What You Should Know About the AANP and ANCC Exams


During their last few semesters, nurse practitioner (NP) students prepare to take a licensure exam after earning their Master of Science in Nursing. Graduates can choose to take either the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) exam or American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) exam- and though the outcome is shared, both tests differ from each other. In today’s article, we’ll explore both paths to licensure to help you decide which exam may be best for you. 


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AANP vs ANCC - Exam Comparison

There are several differences between the AANP vs 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 whether to take the AANP vs ANCC exam need to reflect on where they would like to take their practice. 

  • AANP Focus: Those interested in working in clinical areas may benefit from taking the AANP exam because of its focus on clinical practice. Questions are grounded in the assessment, diagnosis, and evaluation process.
  • ANCC Focus: Students who may want to be a professor or work in research as a nurse practitioner can benefit from taking the ANCC as this exam includes research and theory topics. While certain organizations may prefer NPs with the ANCC certification for research or teaching positions, experience is typically taken into account before the type of licensure exam.

Subject Content

Another aspect to consider when deciding between the AANP vs ANCC exam is the content breakdown. 

  • AANP Content: This test is clinically-focused, and the test item categories include assessment (35%), diagnosis (25%), planning (21%), and evaluation (18%).
  • ANCC Content: The ANCC contains four subjects, including clinical management (43%), diagnosis (26%), assessment (35%), and professional role (10%). 

Number of Questions

  • AANP Questions: Students who experience test anxiety or have difficulty taking tests may prefer to take the AANP due to its shorter length and time limit. The AANP has 150 questions and a time limit of three hours.
  • ANCC Questions: The ANCC exam has more questions for a total of 175. While the ANCC does have 25 more questions, the amount of time the taker has to answer each question is proportional for each test. The test time limit is 3.5 hours for the ANCC. 

Both test options have a 1.2 minute average time per question. There is no limit for time spent per question. If you know that you become fatigued quickly while taking tests, the AANP may seem more appealing, but only you can decide.

Question Format

  • AANP Format: If you find multiple choice questions easy to manage, the AANP is a great option- it contains only straightforward multiple choice. 
  • ANCC Format: The ANCC is a multiple-choice exam too, however, it contains a few different types of questions such as drag-and-drop, multiple answer questions, and “hot spot” items. 

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.

ANCC vs AANP Pass rates

Knowing the pass rates for each exam can help you decide which feels most comfortable:

  • AANP Pass Rates: In 2018, 85 percent of first-time test takers passed the AANP FNP exam. 
  • ANCC Pass Rates: In comparison, 86.2 percent of test takers passed the ANCC exam on their first try. 

Pass rates can vary greatly between nurse practitioner programs. Spring Arbor University’s MSN-FNP graduates are a part of a community of inspiring outcomes, sharing an above-average first-time pass rate of 88 percent. Spring Arbor’s highly-effective online coursework and in-person residency for hands-on training prepares you for the licensure exam and helps 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 and see which areas you earned the lowest scores. This can indicate where you need to brush up your knowledge.

Another useful tool is practice tests to help you determine 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 can, you also need to prepare yourself to actually take the test. Try not to stay up too late or study to 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 a time that works best for you. If you’re not a morning person, waking up too early may not work to your advantage and could even affect test performance.

Inspiring Outcomes

Students in Spring Arbor University’s online MSN-FNP program 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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American Nurses Credentialing Center. (2019). Certification: General testing and renewal handbook. https://www.nursingworld.org/~4ac3ba/globalassets/certification/renewals/GeneralTestingandRenewalHandbook

American Nurses Credentialing Center. (2019). Test content outline. https://www.nursingworld.org/~48f9cc/globalassets/certification/certification-specialty-pages/resources/test-content-outlines/familynp-tco-may-222.pdf

American Association of Nurse Practitioners. (2019). FNP content blueprint. https://www.aanpcert.org/certs/fnp

American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. (2019). AANPCB 2018 statistics. https://www.aanpcert.org/resource/documents/AANPCB%202018%20Pass%20Rate%20Report.pdf

American Nurses Credentialing Center. (2019). 2018 ANCC certification data. https://www.nursingworld.org/~49a35f/globalassets/docs/ancc/certification-data-for-website.pdf