What Is the Difference Between ANCC and AANP Certification for Nurse Practitioners?

Elizabeth Clarke, FNP, MSN, RN
Updated April 23, 2024
Edited by
    Explore this page to determine whether you need ANCC vs. AANP certification to become a nurse practitioner.
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    As you wrap up your master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree, you must consider which board certification exam to take.

    Board certification exams are required to become a licensed and certified nurse practitioner. Two organizations administer the certifying examinations: the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

    Both the ANCC and the AANP are equal in the weight their certifications carry. However, there are key differences between the two organizations. Explore this page to determine whether ANCC vs. AANP certification best fits your career goals.

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    Why Do Nurse Practitioners Need to Become Board Certified?

    Board certification is essential for becoming licensed and beginning a new career as a nurse practitioner. Without board certification, states will not approve licensure to practice. Passing a board certification exam shows a high level of education and clinical experience in the chosen specialty.

    Per the AANP, board certification provides a way for nurse practitioners to demonstrate their knowledge, professional expertise, and education. This also incorporates a standard process for validating the qualifications of nurse practitioners.

    ANCC vs. AANP Certification: What’s the Difference?

    Both certifying bodies carry the same weight, meaning whichever board certification you obtain allows you to practice equally. However, it is important to examine the differences between ANCC vs. AANP certification as well, including the number of test questions, focus of examination questions, and requirements for certification renewal.

    Getting Board Certification

    AANP Certification Exam for FNP, AGNP, ENP, and PMHNP

    • 150 questions
    • Scoring based on 135 questions, including 15 pretest questions that collect data for future testing and do not count towards the test-taker’s score
    • The exam is divided into two sections called domains: (1) assess, diagnose, plan, evaluate and (2) patient ages — varies depending on the certification exam (e.g., FNP vs. AGACNP)
    • Three hours to complete the exam

    Test-takers receive a preliminary pass or fail notification immediately after test submission. Final exam scores come in the mail within two weeks. The exam is scored on a scale, with a 500 as the minimum passing score.

    The AANP’s emergency nurse practitioner exam includes a different set of domains and is only available for FNPs who have completed a post-master’s certification in emergency nurse practice.

    One key difference between the ANCC vs. AANP is that the ANCC offers a certification exam for AGACNP, whereas the AANP does not.

    ANCC Board Certification Exam for FNP, PMHNP, AGNP, AGACNP

    • 175 questions
    • 150 scored questions, including 25 pretest questions that gather data for future exams and do not count towards the exam score
    • Four hours to complete the exam
    • The exams are usually broken down into five content domains:
      1. Assessment: Covers the ability to assess patient health, analyze symptoms, and provide risk assessment (21% of the overall questions)
      2. Diagnosis: Tests knowledge and skills on clinical manifestations and pathogenesis of diseases and diagnostics (26% of the overall questions)
      3. Planning: Focuses on developing and executing effective care plans and preventative measures (19% of the overall questions)
      4. Implementation: Covers HIPAA, accessibility, regulatory guidelines, and practice standards (29% of the overall questions)
      5. Evaluation: Tests knowledge of areas of treatment and intervention outcomes and legal and ethical practices (15% of the overall questions)

    The exam is pass or fail, with a maximum score of 500. If one receives a failing score, the ANCC sends a diagnostic report with detailed feedback for the examinee. In order to pass, the examinee must obtain a minimum score of 350 or higher.

    Eligibility requirements for both the AANP and the ANCC are very similar. Each requires the candidate to have completed all coursework. However, both organizations allow the exam to be taken before the degree is conferred, which can be several weeks to a month after coursework completion. The AANP and the ANCC also require a minimum of 500 clinical hours prior to testing.

    Both certification exams, regardless of specialty practice area, serve to determine if the nurse practitioner demonstrates proficient clinical knowledge and application.

    Renewing Board Certification

    AANP Renewal Requirements

    • Renew every five years following the initial certification by examination.
    • Gain a minimum of 1,000 clinical contact hours over a five-year period. The hours can include direct patient care, research, administration, or education, such as teaching nurse practitioner programs.
    • Accumulate 100 continuing education hours, with 25 hours focused on pharmacology. Precepting nurse practitioner students can replace the non-pharmacology hours with preceptor experience.
    • Renewal can be completed by retaking the certification examination if the minimum eligibility requirements remain unmet.
    • Hold a current RN and APRN license during the five-year period.

    ANCC Renewal Requirements

    • Renew every five years following the initial certification examination.
    • Complete 75 continuing education hours, with 25 hours focused on pharmacology.
    • Hold a current RN and APRN license during the certification period.
    • Meet the requirements of one of eight professional development categories: continuing education hours; academic credit; presentations; quality improvement project, publication, research, or evidence-based practice; preceptor hours; professional service; practice hours; portfolio submission or examination.
    • Direct patient contact hours are not required. If completed, a minimum of 1,000 hours are necessary to count towards that category for renewal.

    ANCC vs. AANP Certification: Which Exam Should You Take?

    Some nurse practitioner candidates may believe that one exam is easier to take than the other. However, this is subjective. It depends on your knowledge and test-taking ability. If you’re unsure which exam to take, explore some pros and cons for the ANCC vs. the AANP.

    ANCC: Pros and Cons


    • Longer amount of time to take the exam (four hours)
    • More broad subject matter, including research, therapeutic communication, and clinical practice questions
    • No clinical practice contact hours for renewal
    • The option to certify for the AGACNP


    • 175 total questions
    • Extra work in professional development for renewal, such as research, education, or presenting
    • More expensive exam fee: $395 for nonmembers; $295 for members

    ANCC: Pros and Cons


    • Less expensive exam fee: $315 for nonmembers; $240 for members
    • 150 total questions
    • Focused on clinical practice and direct patient care — better for the advanced practice provider vs. a nurse practitioner in education or research
    • Option to certify for the emergency nurse practitioner
    • Less extensive renewal process — does not require a professional development piece


    • Only allows three hours to take the test
    • Does not have the AGACNP test option
    • Focuses primarily on primary care — best suited for nurse practitioners focused on the outpatient setting