Are you interested in providing care for critically ill patients in the hospital? If yes, critical care nursing (CCN) may be a rewarding profession for you. But there are so many requirements to become a critical care nurse, and one of them is passing the CCRN exam and earning a certificate. Although there’s no general rule that makes this compulsory, most employers request it as a way to show the dedication and discipline needed for the job. After all, it takes a lot of dedication to pass the exams.
But how exactly do you prepare for the exam since the CCRN exam questions are notorious for their complexity? We’ll find out in this article, but before then, what exactly is the CCRN exam?
What is the CCRN Exam?
The CCRN exam is a certification exam administered by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) to show that you possess the right knowledge and expertise to operate as a critical care nurse.
It is not compulsory to have a certification in your speciality (and most nurses often question sitting for the CCRN exam because it is considered difficult). However, having board certification in your speciality will set you apart as a Registered Nurse (RN) or an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). First, the CCRN certification substantiates your knowledge and expertise as a critical care nurse. It adds an extra layer of confidence and professionalism to your statute as a critical care nurse.
Secondly, some hospitals place more value on CCRN-certified nurses; you can see that in the salary differential. The hourly rate of certified CCRN nurses is more than their non-CCRN certified counterparts (an extra $10,000 per year). Finally, having a CCRN will gain more respect from your colleagues and superiors. You will be more likely to be promoted and involved in policy-making decisions.
The AACN offers several certifications, among which are seven CCRN certificates. Regardless of your practice unit (Intensive Care Unit, Cardiac Care Unit, Trauma, Critical-Care Transportation/Flight), the CCRN certifications include:
- CCRN (Adult). This Certification is available for registered nurses responsible for the direct care of acutely/critically ill adults.
- CCRN (Pediatric). Registered nurses who directly care for acutely/critically ill pediatric patients are available.
- CCRN (Neonatal). This certification is available for registered nurses that care for critically ill newborns.
- CCRN-K (Adult). For nurses that do not provide direct care for critically ill adult patients but are involved in leadership roles that directly influence patient care (directors, supervisors, nursing administrators, educators).
- CCRN-K (Pediatric). For nurses who are no longer directly involved in patient care but influence the care given to critically ill pediatric patients
- CCRN-K (Neonatal). Nurses in the role of educators, directors, or administrators influence the care given to critically ill newborns.
- CCRN-E. Registered nurses who work in teleICU care for critically ill patients using audiovisual communication.
Who is Qualified to Become a CCRN?
We’ve discussed the importance of the CCRN exam, and you’re probably wondering whether you’re qualified to take the exam. Before you can take the exams to become a certified CCRN, there are some eligibility requirements that you need to fulfil. Your eligibility depends on your licensure and the clinical practice hours you have put in.
You must have a valid US Registered Nurse (RN) license or an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) license. Your license also has to be current. You can search for your name or license number with the board of professional regulations in your state to confirm the current status of your license.
Clinical practice hours
There are two options here, and you can choose the one that best applies to you.
(I) You must have completed two years of practice, putting in 1750 hours providing direct care for acutely/critically ill patients. 875 of those hours must be hours you recently put in just before applying for the Certification (that is, there should not be a time gap between practice and application) or
(II) You must have completed 5 hours of clinical practice, putting in 2000 hours providing direct care for acutely/critically ill patients. Again, 144 of those hours should also be in the recent.
Note that the hours you put in are only valid if it is at a US-based or Canada-based hospital or any hospital that compares in standard. Furthermore, the hours you put in should apply to the demographic you are testing. For example, if you are taking the CCRN Adult exam, you must have spent time caring for critically ill adult patients.
You will have to provide the contact information of your supervisor or colleague when applying for the CCRN that will verify that you indeed put in those hours.
How Much Does the CCRN Cost?
The annual cost for the CCRN is $360. However, there is a discount for AACN members. So as an AACN member, you’ll get a reduction of $245. (That means you can become an AACN member for $78 a year or $6.50 a month).
Suppose you are looking to take a Renewal test for your CCRN Certification; it will cost $170 for AACN members and $275 for Non-AACN members.
If you are going for a retest, it will cost $175 for AACN members and $275 for Non-AACN members.
What is a Good Score on the CCRN?
The CCRN exam has 150 questions. However, 25 questions are unscored and do not contribute to your final test scores. The exam score is calculated according to the questions you answer correctly. The passing score is 70% which translates to 87 of the 125 questions. This score automatically gets you a C. Most schools or employers consider a C in the CCRN exam a pass/ fail. Therefore, getting a C is a good score, and you can aim for that score.
How Long Should You Study for the CCRN Test?
The time you spend studying for the CCRN depends on your schedule. People who work more than 36 hours a week may need more time to prepare and often worry about how long to study for the CCRN. On the other hand, people who work less will have more free time and won’t need to study for several weeks.
We interviewed several registered nurses who had taken and passed the test to know how long it took to pass the CCRN test. After reviewing our data, we concluded that it’d typically take 8-12 weeks to study for the CCRN efficiently. You can further break this down into about 1 hour of study, 3 to 4 times a week (even 30 minutes of study will improve your chances of passing).
What Resources to Use to Prepare for the CCRN?
Most qualified nurses often put off getting the CCRN certification because of the seemingly challenging nature of the exam. However, unlike many other exams in its category, you don’t have to spend so much time writing and memorizing flashcards or mnemonics to pass. Several resources are available to make studying for the CCRN easier and better. The governing body of the CCRN recommends the following resources as the best way to study for the CCRN exam.
The exam handbook is available for download on the AACN website. It contains valuable information that you can use to prepare. The manual includes a blueprint of the exam and highlights all the content areas and topics the exam covers. The handbook rates each subject by its degree of importance, so you’ll generally see the percentage rating attached to the beginning of each subject. Pay close attention to those with higher percentage ratings because the exam contains more questions from these areas. The exam bibliography on the handbook is also an excellent resource for studying. It contains a list of references the AACN found helpful in setting the exam questions and answers.
You may find new information not covered in the blueprint during your clinical practice. When this happens, you can check for a more in-depth explanation from the reference list.
The exam handbook is an excellent resource; however, the long list of books and references it contains can make sifting through them pretty daunting. An easier alternative to exam handbooks is Review Courses. Review courses work better for preparing for the exam because of their concise nature and how it tackles each issue without boring you with information.
A review course will spare you the long hours of trying to sift through several books and texts to find answers. The courses often contain answer details and explanations for every topic covered in the exam. The AACN offers several review courses in video and audio format that prove helpful when taking the exam. And since the AACN is responsible for setting the exam questions, having their review course would be a good idea.
You can find the review courses on the AACN online bookstore with different plans ranging from free to paid. Other notable review courses with varying prices also break down the topics into detailed explanations. They include; Nicole Kupchik Review Course, Laura Gasparis CCRN Review Course, Critical Academy CCRN Review Course, etc.
As usual, practice tests are vital to understanding how the exam works. They contain questions that mirror the actual exam, so it won’t seem strange when you sit for the exam. They come in the format and style of the real exam and provide detailed explanations of the answers. Practice exams will help you identify your areas of strength and weakness. Knowing and focusing on the areas you need to improve will help you adequately prepare for the exam.
Practice tests are also an excellent antidote for test anxiety because simulating the exam makes it look less scary and more natural. The AACN has unlimited practice exams for CCRN certifications that you can access at any time with a subscription.
Using colleagues as resources
Your colleagues and superiors are a treasure trove of information that will help you prepare for the CCRN exam. For starters, as a critical care registered nurse, you are part of a professional team of physicians, clinical psychologists, respiratory therapists, dieticians, etc. Your colleagues can be your go-to source for explaining concepts related to their discipline. They might also have books and courses they can share with you to help you prepare.
Become a member of the AACN
As a member of the AACN, you will have access to several free and discounted resources to help you prepare for the exam. For example, you will access the American Journal of Critical Care and Critical Care Nurse Journal. These journals contain essential information and the best new practices that pertain to critical care nursing. Also, an AACN member will have access to the peer support community, which is always ready to provide support and advice to one another. You will find guidance and valuable resources from the closely-knit community members.
Wrapping Things Up: How to Study for CCRN Exam?
We all know the anxiety that comes with preparing for the CCRN exam. You’re an expert ICU nurse; you have the needed skill set, yet the test is still very intimidating. Often, so many things fly through your mind: I won’t have the time to study enough. I haven’t taken an exam since NCLEX. I don’t have time for this.
Feeling anxious is okay, especially when you don’t know how to study for the CCRN exam. After all, a little bit of anxiety pushes you to prepare harder. But the question is often “how do you prepare for the exams.” We’ve reviewed everything you should know about that CCRN exam, including the suitable study materials. Now that you’re armed with this information, we expect you to choose resources that suit your study style.
CCRN study guides are our favorite picks because of the loads of relevant information they contain. A CCRN study guide walks you through every information you’ll need to answer questions.