Pros & Cons: Self-Directed vs. Live NP Certification Review

Studying for the nurse practitioner certification, or ‘boards’, is a major project. Not only are you attempting to wrap up end-of-the semester projects and complete clinical requirements, the weight of finding a job and beginning to pay off student loans is hanging over your head. But, preparation for the NP certification exam is a necessary evil as passing the test is essential to launching your new career. There are two main ways to study up for your nurse practitioner boards-self-directed study or attending a live review course. Which option is right for you?

The following is a brief overview of the nuts and bolts of these two NP exam preparation methods as well as an assessment of the pros and cons.

Self-Directed Nurse Practitioner Certification Preparation

Many nurse practitioners choose to take control of their own certification preparation. From online practice exam questions to study manuals, there are numerous resources available to soon-to-be NPs. These study tools can be used on your own time and completed at your own pace, a draw for busy nurse practitioner students. Here’s the rundown of what to expect with a self-directed study program.

Time Commitment: The time it takes to study for your NP certification exam depends on how much knowledge you retained throughout your NP program as well as the quality and breadth of your clinical experiences. Ideally, nurse practitioner students will begin self-directed study two to three months before taking the exam spending a few hours each week on preparation.

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Cost: Self-directed study is quite affordable. Some websites offer free online NP certification practice questions. Review books may be purchased or rented online costing anywhere from $15 to $75. Purchasing two to three certification review books is wise as it gives a well-rounded study experience.

Primary Study Skills Required: Self-directed study for the nurse practitioner boards requires discipline, organization, and commitment. It’s not easy to say ‘no’ to social obligations for a test that’s two months away. Prioritizing routine study sessions and completing your review materials in an organized manner is a must.

Study Methods Involved: The best way for self-directed NP students to study is by completing practice exam questions. Then, students should review didactic content for questions they answered incorrectly or were unsure of.

Pros: Taking control of your own nurse practitioner certification review gives you flexibility in how and when you study. Not to mention, it’s quite affordable.

Cons: Some students may have difficulty organizing a study plan and buckling down to prioritize study sessions without guidance. They may also find themselves lost in the sea of available materials and prefer to have specific instruction regarding exam study resources.

ThriveAP Resources: Where to Find Online Practice Questions for the NP Certification Exam, Top 5 Family Nurse Practitioner Certification Review Books

Live Nurse Practitioner Certification Courses

Time Commitment: Live NP certification review courses are typically a 2-3 day commitment conferring 20 to 30 hours of certification review material. Often, these review sessions are held over a weekend making attendance convenient for busy NP students.

Cost: Live certification review courses range in cost averaging about $400 to $500 for a three-day session. Don’t forget to take travel and lodging expenses into account if you plan to complete your live review course out-of-town. Some companies offer live review courses streamed online giving the benefit of live review without the need to pack for a weekend away.

Primary Study Skills Required: Live nurse practitioner review courses deliver information about test content in-person. So, these courses are great for auditory learners, those who have difficulty organizing and executing long-term study plans on their own and/or nurse practitioner students who simply want to make sure they have all their bases covered.

Study Methods Involved: Show up prepared to a live certification review with a list of questions you have about the exam, a notepad and pen for taking notes. Be aware that a three day course alone won’t give you all the information you need for your nurse practitioner boards. Completing practice questions and reviewing content on your own is still essential to certification success. 

Pros: Live certification review courses are often the push nurse practitioner students need to get serious about exam prep. They also offer a forum for asking questions to a certification expert directly.

Cons: NP certification review courses are costly and time consuming. They are a supplement to self-directed study but not a replacement. So, NP students will still have plenty of prep to do before taking the test. Enroll in a review course a few months before you plan to take the exam so you can supplement this cram-session. 

NP Student Critiques: Some students lament that certification review courses focus more on informing nurse practitioner students as to the types of content and questions that they can expect on the NP certification exam rather than helping them understand the content. According to NP students who have attended in-person review courses, you will leave the weekend feeling the burden of long study sessions to come. Review courses are not a replacement for studying, but they do offer direction.

ThriveAP Resources: 4 Best Live NP Certification Review Courses, How Much Will Your NP Certification Cost?


How do you plan to study for the nurse practitioner certification exam?


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