Is the NP Certification Exam Getting More Difficult?

The nurse practitioner profession is a rather young one. The changes we constantly see when it comes to professional regulations and policies are a byproduct of being a part of a developing profession. In just the past few years, for example, we’ve seen nurse practitioner specialty designations change and divide. 

The content of nurse practitioner certification exams has certainly changed to reflect these specialty divisions. Adult NPs, for example, must now select either a primary or acute care track, affecting the questions they’ll be asked on the certification test. Time also can influence the outcome of such assessment measures. Certifying bodies may receive pressure to make it more or less difficult to enter the profession. 

So, in the face of change and the natural pressures that come with serving in a regulatory capacity over a profession, just how has the difficulty of the AANP certification exam changed in recent years?

The table below shows the passing rates on both the AANP’s family nurse practitioner and adult nurse practitioner certification exams. 

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Overall, the family nurse practitioner certification test has maintained a pretty even pass rate over the eight year period covered in the AANP’s reports. The most recent year reported, 2015, had the lowest passing rate to date. Coming years will show if the downward trend is to continue.

Pass rates on the adult nurse practitioner certification exam have decreased somewhat over the past eight years. This corresponds with the movement to the adult-gerontology primary care exam rather than the general adult designation. The general adult certification exam averaged an 89.2 percent passing rate while NPs taking the adult gerontology primary care exam have just an 81.9 percent success rate on average. 

Based on previous years data published by the AANP, nurse practitioners can expect that between 80 and 90 percent of test takers will pass the certification exam. 


12 thoughts on “Is the NP Certification Exam Getting More Difficult?”

  1. I wonder if we are also seeing a drop in test scores related to few actual hands on patient care hours and the recent explosion of online NP programs?
    Add on top of that we are taking RNs with BSNs or ASNs an sending through the process to come out a DNPs can you actually process everything in 3-4 years and truly be proficient?

    1. I just finished a rigorous online program. Experienced thorough lectures and course work. Online requires individuals to be more self taught and self driven. The program did not just accept anyone. I was required to be an RN for 5 year. Also needed reference letters to be written from providers, whether it be a physician, PA, or NP. I also had to fly in for an interview. I chose online because it was only option for me living in a rural and remote area. Yes, some online programs take people at random and somehow are accredited, which blows my mind. I can see why they raised the difficulty of the exam for that reason. One who passes is just as able to be a practicing NP whether they came from an online program or a fancy and probably overpriced university.

      Do not just assume the ones that fail come directly from online programs. I passed first attempt and found the FNP exam to be straightforward. It boils down to knowledge and one’s ability to apply.that knowlege into patient care.

  2. I agree with Jim’s point. In the 80’s & 90’s an applicant to a site based NP program wars required to have 2-6 years experience as a RN and demonstrate proficiency in assessment abilities. When these requirements were dropped, we began to see a decline in pass rates.

  3. Yes, I would certainly agree that anyone who wants to become an NP of any sort, it should be REQUIRED that a BSN RN have AT LEAST 5 -10 YEARS of ICU or M/S background as a prerequisite just to apply to school. These little girls and boys who think that a program that goes from ADN, BSN, MSN, to DNP are completely delusional… There is no basis of understanding learning the nursing model. Then they should be MANDATED to go through an NP Residency program for at least 18-24 mos of how to be a nurse in the first place!!!!

  4. Can you please include information about the real test? ANCC for board certification. Many jobs require Board Certification not the AANP which is a lot easier. They are not accepted as the “same”. To achieve board certification is the real test and is more comprehensive…. thx

  5. I took both and dont feel like one is harder than the other. They are different though. I’ve read many posts where new NP’s failed AANP and took AANC and then passed. I preferred the AANP exam over ANCC as my strength is more in the clinical questions. I will say my RN experience helped a lot as I didn’t find either test to be too difficult. My state and employer accepts both certifications.

  6. Could “blank” please clarify the AANP vs ANCC comment? It was my impression that both entities board certified. I didn’t think one was above the other. Any job I have had over the last 12 years never differentiated between the two. It always seemed a bit strange that there were two “boards” that one had to choose from…it would seem more logical, cohesive, and unifying to combine the two and strengthen the Nurse Practitioner body.

  7. 1) I 100% agree with Ben that it makes little to no sense to have 2 separate certifying boards!

    2) there are SO MANY options for NP schools and each of them have a different set of standards either/or for admission and most certainly for the courses that are offered. Therefore resulting in a large variance of APP abilities and knowledge upon completion.

    3) just a side thought, how can the MSN programs NOT offer and emphasize basic testing interpretation — eg: radiography/CXR. I’d love to hear if any of you did have training in this area just out of curiosity.

    In my opinion, and of course we all have an opinion… I truly feel that the Master’s of Nursing degree would gain much more respect and appreciation nationwide if they would come to consensus on the above issues I mentioned. What I find disheartening though, is that the master’s program and now the DNP programs are trying to expand too quickly for our own capabilities. Please… let’s finsh one job/task (the MSN programs and certification) before moving on the the next (DNP)!

  8. Both test are board certified, just a different certifying body. If you are more for research, then take the ANCC, if you are more clinical then take the AANP. I don’t agree with Blank that ANCC is the “real” test. They are both real test and most employers that do not accept one over the other are misinformed. Whether I take AANP or ANCC I am board certified when I pass the test.

  9. “Blank” is misinformed and/or ill-intentioned. As has been said, both tests result in board certification and are universally accepted.  Unfortunate that we have people creating misconceptions such as these. 

  10. Too many NPs are trying to get by with only on-line experience, and then get overwhelmed when faced with real life clinical situations without experience in a patient oriented setting to fall back on. Like physicians, everyone should have some supervised time before practice, especially independently.

  11. I agreee that all applicants should have a BSN and previous experience. I had over 20 years before I went back to school and use that knowledge base all the time. What upsets me most about my graduate education is the lack of a real residency program. I know that one is offered though mid level u, but honestly it should be a part of all curriculum. Doctors due the equivalent of my clinical year in medical school, but as new graduates we are often put in situations where what is expected from us is what only real patient experience would teach.

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