Taking a certification exam is an integral part of becoming a nurse practitioner and, depending on your specialty, you might have to take the exam from the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
Many NPs already know which exam they’re going to take because it’s the one correspondent to their specialties, which makes it easier for them to start getting ready. However, if you want to become an FNP, for example, you get to choose the one that’s right for you.
This article compares the two tests and also answers some common questions about them.
The ANCC exam vs the AANP exam
The American Nurses Association (ANA) is the governing body behind the ANCC. The certification test that they give to NP students has been around for longer, and certifies more specialties than the AANP exam.
This is why some people argue that an ANCC certification carries a little more weight and respect. It’s not common practice, but you might find one or two employers that ask for ANCC certification.
The AANP exam is more recent, and has some differences that make it more appealing to many NPs. Some say the test is easier, more straightforward. We’ll explain those differences below to help you choose.
You should know, however, that there’s no objective evidence that any of these exams provide you with “better” certification.
It all comes down to people’s preferences and bias. You should take the test that feels right for you (if you have that choice).
Which specialties does the ANCC and the AANP tests certify?
The ANCC test will certify you as a nurse in one of these specialties:
- Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP-BC)
- Adult-Gerontological Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP-BC)
- Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP-BC)
- Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (PPCNP-BC)
- Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHPNP)
The AANP tests will certify you as a nurse in one of these specialties:
- Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (A-GNP)
- Emergency Nurse Practitioner (ENP)
- Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP-C)
As you can see here, the only nurse practitioners who get to pick their exam are in the Family and Adult Gerontology specialties. Everyone else has only one test option.
How many questions do the tests have?
The AANP exam has 150 questions to be completed in more than 3 hours. All of their tests have the same number of questions, regardless of the specialty.
The ANCC exam can have up to 200 questions that you’ll have to complete in 3 to 4 hours. You’ll have to answer a minimum of 150. This is another reason why some people consider this exam to be harder.
Both types of exam (AANP and ANCC) will have some questions that are not graded.
You’ll find 15 pre-test questions in the AANP exam, and a similar number of pre-test questions on the ANCC exam. They are there only so test makers can evaluate your response to them.
What types of questions do the ANCC and the AANP exams have?
There are some differences between the questions you might find in both of these exams. Let’s take a look at them:
In the ANCC test you will find questions about:
- Clinical Management
- Professional Role
That last point refers to questions that are non-clinical. These are questions related to research, ethics, scope of practice, regulatory guidelines, insurance, and so on.
If you find that you are good at those topics, you might want to pursue ANCC certification. These questions are not necessarily “harder,” they just cover different topics.
You might encounter about 10 to 30 percent of these questions in the ANCC exam.
In the AANP test you will find questions about:
If you want to become an FNP or an AGNP, these questions are 100% clinical. You won’t have to worry about answering questions on other topics. This is also why some people think the AANP test is easier.
However, those who want to become Emergency Nurse Practitioners will also have to answer non-clinical questions. The ENP certification exam will evaluate you on:
- Medical Screening
- Medical Decision Making (DDx)
- Patient Management
- Patient Disposition
- Professional, legal, and ethical practices
Click here to read more about the ENP exam.
The biggest difference between the ANCC and the AANP’s exam questions
In the AANP test you will only find multiple choice questions. You’ll have to mark the correct option and then move on to the next question, no matter your specialty.
The ANCC, in contrast, will give you:
- Multiple choice questions: Select one option from many
- Multiple answer questions: Select all the options that apply
- Hot-spot questions: Mark a certain area of an image
The ANCC exam will also have a lot of more images for you to work with. They might show you things like EKG strips, pictures of physical symptoms, etcetera, for you to interpret and explain what you would do.
Is the ANCC exam really more difficult than the AANP exam?
This is the question most NPs have when choosing between the two. There isn’t an official agreement between NPs in this matter, and for many, that might seem like an unfair question.
After all, we could say that NPs who choose to (or had to) take the AANP exams are just as prepared as those who take the ANCC. They are still at the same level of education.
The ANCC exam does test students in different ways, and can seem more comprehensive. However, in the end, all NPs get the same certification.
If you really want to figure out which exam is harder, you might look at pass rates. Many people think that the pass rates for the AANP exam are higher than those of the ANCC. However, this is not exactly the case right now.
In 2018, the approval rate for the AANP exam was 85%, while the approval rate for the ANCC exam was 86.2%. Does this mean that the ANCC exam has become easier than the AANP exam? Not really.
In any case, the difference between pass rates in both exams usually doesn’t exceed 1 or 2 percent. They are always very close, which helps the argument that both of them are different, but almost equally difficult.
Here’s the 2019 Annual Report on the test by the AANP if you want to learn more.
And here’s the 2019 ANCC certification data report if you’re thinking of going (or have to go) with that one.
You’ll find that the percentages for approval rates are still very close. For example, last year’s FNP test for the AANP had an 86% approval rate, and the ANCC FNP test had an 87.1% approval rate.
Which exam is more expensive to take?
Taking the AANP exam will cost you $315, but you can lower the price to $240 by becoming a member of the organization.
Click here for additional fees that you should know about.
If you want to take the ANCC exam, that will cost you $395. If you are a member of the ANA, the exam fee will be $295. Also if you’re a member of the AANP that wants to take the ANCC exam, the fee will be $340.
With all of this in mind, which exam should you take?
We recommend that you look into each exam a little more before making your choice. For that, you can go to:
Taking either of these exams might have a lot to do with your career goals, as well as your personal preference. Do you want to get more than one specialty? Do you prefer an exam that only has one type of question?
In the end, it’s all up to you (or the specialty you chose, as some of them are tied to only one exam). Planning out your career before you finish NP school will help you decide which of these tests to take.
Can you get certified in both the ANCC and the AANP?
Yes! You can take both exams with no issue. This is not recommended, but some people do it.
The only reason why you would need to take both exams is if you are considering a specialty that’s not certified by one of them. For example, if you are an FNP that’s certified with the AANP, and you want to become a PMHNP, you would have to be certified by the ANCC.
The AANP and the ANCC have similar ways for you to renew your certification. However, they are not the same.
The ANCC requires you to renew your certification every 5 years. Here are the requirements:
- Complete an obligatory 75 CE hours (25 of them must be in pharmacotherapeutics).
- Complete one or more of the following categories:
- Academic credits in your certification specialty.
- Presentations in your specialty.
- A publication or research in Evidence-Based Practice or Quality Improvement.
- Preceptor Hours (a minimum of 120).
- Professional Service (as a volunteer).
- Practice Hours: A minimum of 1,000 in your specialty.
- Assessment: Take the exam again.
Learn more about ANCC certification renewal by clicking here.
The AANP also requires you to recertify every 5 years. You have two options:
Option 1: Recertify by completing 1,000 clinical hours as an NP and a minimum of 100 contact hours of advanced CE.
These hours can be as an employee, volunteer, or faculty. 25 of your 100 CE credits must be in advanced practice pharmacology, and you can also exchange up to 125 hours as a preceptor for a total of 25 credits.
Option 2: Take the test again.
For more information about the AANP’s certification process, click here.
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