Grad School Nursing

Passing the PNP Board Exam

I am so excited for you to join the best club around, pediatric nurse practitioners! Like all nursing degrees, just when you think you’re done, you have one more exam to study for. I passed the acute care PNP board exam on my first try, so I thought I’d share what my experience was like.

Organization is key. I spent at least one day organizing all my notes from school into the categories of the exam (content outline below). Then I made a study calendar with the topics starting with the least-tested sections to the most. Print out a monthly calendar, here is another option. I wanted to take the exam before the 2020 election (too much anxiety lol..) so I scheduled my test date for the week before. However, once studying for about two weeks or so, I felt ready to speed up my studying and moved my date up a week. A tip I heard early on is to not have any major life commitments during your study period. If there is a wedding, new baby, family illness, personal illness etc., don’t test. People don’t pass. This includes if you’re working too much too. I took one sick day to study. I work part-time (24 hrs/week), but if I worked more, I probably would have taken more. Others scheduled vacation during their study period to have uninterrupted days off. Since I only studied for about 3.5 weeks, I did a lot each day (maybe 6-8 hrs).

Another tip is to narrow down early on which resources you’ll use. I exclusively used the NAPNAP review course book (listened to all the lectures) + the Lippincott Acute Care Review Book from Amazon. NAPNAP will send you a bound notebook with all the notes or give it to you if the course isn’t virtual. The course is nice because it includes lots of pictures and key concepts. Lippincott has great in-depth chapters and practice questions, but no pictures. I read every page of each and took detailed notes. The textbooks you had from school are helpful for more detailed info or certain questions, but not necessary for going through again. Practice Qs are still important so do the PNCB’s two practice tests. The rationale is the most helpful. Don’t change how you study. I always study alone and never on the computer. Everything is handwritten and I don’t use flashcards. There is no reason to try something new for this exam because your study habits have gotten you this far. If you are taking it for the second time that’s a different story.

Unlike the NCLEX where there are courses that teach you how to answer the questions, for board exams there aren’t tricks. It’s all about what you know and for acute care, management is the most important. So you can identify what symptoms contribute to a diagnoses, now how would you manage it? Memorization is key. There are lots of topics that just require memorization to know e.g., DI, SIADH, CSW or infection disease (ID) antibiotic coverage. Rewrite these types of concepts repeatedly until you have it down. Here is an ID chart I referred to a lot.

Rewrite & color coordinate it like this on a notecard! Always have it handy when studying.

Drive to the test center a few days before so you know exactly where you’re going. This helped relieve some of my anxiety! The day before the test I did look at my notes briefly. Unlike the NCLEX where you can’t go back, these tests allow you to flag Qs and go back. I can’t remember how many Qs I changed my answer to, but I know I flagged a lot of them. I finished with at least 45 min left so I was able to thoroughly reread the entire exam before I submitted it. I didn’t change any answers unless I was sure I made a mistake. Like the NCLEX, there are some questions you’ll just have to guess on. This made me nervous but there was no point in panicking because it’s unrealistic to know every detail. You can’t know everything and there are 25 Qs that are unscored! Meaning they are just ‘feelers’ for future exams. At the end of the exam, you’ll do a small survey about your testing experience and then a tiny prelim “pass/fail” page pops up. I was sick to my stomach waiting for it and when I saw “pass,” I almost screamed. Despite covid, the testing center was packed with people taking all types of exams, so I didn’t want to be rude haha. Right after, I quickly grabbed my things and went outside to call my mom 🙂

Q & A:
-How did you take the exam before you graduated? I finished the acute care portion of my program in August so our director was able to send our transcripts to PNCB to give us the okay to test. The 4th year of my program was all DNP course work.
-Is the PNP exam easier than the NCLEX? No. Idk why people say this but I thought the exam was pretty difficult.
-Did your program prepare you enough? Yes. We had an ‘exit exam’ in August that tested our knowledge and it was just as hard as the actual exam. The program was tough but covered every topic we’d see.

Some helpful links:

a) NAPNAP Review Course: here & b) PNCB Practice Tests: here

Primary Care: content outline

Acute Care: content outline & Lippincott review book

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