How I Passed My PNP Certification Exam: My Study Plan and Tools

pass pnp certification

If you’re a current/aspiring healthcare professional, chances are high that you’ve taken lots of exams. I am currently a PNP-PC (Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Primary Care), but if you’re anything like me, studying for larger exams like the NCLEX-RN® or the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Certification Exam felt like a whole different ball game. I took my PNP certification exam during Summer 2019 and was very deliberate about putting a study plan together; my hard work paid off because I passed! I hope you’ll find the following tips I used to pass my PNP Certification Exam preparation helpful.

TL;DR: 1) Research the exam before you start studying. 2) Make a study plan but be flexible. 3) Make sure you have solid practice questions and review the rationales. 4) Get comfortable with your testing environment.

Do Your Research

A few months before I started studying, I researched my certification exam to answer the following questions:

How is the PNP exam and exam day structured? 

From an exam blueprint to a walkthrough of exam day, it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into! You can find the CPNP-PC exam blueprint and information on what to expect on the day of the exam on the PNCB website.

How long should I study for? 

You want to give yourself plenty of time to get your materials together and make a personalized study schedule. Keep in mind that our experiences are unique, but I found it super helpful to consult professors and classmates a year or two above me who have been through the process to learn how others studied and how it went in order to create my own study plan.

What study materials should I use?

Be sure to allow for plenty of time to research your options and get these together! There are oftentimes both electronic and hardcopy resources for exam prep. The PNCB’s Exam Resources page has advice on what to consider when selecting study materials. 

My Study Tools

After researching the available options and getting recommendations from others, I narrowed my study materials down to the following three resources:

Put a Study Plan Together But Be Flexible

Once you’ve done all your research begin writing/typing out your plan. I found it helpful to write out my study schedule on a paper planner as it allowed me to break down each week, plus I could cross out each study day. It’s also helpful to think about how your other commitments (work, birthdays, time for self-care) will fit in. You in no way need to follow this plan exactly; you can tweak it as you go along, but I recommend thinking this out a little before you start studying.

My PNP Certification Exam Study Plan

study pnp certificationI decided to give myself about a month to study and mostly studied on weekdays to give myself time to breathe. I divided up all of my materials over four weeks, 5 days a week, 3-6 hours a day, and focused more on review at the beginning and over time, increasing the amount of BoardVitals questions I was completing each day. Some days I dedicated completely to reviewing the rationales of questions I got wrong and creating new practice tests with those questions so I could check my learning. 

The BoardVitals platform allows you to create custom exams so near the end of my studying, I did a mock “Exam Day” test where I completed 175 BoardVitals questions within a 3-hour time limit in a simulated test environment (following all the rules as if I was taking it for real), and then reviewed all of the questions I got wrong.

BoardVitals mobile app timed quiz feature PNP exam

We all have unique needs and strategies when it comes to studying. This is what worked for me and helped me retain the knowledge I needed to achieve a passing score. 

Be Thoughtful About Your Study Environment 

Your study environment is so important to studying effectively. Get to know yourself. Are you more productive in a silent library, your living room, outside, or somewhere else? Do you need to study alone or can you focus in groups? Consider your ideal study environment and try your best to do the bulk of your studying that way.

Consider Your Testing Environment

You most likely will take your exam at a facility where you are unable to listen to music and have to carefully time your restroom and snack breaks. Try to simulate your testing environment at least once while studying. I took a mock full exam near the end of my studying and tried to simulate my exam day as much as I could with no music, no snacks, and no breaks. Get your brain and body used to what it will be like on your actual test day. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does ease testing day nerves!

Give Yourself a Break Before Exam Day!

If at all possible, I recommend taking the day before your exam off and putting this into your study schedule. Plan to do something you enjoy the day before to give your brain a little break. Also, take some time to put together everything you need for exam day including identification, your outfit, water, and snacks so you aren’t in a rush the day of.

We all study a little differently, but I hope you found these tips helpful as you prepare to pass your PNP Certification Exam. Wishing you the best of luck!

Katy B is a pediatric neurosurgery nurse practitioner in Northern California. She created her Instagram page @katybpnp while completing a direct entry NP program at UCSF. In 2019, she graduated from the program, passed her PNP-PC boards (with the help of BoardVitals!), and started her first NP job at her dream children’s hospital.

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