How to Bounce Back from Failing Your NP Certification Exam

If you’re a recent or soon-to-be nurse practitioner grad, your certification exam is likely front and center in your mind. Not only are you wrapping up papers, projects and cramming for finals, you’re also perusing review books, flashcards and completing hundreds of practice exam questions. But, what happens when all your hard work falls flat?

Failing your national nurse practitioner certification exam is undoubtedly a disappointment. In fact, it may have you unsure about your decision to go back to school at all. As a new nurse practitioner, however, you must get back on track so the time, energy and expense you’ve put into furthering your career don’t go to waste. So, once you’ve had a good cry and commiserated with your classmates about the result, follow these steps for success on your second chance

1. Understand the Problem

Many times, you’ll be able to point to a reason your test-taking experience broke down. Perhaps you ran out of time at the end of the exam. Or, maybe there was a certain type of question or subject matter that left you stumped. If at all possible, identify the main problems you encountered during the NP certification exam so you can focus future study sessions and strategy on these areas. 

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2. Know the Test

The tendency as a nurse practitioner student is to jump into memorizing clinical content rather than spending time in the initial pages of your certification review book. These chapters, however, contain information that benefits you greatly as a test taker. NP certification review study guides and organization websites list a breakdown of content you can expect to find on the exam. Use this to your advantage. For example, if the test contains 30 questions about cardiology and just 5 on dermatology, focus your energy on reviewing on cardiology content. Maximize precious study time by directing attention to areas test makers see as most important, not necessarily those you find most interesting or those where you personally feel the weakest. 

Finally, understand the structure of the NP certification exam. Are you able to go back and recheck questions you aren’t sure about? How many questions do you need to answer correctly? Set yourself up for success by knowing what to expect when you sit down in front of the computer. Have a strategy for approaching the exam.

3. Assess areas of weakness

If you failed the nurse practitioner certification exam, you should receive a report indicating how you performed in each content area on the test. Before you crumple up your results and frustrated, toss it in the trash, assess your performance in each area. Focus study time on your weakest areas before retaking the exam. This is a much less daunting task than reviewing for the test in its entirety. 

4. Study Effectively

Effective study habits don’t come naturally. Nurse practitioners must approach certification prep with a plan. Set aside time in your calendar each day for studying. Make sure you have a quiet, dedicated place without the potential for interruptions. Purchase study materials that use practice questions created by the test manufacturer and complete any study guides or practice tests on the test manufacturer’s website. After all, no one knows the NP certification exam better than the individuals that created it. Practice questions are the best way to assess how you’ll do on test day. Reviewing notes from your NP program and re-reading text books is not effective unless you’re using them to review a specific topic in an area where you performed poorly on your initial attempt. Even then, using certification specific materials is the best way to learn this content as is relates to your national boards. 

If you failed your nurse practitioner certification exam, take heart! You’ve got a second chance for success. Follow these four steps to implement a study plan that will have you celebrating after your next attempt. 


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