Should I Take the AANP or ANCC Certification Exam?

Oct. 9, 2020 APEA staff
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Note: On Aug. 14, 2019, APEA posted a new blog about the ANCC exam blueprint for adult-gerontology primary care NPs, which will take effect Dec. 16, 2019. Find that post here.

As family nurse practitioner students and adult-gerontology nurse practitioner students near the end of their programs, most arrive at the following question: Which certification exam should I take? As the leader in NP certification preparation, APEA has developed a deep understanding of the differences between the two exams. This article contains an overview of the exams as well as details on particular differences between the two. Your decision about which exam to take depends on your preferences and career plans.

Two Certifying Bodies for FNPs and AGNPs

NP certifications in family and adult-gerontology roles are available from two organizations, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Each organization and its certification offerings are outlined below.

The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) is a national membership organization representing NPs. The AANP Certification Board (AANPCB) is an independent nonprofit organization incorporated separately from AANP. AANP members receive a $75 discount on AANPCB certification applications.

The AANPCB family NP and adult-gerontology NP certification programs are accredited by the Accreditation Board of Specialty Nursing Certification (ABSNC) and the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). Certifications available from AANPCB are family nurse practitioner (FNP), adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner (A-GNP), and emergency nurse practitioner (ENP). Find information on AANPCB certification for new NPs here: https://www.aanp.org/student-resources/np-certification

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) is a subsidiary of the American Nurses Association (ANA) that seeks to promote excellence in nursing and healthcare through credentialing programs. ANCC is not a membership organization; ANA is a membership organization for all types of nurses. ANCC's credentialing programs certify and recognize nurses in primary care and specialty practice areas. ANCC also recognizes healthcare organizations that promote nursing excellence and quality patient outcomes, most notably through its Magnet program.

The ANCC certifications available to graduates of nurse practitioner programs are: adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner (AGPCNP-BC), family nurse practitioner (FNP-BC), adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP-BC), and psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP-BC). Find information on ANCC certification for new NPs here: https://www.nursingworld.org/our-certifications/

Three Things to Consider

Consider three things when deciding which exam to take: your career plans, your testing style, and your testing content preference.

  1. Your career plans. Do you want to work as a clinician or in an educational or academic role? AANP certification enables FNPs and AGNPs to work in any clinical setting in any state, and to be reimbursed by insurers including Medicare and Medicaid. ANCC certification also enables FNPs and primary care AGNPs to work in any clinical setting in any state, and to be reimbursed by insurers including Medicare and Medicaid. ANCC’s exam content may be more appealing for academic hiring because it includes nursing research and theory. If your career goals include working as an educator in a university setting, ANCC certification may be a good choice for you. A question we sometimes hear at APEA review courses is about whether ANCC certification is required to work at a Magnet hospital. Current Magnet requirements do not state that ANCC certification is required of hospital nursing staff. The only published requirement for nurse leaders at Magnet hospitals is for a BSN degree or higher.
  2. Your testing style. The AANP exam is a multiple choice exam. The ANCC exam consists of multiple choice questions and, according to the ANCC certification handbook, “some examinations include alternate test item types such as drop and drag, hot spot, and multiple response.” If you are not comfortable with question formats that are not multiple choice, AANP testing may be a good choice for you.
  3. Testing content preference. The AANP exams for FNPs and AGNPs focus solely on clinical content, with questions reflecting patient assessment (35%), diagnosis (25%), planning (21%), and evaluation (18%). The ANCC exams for primary care AGNPs consist of questions on clinical content, NP professional issues (licensure, scope of practice, privileges) and nursing theory. The breakdown of the AGNP ANCC exam content is 29% foundations of advanced practice nursing, 29% professional roles, and 42% independent practice. The same breakdown will be in effect for FNP exams from ANCC until May 18, 2019. ANCC will introduce a new blueprint and exam effective May 22, 2019. Note: ANCC testing for FNP candidates will NOT be available May 18-21, as the transition to the new exam is made. The exam content breakdown for the ANCC exam for FNPs that will take effect May 22, 2019, is: 21% assessment, 26% diagnosis, 43% clinical management, and 10% professional role. Carefully review the blueprints and reference lists for each exam when making your decision.

Numbers and Details

The number of questions and the length of time permitted for testing are other issues to consider. The AANP exam for FNP candidates contains 150 questions. One hundred thirty-five of these are scored; the remaining 15 are “pretest” questions that are being considered for inclusion for scoring on future exams. The AANP exam for AGNP candidates also contains 150 questions. A candidate’s score is based only on the 135 questions that are scored; the remaining 15 questions are pretest questions to be analyzed for potential use in the future.

The ANCC exam for FNP candidates will contain 200 questions until the transition on May 22, 2019. One hundred seventy-five of these are scored; the remaining 25 are “pretest” questions that are being considered for inclusion on future exams. Starting May 22, 2019, the FNP exam from ANCC will contain 175 questions, 150 of which are scored (25 will be pretest questions). The ANCC exam for AGNP candidates contains 200 questions. Of these, 175 are scored and the remainder are pretest questions for analysis and consideration.

With regard to time, a certification candidate has 3 hours to answer the 150 questions on the AANP exam. Until May 22, 2019, certification candidates taking the ANCC exam for FNPs have 4 hours to answer 200 questions. Starting May 22, 2019, FNP candidates will have 3.5 hours to answer 175 questions. AGNP candidates for ANCC certification have 4 hours to answer 200 questions.

Both AANP and ANCC exams are given at contracted testing centers where timed, computerized testing is available. When you apply to take your certification exam, the certifying body will provide location options. AANP currently uses PSI Testing Centers, while ANCC currently uses Prometric Centers. Both companies have testing locations throughout the country, but you may have to travel to get to one in your area.

What about fees? At the time of this writing, the testing fee for an AANP exam by an AANP member is $240. For nonmembers, it is $315. The testing fee for an ANCC exam is $295 for ANA members and $395 for nonmembers. For AANP members, ANCC provides a discount rate of $340.

Download and review the AANP test blueprint and the ANCC test content outline (blueprint) for your role (FNP, AGNP) to further guide your decision. After you have decided which exam to take, study the appropriate test blueprint thoroughly and plan your study according to the information it contains. These documents are posted on the AANPCB and ANCC websites.

We hope that the information provided in this article helps you determine which certification exam is most suitable for you. We invite your questions about certification and practice, so that we can answer them in future blog posts. Send your inquiries and ideas to askamelie@apea.com.


Written by

APEA staff