When Nurse Practitioners graduate, they must take a national exam that certifies them to practice in their specific specialty. Once they have this board-certification and obtain their state licensure – they can legally practice as a Nurse Practitioner.
These exams can be likened to the NCLEX-RN that RNs have to take to become a certified Registered Nurse. The only difference with nurse practitioner certification is that there are TWO to choose from, from two different certifying bodies – so you must choose between the AANP vs ANCC. But what exactly are they?
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American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) is an independent credentialing branch of the American Nurses Association (ANA) which certifies nurses to become advanced practiced registered Nurse (nurse practitioners!) This is the largest nurse credentialing organization in the U.S. and is not limited to Nurse Practitioners. They also certify nurses in informatics, professional development, case management, and various nursing specialties.
Regarding Nurse practitioner certification, the ANCC provides certification for the following specialties:
- Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP-BC): 175 questions (150 graded)
- Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP-BC): 150 questions (135 graded)
- Adult-Gerontological Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP-BC): 200 questions (175 graded)
- Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHPNP): 175 questions (150 graded)
- Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (PPCNP-BC): 200 questions (175 graded)
The ANCC exams questions will have a majority of clinical assessment, diagnosis, and management, but will have about a 25% or more of non-clinical questions. This means questions on research, ethics, professional responsibility, leadership, the scope of practice, regulatory guidelines, etc.
Time allotted is generally about 4 hours – including time for check-in, instructions, and a practice session on the computer. If you fail an ANCC exam, you can retake the exam in 60 days, but you cannot test more than 3 times in 12 months.
The cost for the nurse practitioner certification exam through the ANCC is $395 for non-members of the ANA, and $295 for members.
ANCC Pass Rates (2018)
The following pass-rates for each ANCC exam are as follows:
- FNP = 86.2%
- AGACNP = 89.5%
- AGPCNP = 79.0%
- Peds = 85.7%
- Psych = 88.5%
American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)
The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) is a relatively new organization formed in 2013 for the nurse practitioner certification. Their certification board offers examinations for Nurse practitioners similar to the ANCC, however, there are significant differences between the AANP vs ANCC.
The AANP currently only has the following three nurse practitioner certification exams:
- Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP-C)
- Adult-Gerontology Primary care Nurse Practitioner (A-GNP)
- Emergency Nurse Practitioner (ENP)
Unlike the ANCC (and a major plus in my personal opinion) is the fact that the AANP exams are 100% clinical. This means it will focus on the assessment, diagnosis, plan, and evaluation of various clinical scenarios and patient cases. The only difference is that the Emergency Nurse Practitioner certification exam does have some non-clinical content, including a small percentage of professional, legal, and ethical practice questions.
All three exams have 150 questions, 135 of which actually count toward your grade.
The AANP exam costs $315 for non-members of the AANP, and $240 for members.
AANP Pass Rates (2018)
The 2018 pass-rates for the AANP nurse practitioner certification exams are as follows:
- FNP = 85%
- AGPCNP = 83%
- ENP = 87%
AANP vs ANCC: What’s the difference?
Both the AANP and the ANCC exams are taken on the computer at a testing center. Every few years new editions of the tests are created, and multiple alternate versions exist. These exams differ from the NCLEX-RN in that they do not finish based on your score (i.e. it won’t shut off at 75 questions). You must complete the entire test.
The Number of Questions
The number of questions is going to differ depending on which exam you are taking. ANCC exams vary from 150-200 questions over 3-4 hours, and all AANP exams are 150 questions. Both tests will have 15-25 “pretest” questions – meaning they won’t count for your grade – they’re just testing the questions to see if they’re okay to add to future versions of tests.
The Question Style
The style of the test questions is another major difference. ANCC exams will have four different question formats: multiple-choice, multiple response questions, drag and drop, as well as “hot spot” questions. AANP is 100% multiple choice with 4 possible options (aka NO select all that apply!).
The Question Content
The content of the questions is also a major difference between the AANP vs ANCC. It’s going to vary depending on which exam you’re taking, but the ANCC exams tend to have a lot more “non-clinical” questions related to topics like nursing research, legal and ethical considerations, scope of practice, regulatory guidelines, etc. AANP is 100% clinical, so it is going to focus on assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and evaluation. As stated above, the ENP test is a bit different and does have some non-clinical questions.
There have been some rumors that AANP is easier than the ANCC – although there really is no way to truly know. The pass-rates used to be lower for the ANCC so people just assumed it’s harder. However, now if you look at the most recent data for FNP (2018), the AANP actually had a lower pass rate (85% VS 86.2%). I think it’s going to depend on the individual which one is easier based on their preferred testing style and testing content. The only true way to know is to take both yourself which I do not recommend!
The cost is also slightly different. Non-members will end up paying $315 for the AANP vs ANCC paying $395, making AANP $80 cheaper. If you are members of the ANA, the ANCC will only be $295. On that same note, members of the AANP will pay only $240 for an AANP exam.
AANP vs ANCC: Factors to Consider?
Which exam you choose will depend on your specific professional goals as a future NP.
1. Which Specialty is your program in?
This one is great because all the work is done for you. In order to apply for certification, you have to have graduated or will be graduating from an accredited Nurse practitioner program in that specific specialty. So, if you’re program was FNP – you need to apply for FNP certification. Obvious right?
For certain specialties – this choice will be made for you because both the ANCC and the AANP have certification exams that the other does not.
If your program is for Acute care, Psych, or Peds – you must go through the ANCC.
If your program is an Emergency NP program – you must go through the AANP.
Where the real choice lies is if you went to a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program or an Adult Primary Care (AGPCNP) program. And if that’s the case, then the next question you’re going to want to ask yourself is what your specific testing preferences are. What do I mean? Keep reading!
2. What are your testing preferences?
The AANP vs ANCC has very different test styles and question content as stated above. If you’re someone like me who HATED research, ethics, leadership (insert more fluff classes here), then you are more likely to want to take the AANP. In fact, that’s the main reason that I chose to certify through the AANP! If you are really good at non-clinical questions like that – maybe you should take the ANCC!
Additionally, the AANP is 100% multiple choice with four possible answers. The ANCC exams are multiple-choice, but do include alternate questions including the dreaded multiple response questions, drag and drop, as well as “hot spot” questions.
3. Which facilities are you planning on applying to?
So nowadays most facilities and locations look at AANP vs ANCC certified NPs as pretty much the same. This is because both are nationally recognized and reimbursed by Medicare and Medicaid in any clinical setting in almost all states.
Think of this like DO vs MD – both are now considered equally great. So, most facilities don’t’ really care – they just want to see that you passed your boards.
However, rarely there are facilities that prefer ANCC candidates because it’s older, more established, and isn’t 100% clinical.
So if by the rare chance that the facility you want to work in only accepts ANCC – consider taking that exam instead. In general, magnet hospitals do NOT require ANCC over AANP.
4. What are your future career goals?
The last consideration is what are your future career goals? Do you plan on obtaining any post-master certifications? You totally can be certified in one specialty by the AANP and certified in the other by the ANCC – but this just might complicate things a bit. You’ll likely feel more comfortable with the certification process if you have already done it once. So, if you’re in an FNP program and want to one day become ENP certified – AANP might be the more logical choice for you. On the other hand, if you want to one day get your ACNP or PMHNP post-masters certifications, consider the ANCC!
Additionally, if you plan on getting into academics – some universities may prefer ANCC NPs. However, to teach at the nurse practitioner level, you will need to be pursuing or have obtained your doctorate degree anyway.
What did I choose?
I chose the AANP exam. What it came down to was the fact that I love clinical questions and really did not like all the other types of questions (research, ethics, etc). I also don’t like alternative question formats, so a normal multiple-choice exam sounded perfect to me. I didn’t foresee any problems with having my AANP nurse practitioner certification vs an ANCC certification, and I haven’t experienced any drawbacks. There is one local hospital system that prefers ANCCs, and they explicitly state so on their job applications. But – who wants to work there anyway.
If you are in NP school and about to graduate, I want you to check out my NP certification steps, where I walk you through the process of getting licensed, certified, and credentialed as an NP! Heads up – it can take longer than you think!