What’s the Easiest FNP Exam to Pass? The AANP Exam or the ANCC Exam?

Mary Alice O'Brien, DNP, APRN, FNP-BCNurse Practitioner, Nursing Programs, Personal Education

what's the easiest FNP exam to pass? AANP or ANCC, which his easier?

AANP Exam vs. ANCC Exam - Which FNP Exam is Better to Take ...or Easier to Pass?

There are two exams that an aspiring Family Nurse Practitioner seeking certification can take - the American Association of Nurse Practitioner’s FNP exam (the AANP exam) or the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s (the ANCC exam).  Given the amount of time, money, and energy that goes into taking one of these exams, it’s only natural that FNP students would look to common wisdom to decide if one test is better to take - or, ahem, easier to pass - than the other, and if so, which one? 

This question of "which test to take?" has produced, and is in turn perpetuated by, a variety of online articles and blog posts with a variety of vague reasons to take one test or the other.

To demonstrate:

Which fnp exam is easier?

[Screenshot, taken 2/11/2020] 

This excerpt doesn’t explicitly state that the AANP’s exam is easier, so much as it implies or leads the reader to that conclusion. In either case, that conclusion would be incorrect - there is no distinct difference in passage rates, as far as we can verify.

In our research, we could only find data from the ANCC for two year’s certification exam results, 2016 and 2018. You can see in the bar graph below that both years the passage rate is about equal; 2018 being the same year that the excerpt above was published. As for data from years previous, the ANCC has either since taken down that information, or the other sources that might have provided it have been lost to the depths of the internet.

In any case, we’ve demonstrated that the passage rate is about equal, based off of all the data we have access to.

NP exam failure rates

[Data Source: nursingworld.org ]

Furthermore, many of the distinctions between the two exams - number of questions proportionate to time given to answer them, content, and structure - no longer apply. 

The ANCC’s exam was updated in May of 2019, changing from a four-hour exam with 200 questions to a three-and-a-half-hour exam with 175 questions.

That averages out 72 seconds per question; the content and structure of those questions was changed as well.

The overall effect of this was that the ANCC’s exam now more closely resembles the AANP’s.

The AANP’s exam, which is 160 questions with three hours to answer them, also averages out to 72 seconds per question. You can read their official outline of the new exam structure here.

The reason for these changes can be attributed to the rapid growth of the Nurse Practitioner profession, which more than tripled in size over the last decade. As you can see in the graph below, that growth is only accelerating.

Nurse practitioner growth chart

[Source: Med-Challenger]

The system built to educate and certify NPs has had to expand rapidly in order to accommodate this growth. Both the AANP and the ANCC are adjusting and adapting their exams in order to stay not only up to date, but competitive as a form of certification. 

Of the two, the AANP’s test is by far the more popular, with roughly four times the amount of initial certification exams given in 2018.

Given that popularity, coupled with their smaller examination fee, the only real advantage that the ANCC’s exam had over the AANP’s was rumors of a slightly higher success rate.

However, if you look at the actual data, you’ll find that the tests have nearly equal results: in 2016, the AANP exam had a failure rate of 18.4%, or about one out of every five test-takers.

The ANCC, with only a quarter of the AANP’s examinees, had a failure rate of 17.6% - which is still approximately one out of five.

Chance of passing the AANP exam

[Sources: aanpcert.org/certs/pass ; nursingworld.org ]

That shows an overall growth in failure rates, and rapid growth at that. In 2009, only 6% of nurses were failing the AANP’s exam; by 2017, just eight years later, that number had jumped to 20%.

That means that in 2009 one out of every fifteen test-takers was failing, and by 2017, it was one out of every five. The reasons for this jump in failure rates is pretty surprising – however, it’s also fairly lengthy and so is the topic of a future blog post.

Suffice to say that, though there is no marked difference in failure rates between the AANP’s and the ANCC’s exams, there has been a marked increase in overall failure rates since the last decade.

In 2009 one out of every fifteen test-takers was failing their FNP exam, and by 2017, it was one out of every five.

Mary Alice O'Brien, DNP

Ultimately, there’s just no secret or trick to passing either exam.

Their formats are similar and their pass rates are similar, especially so since the ANCC’s changes to their exam in May of last year.

Each exam is difficult and requires intensive and guided study to pass; any rumor that tells you otherwise is either outdated or misinformed.

Doom and gloom aside, there is plenty of help available for prospective FNP examinees. The best study products available for students hoping to secure a FNP certification would contain complex question sets that are organized by both domain and pathophysiology area.  Since the scope and form of both the AANP and ANCC exams have become so close, you don't need to specifically prepare for either - consider them both the test on family nurse practitioner knowledge.

How to Best Prepare for the FNP Exam

There are live review courses for NP review and these review venues have been the "norm" for years, but frankly, times have changed and they are really not as efficient or essential as today's high-quality online review resourses.  Unfortunately, NPs have been one of the last groups clinging to live events for their exam preparation and CE requirements.  Sure, live events still work as well as they can, but it's really time to embrace online education in your study pursuit - and there are great review products out there and, best of all, they all require less money, time, and travel hassle.  In addition, live courses are a few days of cram session, once.  The paper-based resources you leave with are not going to age well or serve you further.

If you are looking for online FNP exam review, you should check and see if an online course is based solely on a textbook, as these "edition-based" products are typically 3-4 years behind and may not have adequately changed for the latest exam.  A few select vendors, like Med-Challenger, create and maintain their own FNP exam review resources through "here-and-now" peer review by practiticing nurse practitioners and NP educators, and they're used by FNP programs, so those materials tend to be more aligned with what you need to know for the exam as well as remaining useful for current practice.  The most modern products provide intelligent, adaptive feedback (that saves study time) and the best FNP review courses include required CNE / CE credts that you'll need after your exam anyway. 

In the end, yes, you need to study for your exam whichever one you choose to take - and that's likely your top priority right now.  If you put in the effort to master the FNP blueprint material, you should pass. 

However, to make the wisest study choices, consider what lies ahead in your FNP career, it's long-term requirements, and your long-term professional well-being.  There are recurring requirements once you certify and some packages build that value in.  With a forward-thinking purchase, you'll not only be positioned to pass, you'll save yourself time, stress, and money later.  You might think as exams as a symptom.  Your career is your condition.  What's better?  Just treating the symptom over and over or curing the condition?  

You got this.


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