How nurse practitioners can prepare for their final exams


You’ll encounter many challenges while on the journey to becoming a qualified nurse practitioner. These include long lectures, tricky practical tasks, complex concepts and theories to grasp, and taxing field placements. You’ll also need to skillfully maintain a balance between your studies and other responsibilities, such as work and family commitments. Nothing, however, brings on stress like the final exam. So how can you prepare thoroughly and carefully while remaining calm enough to manage both your everyday life and the test itself?

In this article, we discuss tried-and-tested revision techniques, the importance of a good study plan, and the differences between the two main types of exams for prospective nurse practitioners, the AANP and ANCC. In addition, we also examine how healthy eating, meditation, and sports can give you the edge to get the grade you want and why preparation is the key to ultimate success.

Know what to expect

The first thing is to know what you are up against—what knowledge is required and in what form. For nurse practitioners (NPs), there are two main exam types: the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) exam or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) exam. So the first question is: What do you need to know in terms of AANP vs. ANCC? Spring Arbor University offers both exams In their accredited online programs and prepares students with the knowledge and evidence-based practices needed to prepare for them.

As far as the make-up of the two tests goes, the AANP has 150 questions, including 15 pre-test questions, a time limit of three hours, and only multiple-choice questions. The ANCC, on the other hand, has 175 questions, including 25 pre-test questions, and a time limit of three and a half hours. While the ANCC also has multiple-choice questions, there are different types to look out for, including drag-and-drop and ‘hot spot’ items.

While your tutors and university are sure to assist you, we highly recommend completing several past papers of the test. After all, your level of knowledge is only part of the puzzle; you also need to be familiar with the test format so there are no surprises on the day. Taking time to understand how the exam works and what the examiners are looking for will eliminate the potential stress of dealing with unfamiliar question types and help you avoid losing marks for that age-old mistake of not understanding the question.

Make a study plan

Once you know what you’re up against, the next step is to make a study plan. The key is to make it focused but realistic; yes, high targets are important, but if you’re too ambitious, you risk losing motivation in the event that you fail to achieve them. It’s also a good idea to build a little bit of flexibility into your schedule; it’s much better to target an average of four hours of study a day over a four-week period than trying to do those four hours every single day. That way, you can allow yourself the odd day where you take things easier, knowing you can catch up later. Either way, good time management is essential; you also don’t want to find yourself falling too far behind.

Balance is also crucial; a good, detailed plan is required to ensure you cover all the topics you need to know about, not just your favorites. In fact, it might be worth devoting a little more time to areas where you know you are weakest so that you have a high level of knowledge across the board when it comes to the exam itself.

Many students also have their favorite revision techniques. These can range from the classics, such as underlining keywords and phrases or writing detailed notes on each topic, to more specific ones, like the SQ3R method (survey, question, read, recite review), spaced practice (repeating material over time), and the Feynman Technique (explaining concepts in your own words). Whichever options you choose, incorporating active elements is a must. Numerous studies have shown that active learning is far more effective than passive learning.

Create the right environment

Naturally, every good plan also needs a place to put into action. Most guides will recommend a quiet room with no distractions, though if you have a family, roommates, or even a fussy pet pestering you for food, that might be a little harder to achieve. Either way, a clear desk or table, headphones plugged into some relaxing or up-tempo music (ideally instrumental), and the phone switched to ‘do not disturb’ is a great start. It’s also useful if you have a separate break space, so you can get away from your desk and enjoy some genuine downtime.

Though some students prefer to study alone, it might also be an idea to pair up with your fellow students. With a study buddy, you can help motivate each other, discuss difficult issues, and also have question-and-answer sessions to test each other. Studying in pairs or larger groups also gives you the opportunity to help each other with parts of the syllabus where you are struggling. Often, teaching others is a great way to find out if you really know the subject well enough yourself and to clarify your ideas. In addition, studying with others can also be an enjoyable social occasion; after all, there’s nothing wrong with a little chat between revision sessions, as long as you keep your eyes on the ultimate goal!

Additional gains

In addition to the basics – plan, place, and practice – additional factors can make a big difference. The first thing to admit is that while comfort food, energy drinks, and 11 rounds of coffee might get you through a single-night cramming session, that kind of approach is never going to be sustainable over the time period needed to prepare for a final exam as a nurse practitioner. Instead, you’ll be far better off establishing a healthy, balanced diet with set routines and a few rewards thrown in. A bowl of fruit or nuts after two hours of study is a great way to motivate yourself to keep going. Okay, maybe even a delicious tub of ice cream after a four-hour session is justified, too!

It’s also important to get enough sleep. When your life is this packed, it can feel like staying up all hours of the night is a necessity—there’s just no other way to fit everything in. At the same time, it’s worth acknowledging that often, burning the midnight candle will make it much harder to concentrate the following day and that any time gained is just lost later on. It’s also important to keep exercising; even a 15-minute run around the block or a quick squat and sit-up session can give you an energy boost and aid concentration.

It’s also worth bearing in mind just how stressful finals time can be, particularly if you have a job to do, kids to look after, or any other major responsibilities. While it’s definitely important to find some time for yourself—as impossible as that may seem—there are also a number of techniques that can help you stay on top of things. Meditation or yoga, for example, can be excellent ways of maintaining calm and helping you prepare mentally for the exam.

Eyes on the prize

Probably more than anything else, the main thing is to focus on the end goal. The final exam to qualify as a nurse practitioner is the culmination of many years of hard work and study and the last main staging post before you can finally embark on a long career in your chosen profession. Visualizing that goal can be a great way of motivating yourself while keeping things in perspective. Even the worst-case scenario of failing the exam will not stop you from becoming a nurse; merely delay it for a few months. Similarly, passing the exam and completing your degree is an achievement that you will be able to look back on with fondness and pride for the rest of your life.

No matter how daunting it might appear, the final exam is a chance to show off what you know and ensure you are truly ready to be a great NP. After all, passing the final exam requires exactly the same qualities as being a successful nurse practitioner: dedication, perseverance, and an in-depth knowledge of medicine. As such, the preparation you undergo in this period will stand you in excellent stead to help as many patients as possible and enjoy a bright and positive career in healthcare.

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