2021 Family Nurse Practitioner Exam Prep Guide: How To Prepare for and Pass the FNP Exam

Nancy M. Anderson, MBA, MSNP Question of the Week, Nurse Practitioner, Nursing Programs, Personal Education

How to Prepare for Family Nurse Practitioner Exam - FNP Exam Prep Study Guide - How to Pass the FNP Exam

2021 FNP Exam Study Guide

Family Nurse Practitioner Exam Guide:
How to Prepare for and Pass the FNP Certification Exam

Exam time is approaching, and you're wondering how to prepare for the family nurse practitioner certification exam. Let us help you with that!  This FNP exam study guide is full of FNP exam info, tips and tricks, valuable insight into the art of FNP exam prep and the inner-workings of the AANP and ANCC family nurse practitioner certification exams themselves.  No matter which family NP exam you're taking - this FNP exam guide will give you everything you need to know about how to pass your FNP certification exam.

Follow these steps and you'll likely pass - and with a higher score!

How to prepare for family nurse practitioner exam - FNP Exam Study Guide
How to prepare for family nurse practitioner exam - FNP Exam Study Guide

Family Nurse Practitioner Exam Dates

When can take you the FNP exam?

There are no specific dates for FNP certification exams.  Both the AANP and ANCC Family Nurse Practitioner exams are given throughout the year, barring holidays, etc.

Your first step is to contact the organization or their testing center partner to apply / register to take the exam.  You'll then have a window (90 days for ANCC; 120 days for AANP) to schedule your exam at a location at a time convenient to you.

Both AANP and ANCC certification lasts for 5 years.  Note, once you are certified, there are continuing education requirements you will need to take care of to recertify.

AANP vs. ANCC. Which FNP Exam Should I Take?

What's the difference between the AANP and ANCC exams?

By now you've probably wondered "which FNP exam is easier" or "which FNP exam is best?"   Here's the lowdown.  

They are both big exams that you need to prepare for.  As of 2021, pass rates of both exams have been very similar.  The AANP exam is 100% clinical and only has multiple choice questions - 150 questions in total over 3 hours.  The ANCC exam includes practice management content, multiple question types, and is 200 questions over 4 hours. 

The American Nurses Association (ANA) is the governing body behind the ANCC.  The ANCC test has been around longer and certifies more specialties than the AANP exam.  Some argue that an ANCC certification carries a little more weight and respect, but it's rare today to find an employer that asks specifically for ANCC certification.

The AANP exam is more recent and, some say, more straightforward - 100% clinical and one question style. 

There are also career path considerations...

The AANP tests will certify you as a nurse in one of these specialties:

  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (A-GNP)
  • Emergency Nurse Practitioner (ENP)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP-C)

The ANCC test will certify you as a nurse in one of these specialties:

  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP-BC)
  • Adult-Gerontological Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP-BC)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP-BC)
  • Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (PPCNP-BC)
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHPNP)
Med-Challenger Medical Education - Pro Tip

Plan for your FNP career, not just passing the FNP exam.

Right now you're likely worrying about passing your FNP exam.  Totally reasonable. But the forward-thinking expenditure for "FNP exam prep" should also include annual FNP maintenance of certification resources. The best FNP board reviews and NP career packages are built for this - and they save you a lot of stress and money down the road.

Other FNP Career Certification Requirements:

How to Prepare for FNP Exams

FNP Exam Tips for Passing AANP & ANCC FNP Exams

Follow these steps to ensure you are prepared for the Internal Medicine Board Exam.

1. Understand the Structure of the FNP Exam

Step one: Know what material is going to be covered in the exam. Both the AANP and ANCC publish an exam blueprint detailing what material is represented on the examination, with the percentage assigned per content category. Keep this in mind going forward to better focus and guide your study sessions.

ANCC Exam Outline and Format:

  • Assessment (21%)
  • Diagnosis (26%)
  • Clinical Management (43%)
  • Professional Role (10%)

The ANCC exam can have up to 200 questions that you’ll have to complete in 3 to 4 hours. You’ll have to answer a minimum of 150.  There are 15 "pretest" questions that are included but do not count toward your score.

As for question types, the ANCC will give you:

  • Multiple choice questions: Select one option from many
  • Multiple answer questions: Select all the options that apply
  • Hot-spot questions: Mark a certain area of an image
  • Drag-and-drop

The ANCC exam will also have a lot of images for you to work with - things like EKG strips, pictures of physical symptoms, etcetera, for you to interpret and explain what you would do.

AANP Exam Outline and Format:

  • Assessment (36%)
  • Diagnosis (24%)
  • Plan (23%)
  • Evaluate (17%)

As stated before, the AANP exam is 100% clinical.  There are image-based questions.

The AANP exam has 150 questions to be completed in 3 hours. All AANP tests have the same number of questions, regardless of the specialty.  There are 15 "pretest" questions that are included but do not count toward your score.

In the AANP test you will only find multiple choice questions.  You mark the correct option and then move on to the next question.

FNP Knowledge Areas

  • Health promotion, harm reduction, and disease prevention
  • Anatomy, physiology, and pathophysiology
  • Therapeutic communication, change management, and crisis management
  • Health history
  • Sign and symptoms
  • Physical examination
  • Diagnostic and therapeutic tests and/or procedures
  • Clinical decision-making
  • Differential diagnosis
  • Pharmacological therapies
  • Non-pharmacological/ complementary/ alternative therapies
  • Biopsychosocial principles/theories
  • Patient and family education and counseling
  • Community resources
  • Healthcare economics
  • Evidence-informed practice
  • Legal and ethical issues
  • Cultural competence
  • Principles of epidemiology, population health, and social determinants of health
  • Practice management

FNP Procedures

  • Minor lesion removal
  • Incision and drainage
  • Microscopy
  • Diagnostic interpretation of ECG
  • Pap tests
  • Diagnostic interpretation of X-ray
  • Joint aspirations and injections
  • Cerumen removal
  • Skin biopsy
  • Pulmonary function testing & office spirometry
  • Therapeutic injections
  • Fluorescein dye
  • Wound closure
  • Long-term contraceptive management
  • Splinting
  • Long-term hormonal implantation
  • Casting
  • Foreign body removal
  • Wound management
  • Nail removal

2. Plan Out a Study Strategy

Take the time to assess the content you need to cover, and portion it out into manageable increments. Once you’ve grasped the breadth of the material, schedule times throughout your day dedicated solely to the topics and sections you’ve chosen to focus on. Setting a strict schedule and mapping out a plan of attack from the get-go will not only help you manage time and stress, it also ensures that you cover all relevant material.

Starting with topics that are familiar to you will help get you started and reinforce what you know, as well as familiarize you with your study habits.

Most people today use a mix of review resources such as exam prep books and online practice tests.

Whatever resources you use, make a plan that balances study and rest.  It's recommended to give yourself up to 3 months of study time, although you may feel comfortable pressing yourself.

Here's a 7-week FNP exam study plan example:

Week 1-3: 4-5 days per week and 2-3 hours per day

Week 4-6: 5-6 days per week; at least 2-3 hours per day, some days 4-6 hours

Week 7 (Exam Week): 5-6 hours per day

3. Find a FNP Question Bank

Exposing yourself to FNP practice exams early on will warm you up to the content you should expect to see on the exam, as well as help you assess your strengths and weaknesses. Be sure your FNP study guide is mapped to your chosen exam and offers case-based questions that emulate the Q&A format seen on the actual exam.

One popular online course is Med-Challenger's FNP exam review course which provides over 2400 FNP exam practice questions, over 200 ANCC "contact hour" credits and over 45 ANCC-required pharmacotherapy CE credits.  You can cover your exam needs - and your future MOC needs - all in one.

Family Nurse Practitioner Study Guide - How to prepare for and pass the FNP exam

Keep requirements in mind.

Premier FNP review courses also provide the ability to earn ANCC contact hours and annually-required Pharmacotherapy CE - while you study. This sets you up nicely after you've passed exams.

5. Practice & Re-Practice

As you work your way through review courses and practice exams - expect to not score well, at least at first. Whatever FNP exam review question bank you use, odds are you will do shockingly bad on your first "practice test" run. But that's fine. And normal. Answering incorrectly may be one of the most effective learning tools at your disposal, as it requires remediation, which in turn reinforces learned information and improves recall through active engagement.

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”Henry Ford

Never expect to get by knowing only the bare minimum. Don't think you're done once you get a single passing score on a practice test. Simply working your way through all content areas relevant to the FNP Exam Blueprint will not be enough.  In times of stress, you don't rise to the occasion - you fall to your highest level of preparation. Go back - do it again.  This is why the best FNP question banks have 5-10x the number of questions you'll see on the actual FNP exam.  The goal is to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Identifying your knowledge gaps early in the process frees up time for the actual study and review.

5. Identify & Attack Weak Areas

Once you've worked your way through the entirety of your study material several times and have familiarized yourself with what areas you are and are not confident in, it's time to focus on the relevant material with which you are least comfortable and familiar.

Not all FNP question banks are the same.

Some online FNP question banks will provide you "a bunch of questions" where you make your own tests. It's basically flashcards on a screen. It's something, but there are more effective question banks.

A "smart" FNP exam review question bank will automatically adapt to your answers and focus your attention and time to areas where you don't know the information well.  If you simply have "a bunch of questions," it's all on you and you can lose track of what you don't know well.

Adaptive learning exam simulations give you instant remediation and guidance to additional materials as you complete practice exam simulations.  You don't waste time on subject matter you know well and you get prepared faster.

Consider leaning on an adaptive assessment / prescriptive learning platform. With adaptive learning, not only are you assured to properly utilize all materials available, your time is spent exactly where it needs to be spent with every use, thereby producing a more effective individual review, with no wasted value, all in less time.

And remember: Always keep the blueprint of the FNP exam you'll take in mind!

6. Treat Your Body Right

Preparing for the FNP exam will push you to your limits – you will be stressed, burnt out, and oftentimes exhausted. But like they say: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. In the long run, it won’t do you any good to sacrifice your physical and mental well-being.

At least every 3 hours, allow yourself a break to relax and unwind. Stay hydrated throughout the day. Remember to eat and nourish your body with healthy meal options. Exercise will help maintain healthy circulation and oxygenation to your brain. Take some time to meditate. And perhaps most importantly, maintain a healthy sleep schedule, especially the week before your exam.

7. During the FNP Exam

The FNP exam uses multiple-choice questions - and most will have one best answer. These question items have a “stem” that presents the background information necessary for answering the question, which usually comes at the end of the stem. 

Be sure to read the stem carefully. As you proceed, make note of information that seems especially relevant. Read every answer option carefully. First use the process of elimination to filter out what you know is incorrect, and go from there.

Focus on addressing each question individually. Take a deep breath every now and then.

If you are completely stumped by a question or unsure you answered correctly, flag it and come back later.

That having been said, also consider that the first thoughtful answer an examinee makes is usually the best answer. Second-guessing yourself is not likely to help your performance unless you fully realize that you've misread or misunderstood the question. This will help you maximize your time.

Capitalize on FNP Exam Question Writing Flaws

  1. Pay attention to grammatical cues. Grammatical cues: one or more answer choices (distractors) don’t follow grammatically from the lead-in.
  2. Focus on logical cues. Logical cues: one or more answer choices don’t logically fit in with the other choices. Once you understand the goal of the question writer to create answer choices that are supposed to discriminate knowledge, it is easier to exploit technical flaws and improve the odds of getting a question correct.
  3. Look for answer choices containing absolute terms. Absolute terms: terms such as “always” or “never.” When used in the answer options, these terms usually indicate an incorrect answer because they cannot hold up to scrutiny in all situations.
  4. Keep an eye out for a long correct answer. Many times the correct answer is longer, more specific, or more complete than the other options. Correct answers can be longer than the other options and may be the only "double option." Question writers tend to pay more attention to the correct answer than to the distractors and write long correct answers that include additional instructional material, parenthetical information, and caveats.
  5. Notice when a word repeats. Word repeats: a word or phrase is included in the stem and in the correct answer.

Making sure you have identified and fixed your areas of weakness will not only help you prepare for and excel on your exam, it will help you expand your core knowledge. Then, on test day, use the above techniques to identify common flaws in questions, which will increase your chances of getting a question correct.

Med-Challenger Medical Education - Pro Tip

Long answers + language match = 😉

Board exam questions usually have tell-tale indicators of what the correct answer option is likely to be.  Typically, correct answers tend to be a bit longer and echo language and exact details used in the question stem.  

Recommended FNP Board Review

The Best FNP Exam Review Continues to Serve You

Med-Challenger FNP

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Mary Alice O'Brien, DNP, ARNP, FNP-BC