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Preparing for Your NP Boards: 5 Things to Do Before Applying for Your NP Exams

by South University
November 1, 2018 Master of Science in Nursing students: see what you need to do as you approach graduation and prepare for your nurse practitioner boards.
A photo of two South University nursing students studying a piece of medical equipment.

After earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, the next steps to becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) are passing your certification exams and achieving licensure*. As you approach and plan for your MSN graduation, here are five things you need to do to prepare for your nurse practitioner boards.

Connect with Your Career Services Team

Check with your Career Services team to see how they can assist you in launching your nurse practitioner career. Ideally, they should provide assistance before and after you graduate and talk with you one-on-one to discuss your individual needs. At South University, our Career Services team can answer student questions about exam study materials, provide information about the NP certification exams and application processes, and explain what to expect when applying to your state board of nursing.

When approaching graduation, each South University student is also assigned a Career Services Advisor, who acts as a resource throughout each step of planning for and completing the boards. South University students and graduates can find contact information for their Career Services Advisor in the My Contacts area of the Campus Common.

A photo of a South University student studying.

Start Your Research and Planning

Your Career Services team can give you helpful information to get you started, but you should also create a roadmap for yourself that helps you understand and keep track of exactly what you have to do to earn NP licensure in your state.

Because every state has different processes and regulations, you’ll need to review your state’s Board of Nursing requirements and practice laws to see what’s required for your boards and licensure. Other NPs in your state may be able to offer advice and information as well.

Select a Certification Exam: AANP vs ANCC

To become a nurse practitioner, you either must take an AANP exam (American Association of Nurse Practitioners) or an ANCC exam (American Nurses Credentialing Center). Both are nationally recognized, computer-based exams that tell you immediately upon completion if you have passed (with more detailed results sent later in the mail). Below is a quick overview of each, with more information available on the sites linked in the table.

Exam TypeAANP ExamANCC Exam
Certifications OfferedAdult, Family, and Gerontology certifications Adult, Family, Acute Care, Geriatric, Pediatric, Adult Psychiatric-Mental Health and Family Psychiatric-Mental Health certifications
FocusHeavier clinical focus than ANCCMore focus on administrative topics like healthcare policy, ethics, and research methodology than AANP
Test FormatMultiple choice questions with one right answer Various question types, such as “select all that apply” and “drag and drop in the order of importance”. You can also draw, highlight, and cross off things on the exam while thinking through questions
Nursing Exam Test Length150 questions (135 count toward your score) and 3 hours in length200 questions (175 count toward your score) and 4 hours in length


When comparing cost, the AANP exam fee is less than the ANCC exam fee. Both AANP and ANCC members can qualify for discounts on exam fees. To reduce the cost of your NP exam, we recommend joining the affiliated organization as a student, as student membership rates are lower than non-student rates. These organizations can also provide networking and other career benefits.

Decide on a Timeline

You also need to decide when to apply for and take the exam, and your university should be able to offer recommendations.

For the AANP, South University recommends that our students start the application process either after finishing classes or no earlier than 2 months before graduating to ensure that official transcripts and letters from the Program Director can be delivered in a timely manner.

For the ANCC, we recommend that our students wait until after graduating or 2 weeks before to start their applications. Applying close to or after graduation also gives you additional time to study after you complete your program.

Once your application materials are accepted, you’ll have 3 months to sign up for your ANCC exam day, time, and location and 4 months to do so for the AANP exam. We recommend taking the exam within 2 to 3 months of graduating while your knowledge and study skills are fresh.

Complete All Nursing Program & School Requirements

As you wrap up your last class, make sure that you have submitted everything required to graduate. Confirm that all assignments are turned in and that all clinical logs have been appropriately documented and submitted. (These are important for getting your authorization to test.) Check that your contact information is current and includes an email address that you will continue using after graduation, so that your advisors can contact you throughout the process of preparing for your NP boards.

At South University, you’ll also need to complete documents such as the Application for Graduation, Employment Status Form, and Career Services Agreement. The Career Services Agreement form allows our team to assist you in preparing for your boards, acquiring your state license, searching for jobs, and getting any additional credentialing. These documents are all available in your Campus Common.

Up Next: Studying and Applying for your Nurse Practitioner Exam

Whew! You’ve gotten everything in order, done your research, talked with career services, decided on a licensing exam, and even created a timeline! If you’re ready for the next steps, we’ve got you covered. Bookmark the South University blog and come back soon for articles on the best study materials for NP boards and a guide to the ANCC/AANP exam application process.

*South University does not guarantee third-party certification/licensure. Outside agencies control the requirements for taking and passing certification/licensing exams and are subject to change without notice to South University.

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