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Route to FNP | Choosing Your Board Exam

Did you know that there are two certifying bodies for the family nurse practitioner (FNP) track?


You can either be certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and/or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). For more information about these exams, you can check out the FAQ section of the respective boards by clicking on the links provided.'re probably wondering what the difference is, right?

Here are some of the main differences (current as of the time of this post):

  1. The letters you can use behind your name. Those who are certified by ANCC are FNP-BC (board certified). Those who are certified by AANP are FNP-C (certified). Nowadays, one certifying body isn't necessarily "better" than the other for the most part. ANCC was the first and only certifying body in the past, so naturally, there are a lot more FNP-BC's around. Some jobs in certain states prefer ANCC over AANP. But, if you're planning to practice in California, I would say you're pretty much safe with either. From what I've heard, being ANCC certified will allow you to practice as a nurse practitioner internationally, so that might be something to look into more if that is what you're planning for yourself. The decision in which exam you take really lies in your preference and how you feel your program prepared you (see point #2). 

  2. Questions, exam format, and time limits. Question-wise, the AANP exam is a multiple choice exam. You pick your one best answer, and that's it! The ANCC exam has multiple choice exam questions, but also has other question formats. In addition, some of the multiple choice questions may include those "select all that apply" types. The select all's are not too daunting since they do tell you how many total should be selected for the answer. The ANCC is known to have questions regarding policies and laws (although the amount of this has probably changed with the exam update in May 2019), so if you have more expertise in that area, the ANCC exam is probably something to consider. There is a 3 hour time limit for the AANP exam, and a 4 1/2 hour time limit for the ANCC exam. The time limits correlate to the number of questions on the exams (AANP has fewer questions than ANCC). 

    Update on 9/13/19:  Having taken (and passed) both exams, I do feel that there are more policy, nursing research, and nursing framework type questions on ANCC than AANP, although I am not sure of the exact ratio/breakdown.

  3. Timeframe for retakes and how many times you can take the exam per year. The ANCC allows people to retest 60 days from the last date they tested, and up to 3 times in a 12-month period. The AANP allows people to retest after the completion of 15 contact hours and up to 2 times per calendar year. You will need to pay an additional fee for both exams when retaking. 

  4. Penalties for guessing. For both exams, there are no penalties for guessing, so you should try to answer every single question you have. 

  5. Where your license renewal fee goes. For those who care where their money goes, this one's for you. ANCC is by the American Nurses Association (ANA), and the ANA is a nurses association (as in the name). This means that your license renewal money benefits nurses/nursing profession as a whole. The AANP exam is by the...well...AANP certification board, so your renewal money goes to AANP. The AANP is a nurse practitioner organization, so the renewal money benefits nurse practitioner related practice.

NP Pro Tip: If you're registered to take the AANP nurse practitioner exam, PSI (the testing agency) provides a free sample practice exam!

Now you're probably wondering if there'll be a day where there is only one certifying body for nurse practitioners. So far, there is talk about that happening, but as to which one will be the "winning" certifying body, no one knows yet.

NP Pro Tip: If you take the ANCC board exam, you should expect to receive your official certificate and pin within 4 weeks of taking the exam. If you take the AANP board exam, you will have your official certification number posted online (you can check by logging into the AANP website) within 48 hours. You should receive your official certificate and pin within 2 weeks of taking your exam.

Nicole G.

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