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The Definitive Practice Test Guide for the CCRN

About the CCRN Exam

The CCRN exam is required for certification for nurses who would like to specialize in providing direct care to acutely or critically ill adult clients. Nurses who pursue this certification currently work in intensive care units, cardiac care units, combined ICUs/CCUs, medical/surgical ICUs, trauma units, and crucial care transport teams. A nurse must have 1,750 hours of direct client care in a critical-care setting within the two years prior to applying to certify. Half of those hours should be documented within the year leading up to the examination. If a nurse does not meet the preferred requirement, the nurse may alternatively apply to certify if they have five years of experience and a minimum of 2,000 practice hours in bedside critical-care nursing. A total of 144 of those hours must be accrued in the year prior to application

The exam was developed and is administered by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) Certification Corporation. The exam itself is a three-hour test with 150 multiple-choice items. It can be taken on a computer or using a paper-and-pencil version. Of the total questions, 125 of them are scored and 25 questions are used to gather statistical data for future exams. About 80% of the exam focuses on Clinical Judgment and the remaining 20% focuses on Professional Caring and Ethical Practice. A breakdown of the exam topics looks like this:

Clinical Judgment (80% total)

  • Cardiovascular (17%)
  • Respiratory (15%)
  • Endocrine/Hematology/Gastrointestinal/Renal/Integumentary (20%)
  • Musculoskeletal/Neurological/Psychosocial (14%)
  • Multisystem (14%)

Professional Caring and Ethical Practice (20% total)

  • Advocacy/Moral Agency
  • Caring Practices
  • Response to Diversity
  • Facilitation to Learning
  • Collaboration
  • Systems Thinking
  • Clinical Inquiry

Each question begins with a short scenario in which respondents are asked to make a decision as they might in a critical-care nursing role. The CCRN exam costs $250 for members of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses and $365 for non-members. Additional information for each section of the test is provided; a comprehensive understanding of all parts of this exam is required to perform well.

Sections of the CCRN


Questions about the Cardiovascular area of critical-care nursing occupy about 18% of the test. Everything about caring for a critically ill client with cardiovascular issues is subject to assessment. You’ll need to know the differences between different conditions and diseases and how to use medical resources to care for these clients. Essential to this is a thorough understanding of how the cardiovascular system works and what to do if something malfunctions.


On the CCRN exam, about 20% of the questions will address the Endocrine/Hematology/Gastrointestinal/Renal/Integumentary aspects of nursing. This area involves a wide array of body systems and symptoms. You’ll need to know signs of distress involving multiple organs and how to treat them, in clients with both acute occurrences and chronic diseases.


About 14% of the questions on the CCRN exam test your knowledge of Multisystem nursing. Here’s an area where you get to put together knowledge and skills regarding a number of body systems in an effort to care for critically ill clients. You will also need to pull from your knowledge of other specific areas of critical care nursing.


The CCRN exam uses about 13% of the questions to assess you in the areas of Musculoskeletal/Neurological/Psychosocial knowledge. From body to mind, this section covers physical as well as psychological illnesses and requires you to draw on your knowledge of them all. The fact that any of these conditions are causing the client to be labeled “critical care” makes your knowledge and skills even more valuable.

Professional Caring and Ethical Practice

A full 20% of the questions on the CCRN exam assess your understanding of Professional Caring and Ethical Practice. These questions test your ability to function as a critical-care nurse while attending to things like diversity, advocacy, collaboration with other professionals, and several other concepts required in good nursing at the critical-care level.


Approximately 17% of the CCRN exam questions will assess your knowledge and skills in the Respiratory area of critical-care nursing. Basically, it involves the process of breathing and knowing the difference between symptoms of various pulmonary ailments, including how to treat them. This also involves knowing the causes of such ailments and what you can do, as a nurse, to help the client toward recovery.

What to Expect on Test Day

The address of your testing center is provided when you register for the exam. It is always a good idea to plan to arrive early. This will give you extra time if you have problems finding the testing center or with registration. If you arrive more than 15 minutes late, you may be barred from taking the exam.

Examinees may request a break whenever they need one, but it will be considered part of your exam time. You will not be able to leave during the test. If you do so, your exam will be voided. Since the test is three hours long, it is also recommended that test-takers get plenty of rest and eat a nutritious meal before arriving to prevent from becoming distracted by hunger or drowsiness while taking the exam.

What to Bring

Two forms of identification are required during the registration process. The primary ID must be current and government issued. It must also include your signature and photograph. Acceptable forms of primary ID would include a driver’s license, a state ID card, a passport, or a military ID card. The secondary ID must include your signature and printed name. Acceptable forms of secondary IDs include a credit card, a Social Security card, a student ID card, a membership card, or a notarized photograph.

What Not to Bring

All personal items, including purses, briefcases, headwear, hooded jackets, and coats, are banned from the testing room. Additionally, reference materials, such as books, papers, and dictionaries, and electronic devices are also prohibited. It is recommended that these items are left in the examinee’s vehicle or at their home.

Best Ways to Study for the CCRN Exam

Take Practice Tests for the CCRN Exam

Taking CCRN practice tests is the best way to prepare for and succeed on the exam. These practice tests give candidates a feel for the format and layout of the exam. Practice tests are also valuable for identifying areas where additional study time may be necessary.

Use Alternative Study Methods

Many test-takers also find it useful to incorporate alternative study methods into their preparation. Items like flashcards for the CCRN and study guides for the CCRN can help examinees retain information better and create a more well-rounded study plan.

Simulate the Testing Experience

Simulating the testing experience is another key aspect of performing well on the CCRN exam. It is a timed test with questions that look very different from those found on other types of tests, since they are scenario-based. Taking the full practice exam within the time restrictions can help you to better understand how you will perform under pressure. It can also help you to determine if you suffer mental fatigue within the exam window; if you do, you can develop strategies to recover from it quickly so that it doesn’t have a negative impact on your results.

CCRN Tips and Tricks

Give Yourself Plenty of Time to Prepare

The CCRN exam is a comprehensive test that covers a ton of material. It’s a great idea to schedule the exam while leaving yourself several months to prepare. You can then have the time to study all of the material before exam day.

Work through the Questions

The testing center provides scratch paper for examinees to use. If you need to work through a question, use the scratch paper to bring up all the info relevant to the question. This process can help you connect the info to determine the correct answer.

Devote Proportional Study Time to the Sections

Certain sections, like the Cardiovascular section, comprise a larger portion of the total exam. Spend more time studying these topics than those that represent less of the total test.


1. How much does it cost to take the CCRN?

The CCRN exam costs $250 for members of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses and $365 for non-members.

2. When will I receive my CCRN exam results?

Those who take the computer-based test will receive their score report immediately upon completing the exam. Those who complete the paper-and-pencil version will receive their score report within six to eight weeks after completing the exam.

3. Can I retake the CCRN exam?

Yes, you can retake the exam up to four times within a 12-month period.

4. How much does it cost to retake the exam?

Unlike many other standardized tests, there is no discount for retaking the exam. Candidates must pay the full fee every time they wish to take the test.

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