Musings of a Nightshift Nurse

How I Studied for the CCRN

How I Studied for the CCRN

Happy Certified Nurses Day! I’m excited to say that it’s the first one I get to celebrate! I hope one day you will too if you don’t already. It is something to be proud of! The CCRN is not an easy test and is completely voluntary. So you going out of your way to take it shows pride in the nursing profession and yourself. I’m going to go through the requirements of this test, how I studied, and my thoughts on the exam.

CCRN Exam Eligibility

The CCRN (Adult) Exam is for nurses who care for acute/critical patients in a variety of settings (ICUs, trauma bays, critical care transport, etc).

  • You need to be a RN/APRN with at least 1750 hours in the past two years directly caring for acute/critically ill patients. You need 875 of those hours within the most recent year of applying.
  • OR, you need to be a RN/APRN with at least 2000 hours in the past five years directly caring for acute/critically ill patients. You need 144 of those hours within the most recent year of applying.
  • The cost of the test is $230 if you are an AACN member, or $335 if you are not (which, why are you not?!). I’ve heard most hospitals will help cover the cost of the exam if you pass, if not you can pay for it out of pocket which is what I did being on LOA.

How I Studied

Step one: Buy the exam. Yes before you study. Life is busy, we’re all exhausted working 12 hour shifts, the last thing you want to do in your spare time is study for an exam. I have lots of coworkers that want to test but haven’t started studying because there’s no pressure to take it! This exam can be put off for years and years and maybe forever if you don’t commit to it. If certification is what you want, you need to COMMIT. Commit to expanding your knowledge of critical care, commit to your patients, and commit to yourself. The pride you feel after passing this exam is incredible! So if you want those 4 letters behind your name, buy the exam. You have 90 days to schedule and take the exam once its purchased. That’s more than enough time to study if you commit to doing so.

The CCRN is made up of 150 questions you need to complete in 3 hours. Of those questions, 125 are scored, and the remaining 25 are used as performance stats for possible use in future exams. You need to get 87 correct to pass the exam (70%). This exam is unlike the NCLEX in that it doesn’t give you easier or harder questions based off your performance. So that’s a nice aspect of the CCRN.

The exam is made up of 80% clinical judgement and 20% Professional Caring and Ethical Practice. Of that 80%, the systems are broken down as follows:

18% Cardiovascular, 17% Pulmonary, 20% Endocrine/Hematology/GI/Renal/Integumentary, 13% Musculoskeletal/Neuro/Psychosocial, and 14% Multisystem.

A more detailed blueprint of the exam is in AACN’s CCRN Handbook here.

So. That’s a lot of information! But you will learn it just like I did if you put your mind to it. And I was able to study when I was half sedated on Percocet and Flexaril and who knows what else following my injury, so I know you can do it too.

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The first resource I used to study was AACN’s CCRN Review Course Online. This is a course that had powerpoint lectures based off of each of the categories I listed above, with an instructor talking you through them. It was nice to have this on my computer and you can pause and restart as you please. This course is $159 for members/$199 nonmembers, but they have a special if you add the course along with your exam sign up, you will get this course for 50% off. So you might as well buy it when you register for the CCRN. Or, you can do what I did, and get this course for FREE the following month after attending NTI! NTI is AACN’s national critical care conference held once a year that gathers thousands of ICU nurses across America for education and networking. It’s so much fun if you’re an ICU nerd like me!! This year will be my third year in a row and I will post on that experience in May following the conference. ANYWAYS, there are some options for you to get this course. I felt like I learned a lot from it. Available here.

After completing the online course, I purchased Barron’s CCRN Exam book on Amazon for about $20 (link below). This book has a pretest in the beginning to show your areas of weakness right away. Each section corresponds with the CCRN test blueprint, with practice questions after each topic telling you how many you need to get correct in order to pass. There’s also 2 full length practice exams at the end with 150 questions each and explanations for each question. I highly recommend doing these practice tests as this mentally prepares yourself for that long of a test, and you can time yourself to make sure you can complete it within 3 hours. This book also includes an online practice test as well, to get the feel of a computer-based test like the CCRN. I LOVED this book and found it to be able to explain the things I didn’t understand well.

There are some CCRN study apps out there that I tried out, but most of the free versions only contain like, 25 questions to practice with.

For the topics that just couldn’t stick, I made flashcards with the condition and the related symptoms. There was a lot of MICU stuff on there that I had never had experience with on the SICU.

And that’s pretty much how I studied! I didn’t start studying until after I bought the test, and after doing the above I passed on the first try. Yay!

My thoughts on the test? Whew! It was not easy. I felt like I got a lot of random conditions I had never studied and I told myself I was failing halfway through. Also, I reaaally had to go to the bathroom an hour in, and I was on crutches. I didn’t want to lose any time for the test since I was so slow-moving and you can’t pause the timer! So somehow I just powered through. I was the last one in the testing room and took the entire 3 hours. Which I knew I would, I always reaaaally take my time on tests. Why not? Then you get the survey at the end that you can’t even focus on because you’re so nervous to get your results. And then you get handed your print out of exam results and you have your CCRN!! What an awesome accomplishment!

You renew your certification every 3 years with the appropriate CERPs. Which is really easy to do if you go to NTI…

Any questions about the test feel free to ask me below! Thanks for reading guys! I wish you luck if you choose to take on the CCRN!

Need motivation to take this exam? Check out my blog post on Why You Need to Get Your CCRN.


Scrubs & Beyond



5 thoughts on “How I Studied for the CCRN”

  • Thank you for posting this blog! Just ordered my book! Thanks for the quick link ☺️ So you get the results right after you finish the exam? Congrats on passing first time!

  • Can I ask what you were getting on various pretests percentage-wise? If you prefer not to answer, that’s completely ok.
    I am getting 65-70% on most of my pretests. Several co-workers have recently taken the CCRN and told me that they were scoring around there, and they have all passed. I have my test scheduled and am taking it regardless of what I am scoring pre-test wise, but I wanted to know your experience.

    • Hi Emily! Thanks for reading! From what I remember, before I took the test I was scoring around 70-80%. However, I feel like a lot of the topics I was confident on wasn’t even on my exam. I think that score range is pretty normal. The biggest thing to remember is to not talk down on yourself during the test. I remember telling myself I don’t know any of this, I didn’t study that! I think regardless of the question, all the exam prep you do helps you to answer the question regardless, even if you’re not positive on the answer. Good luck!!

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