How the Bradley University online FNP prepares nurses for ANCC and AANP certification exams

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Nurse practitioner with patient

Certification is highly important in the nursing profession. It is the process by which a non-governmental agency or association grants recognition to a nursing professional who has met certain predetermined qualifications. Certification ensures a nurse can safely and knowledgeably act in medical capacities and in the best interests of patients.

In professional nursing, certification is often a requirement for work in certain institutions and for particular positions, like nurse practitioner. It can also be used for entry into professional associations that advocate for nurses, health care policy or patients. Such recognitions of excellence are also used to build professional profiles, as well as fulfill personal goals.

For nurses who specialize in family practice, there are two predominant organizations that confer certification and which are held as standards in the health care industry. These are the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). To become recognized as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), nurses must pass the certification exam for the ANCC or AANP. While nurses may need only certification from one governing body, it’s important to become familiar with the substance and requirements of both exams to ensure FNPs have a clear picture of what it takes to earn certification.

How Bradley University prepares nurses

Before nurses first address AANP or ANCC certification, they must take the steps necessary to ensure they can sit for the exams. Both organizations mandate that nurses applying to take the certifying test not only be registered nurses, but also graduates of accredited nurse practitioner programs.

Education is a central part of the certification process, and knowing this, Bradley University offers three Family Nurse Practitioner tracks that put students on a course to pass certification. The online MSN-FNP degree program, the DNP-FNP and the FNP certificate are all designed to fulfill core learning outcomes and objectives, as well as preparing nurses for the rigors of certification and the realities of the process.

The goal of Bradley’s online FNP program is not only to educate talented nurses, but to initiate the groundwork for a new generation of clinical care professionals. Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE*), Bradley University’s online FNP programs have had numerous successes in preparing students for certification.

About the ANCC certification exam

ANCC certification examinations are used to objectively assess competency in advanced practice registered nursing (APRN). The exam itself is broken down into three main sections — Foundations of Advanced Practice, Professional Practice and Independent Practice — and comprises 200 questions answered in four hours. However, there are 25 pretest questions that are not scored.

Foundations of Advanced Practice, which accounts for 37 percent of the questions, tests nurses on competencies like knowledge of pharmacology across the patient lifespan, research methodology, informatics and population health, among other areas. Meanwhile, the Professional Practice (17 percent) section examines nursing skills like advocating for patients, complying with regulations, coordinating care and ordering screenings. Independent Practice (46 percent) gauges a nurse’s grasp of disease and illness management, caring for diverse populations, evidence-based practice, patient-centered care and critical thinking.

Passing an ANCC examination is based solely on a student’s individual performance on the examination, and not in comparison to that of other participants — there’s no grading on a curve. This is often referred to as a “criterion-referenced” test. In a criterion-referenced test, those taking the exam must achieve a score equal to or greater than the minimum passing score for the examination. If an applicant fails, she or he can retake the test after 60 days, but no more than three times during any 12-month period.

About the AANP certification exam

While the AANP exam is used to accomplish the same thing as the ANCC — i.e., to test clinical knowledge in family and individual patients across the lifespan of care — there are distinctive and technical differences in the AANP exam, which is 150 questions taken over three hours. Notably, the test takes the form of four domains, each with one or two accompanying tasks that nurses are asked to complete:

  • Domain 1 – Assess: Nurses are expected to record patient and family histories, identify risk factors, perform examinations and order preliminary tests, among other tasks. The mix of collecting objective and subjective patient indicators is used to test nurses in all areas of the introductory phase in care.
  • Domain 2 – Diagnose: At this stage, test-takers must synthesize and analyze that information taken through assessment and prioritize potential diagnoses. The follow-up consists of establishing a definitive diagnosis by interpreting tests, performing additional examinations and using that information in decision-making.
  • Domain 3 – Plan: Nurses must establish a patient-centered treatment plan that is personalized, evidence-based, safe, age-appropriate and culturally sensitive. Such planning is reached by prescribing and administering pharmacological therapies, providing education, making referrals and engaging patients on their health.
  • Domain 4 – Evaluate: The concluding module has nurses determine the effectiveness of their treatment plan and care-based outcomes by evaluating patient responses, conducting further tests, adjusting therapies and coordinating care monitoring.

A key difference in the AANP exam is that if an applicant fails, she or he then must complete 15 hours of continuing education credit in an area of the exam that was identified as a weakness by the test score. After completion of the coursework, the AANP exam can be retaken, but not more than twice in a calendar year.

Contact Bradley for more information on an online nursing degree

Bradley University’s online MSN-FNP, DNP-FNP and FNP certificate programs are designed to prepare nurse practitioners for advanced practice in hospitals, clinics, community health settings, long-term care facilities and other health-related agencies — beginning with ANCC or AANP certification. The curricula and program components, including practicums and capstone projects, prepare students for certification, while the online aspects allow nurses to complete their education on their own time.

Contact an enrollment advisor today for more information about an online graduate nursing program and degree specifics.

*The master’s degree program in Nursing, Post-Graduate APRN Certificate program, and the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Bradley University are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (

Recommended Readings:

What are the benefits of an online FNP program?

MSN-FNP vs. DNP-FNP: Which should you pursue?


Nursing World

AANP Certification Board