career and join a close Christian community of dedicated faculty, students and alumni. To learn more, contact us today to speak with an online representative. 

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