ANCC vs. AANP: Comparing Nurse Practitioner Certification Exams

It’s certification time for students graduating from NP programs this month. Choosing whether to take the AANP or ANCC nurse practitioner certification exam, if given the option for your specialty, can be a difficult decision. While the exams are overall very similar, there are a few small differences that can help you make your final decision.

So far this week we’ve compared certifying bodies, the cost of certification exams and pass rates. Today, let’s take a look at the structure and content of the two tests by breaking the exam down into its different components. 

What is the process for signing up to take the NP certification exam?

ANCC: The first step to taking the ANCC nurse practitioner certification exam is to complete an application online. This application verifies that you possesses an RN license and have graduated from an accredited NP program. Once approved, you will receive an authorization to test notice along with instructions on signing up for a test date, time and location at a Prometric testing center. Applicants have 90 days from receiving this letter to take the test. If necessary, a one-time request to extend this 90 day testing window may be made.

AANP: Signing up for the AANP nurse practitioner certification exam is done through the AANP Certification Program website. Applicants must create an online profile and apply for certification. This application verifies that you possesses an RN license and have graduated from an accredited NP program. This process can be started six months before the intended certification date. Typically, applications take between 3 and 6 weeks to process. Once an applicant is approved, he/she will receive a notificaiton from ProExam including instructions on signing up for a test location, date and time. The test must be taken within 120 days of receiving notification, or the application will need to be re-submitted. 

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Note: Both the ANCC and AANP recommend signing up for your certification exam quickly upon receiving authorization to test. Testing slots can fill up quickly. So, complete the process in a timely manner so you can test at your preferred location and on your preferred date.

Where will I take my test?

ANCC: Nurse practitioners certifying through the ANCC take the certification exam at a Prometric testing center of their choosing. The exam is computer-based and offered year-round.

AANP: Candidates certifying through the AANP take the NP certification exam at a Prometric testing center of their choosing. The exam is computer-based and offered year-round.

Note: Both certifying bodies administer the nurse practitioner certification exam at Prometric testing centers. However, not all testing centers offer the same exams so check to see if the AANP or ANCC exam will be located most conveniently for you on the Prometric websiteDon’t forget to bring your ID with you to the test and don’t be late! The testing center requires you to arrive at least 15 minutes before the start of your exam.

What content is covered in the exam?

ANCC: The ANCC breaks nurse practitioner exam content down into different areas for all specialties. The most common areas are foundations for advanced practice, professional practice, and independent practice. For each specialty the percentage of content associated with each area varies. For example, on the Family Nurse Practitioner certification exam, foundations for advanced practice accounts for 34 percent of content (59 questions), professional practice for 26 percent (46 questions), and independent practice for 40 percent (70 questions) of the exam.

When compared to the AANP exam, the ANCC typically has a higher percentage of questions focused on professional issues such as healthcare policy and ethics. So, if you choose to take the ANCC nurse practitioner certification exam, spend time going over these topics in your review books.

AANP: The AANP breaks the certification exam down into four domains; assessment, diagnosis, plan, and evaluation. The domains account for the following percentages of the test: assessment 35 percent (47 questions), diagnosis 25 percent (34 questions), plan 22 percent (30 questions), and evaluation 18 percent (24 questions).

Note: Both exams cover a wide range of topics including anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, pharmacology, health promotion and disease prevention, taking a health history, evaluation of symptoms, developing an evidence-based care plan, diagnostic testing, legal and ethical issues, cultural competence, epidemiology, healthcare economics, and healthcare management. 

How long is the test and how many questions does it contain?

ANCC: The ANCC certification exam asks between 175 or 200 questions depending on specialty giving 3.5 or 4 hours to take the test depending on the number of questions. Of these questions, 25 are sample test items that are not counted toward the total score. For example, the Family Nurse Practitioner exam is 4 hours long and contains 200 questions, 25 of which are unscored pretest questions. This means that for the FNP certification exam candidates have, on average, 50 seconds to answer each question with each question accounting for 0.57% of the total exam score.

AANP: The AANP nurse practitioner certification exam contains 150 questions, 15 being sample test items that are not counted towards the final exam score. The exam is 3 hours long. This means that candidates have, on average, 50 seconds to answer each question with each scored question accounting for 0.74% of the total exam score.

Note: For all tests, 15 minutes are allowed before the test to become oriented to the computer testing software. This software is straightforward and easy to use. Test-takers should, however spend at least a few minutes familiarizing themselves with how to operate the testing program correctly.

How do I get my results?

ANCC: Test results are given in a pass/ fail format immediately upon completion of the test. In cases where the test is failed, a score report will be sent including information regarding performance on each content area of the test.

AANP: Exam results are given in a pass/ fail format immediately upon completion of the test. Candidates who fail the exam will receive an official letter indicating strengths and weaknesses of knowledge areas covered on the test.

What happens if I fail the exam?

ANCC: Individuals who do not pass the ANCC certification exam may apply to retake the test after 60 days of the last testing date. The exam cannot be taken more than three times in any 12 month period.

AANP: Candidates who do not pass the certification exam may apply to retake the test. Before being allowed to retake the exam, candidates must complete 15 hours of continuing education credit in the area or areas of weakness identified on the score report. The AANP certification exam may not be taken more than two times in any calendar year.

Which nurse practitioner certification exam will you take?


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16 thoughts on “ANCC vs. AANP: Comparing Nurse Practitioner Certification Exams”

  1. It would be helpful to call out what the renewal process is for each certification, this may also impact the decision making process.

  2. Any chance of changing out the term “Mid-Level”? This term is going the way of “Physician Extenders” (thank goodness) . I know we’ve eliminated the use of that term in our grad school literature.

  3. Great question. Yes, as far as I know, the two organizations don’t communicate with each other as far as pass/fail so you can take both. 

  4. Just wondering why anyone would take the ANCC test because it is a lot more expensive and no one can tell me the benefit of taking it over AANP …..any thoughts?

  5. Lois Freeman DNP

    The greatest insult to practicing professional practitioners was a group of their peers deciding to retire their credentials. How many lives have been saved and patients treated under those credentialed. And then some not being offered the opportunity to challenge other certifications without further course work. This is what separates us from physicians! They don’t treat each other in this manner. Shame on every one who conceived and passed this decision. Every NP should have been given opportunity to challenge other certifications.

  6. Is there any real difference between these two certifications? Is one organization more ‘accepted / respected’ compared with the other? Would it / does it make any difference (to anyone in the world) if you hold certifications from both organizations? Why are there two accrediting bodies in the first place?

    My initial certification is from the ANCC. I’m renewing. Does it matter which I pursue?

    (Some of the questions off the top of my head.)

    ~ JonAnthony

  7. Students have so much on their plate after graduation, having to do research on which test is the best fit is should not be an issue….seems set up like a to dig into your wallt

  8. Pingback: Best FNP Review Courses - 8 Courses for Nurse Practitioners

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