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Top Tips: How to Pass the CCRN Exam

  • Make sure you meet clinical practice hour requirements before devoting time and energy to studying for the CCRN exam.
  • Focus your attention on portions of the test with the highest question volume, such as Cardiovascular and Respiratory areas.
  • Nurses who know how to pass the CCRN exam use traditional studying methods such as flashcards and practice tests.
Morgan Curry, RN/BSN

Morgan Curry, BSN / RN

Intensive Care, Outpatient Surgery, Aesthetics, Education, and Nursing Leadership

March 19, 2021
The Comprehensive Online CCRN Review Course

The dreaded CCRN exam. You’re a killer ICU nurse; you have the skill set; you know the content, yet the test is still so intimidating. So many things must be flying through your mind: I haven’t taken an exam since the NCLEX. I am going to have to study SO MUCH. I don’t have time to do this. It’s reasonable to feel overwhelmed, but you’ve got this. I’ve compiled some of my best tips on how to pass the CCRN exam.

Nurses who obtain their CCRN can then go on to work in areas such as intensive care units, cardiac care units, combined ICU/CCUs, medical/surgical ICUs, trauma units, and critical care transport/flight.

What is the CCRN?

A CCRN (Critical Care Registered Nurse) certificate allows nurses to provide “direct care to acutely/critically ill adult patients regardless of their physical location.” Nurses who obtain their CCRN can then go on to work in areas such as intensive care units, cardiac care units, combined ICU/CCUs, medical/surgical ICUs, trauma units, and critical care transport/flight. This qualification is just one step in how to become an ICU nurse, but it can be the most daunting and time-consuming one.

How to Pass the CCRN, Meeting Clinical Requirements

Do you meet the requirements to take it?

Before getting started on your quest for your CCRN, you’ll need to make sure you have a current RN or APRN license that is not under disciplinary action of review and does not carry limitations such as drug administration or practice area exclusions. Applicants must also meet certain clinical practice hour requirements.

The Two Options

  • Practice as an RN or APRN for 1,750 hours in the direct care of acutely or critically ill patients during the last two years, with 875 of those hours accrued within the last year.
  • Practice as an RN or APRN for 2,000 hours in the direct care of acutely or critically ill patients during the last five years, with 144 of those hours accrued within the last year.

The test itself can cost between $170 and $360, depending on whether it is your first exam, retest, or CCRN renewal. Some employers or institutions will pay for or reimburse your exam fee. Look into this if you work for a major institution or ask your management staff if this is an option.

 

The Breakdown

80% of the test will cover your clinical judgment in areas such as Cardiovascular (17%), Respiratory (15%), Endocrine/Hematology/Gastrointestinal/Renal/Integumentary (20%), Musculoskeletal/Neurological/Psychosocial (14%), and Multisystem (14%) specialties. Many CCRN experts agree that since Cardiovascular systems make up the largest, single-specialty percentage of the test, that is one area high performers should focus their studying efforts on.

The remaining 20% of the test covers “Professional Caring & Ethical Practice” which includes questions on key characteristics of a successful ICU nurse, such as collaboration, critical thinking, and caring practices like compassion.

The exam is 150 questions long and you will have 3 hours to complete it. 125 questions are scored while the remaining 25 are not. You only need to get 87 questions correct to pass the exam.

Be diligent and put in the work. Take the foundational skills you have learned in your on-the-job training, along with the textbook material, and apply them together.

Tips for Studying and Testing

If you’re still wondering how pass the CCRN exam, it’s time to turn to the tried and true method of preparation. Prepare yourself beforehand – this is imperative! The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACC) recommends using an exam handbook, practice exams, and adult review courses to get ready. Major retailers and bookstores such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble also offer hard copy review courses.

How to Pass the CCRN using Traditional Studying Methods

  • Create a Study Schedule: Try setting aside a couple of hours a day to focus on one section of the exam at a time. Remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
  • Take a Review Course: Many large institutions offer review courses or classes for their staff. There are also many available online.
  • Make Flashcards: As a nurse, you already have a busy schedule, and if you add kids and a spouse on top of it… then, I don’t need to say anything else. Flashcards are an easy way to study on the go and help you better retain the information.
  • Do Practice Questions: They are a great way to learn about the structure and formatting of the questions on the exam. Completing these questions can help you apply the information better. If you take a practice test, this will also help to show you your areas of weakness and where you may need to spend a bit more time studying! Try emulating the testing environment as closely as possible; this will help to reduce any testing anxiety that you may have.

Take Aways for How to Pass the CCRN Exam

Be diligent and put in the work. Take the foundational skills you have learned in your on-the-job training, along with the textbook material, and apply them together. Try to use your personal experiences when answering the knowledge-based scenario questions.

Conquer your test anxiety by accepting it. Don’t pretend it’s not there. Give yourself permission to fully experience the emotions that come with test-taking – these are normal. Don’t feel inadequate; you have worked hard, and hard work gets rewarded. Have confidence and trust that you know the material; that this is just a certification that verifies your competence as an amazing nurse.

You can do it! 

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