What Is the Difference Between ANCC and AANP Certification for Nurse Practitioners?
- Nurse practitioners must be licensed to practice, but not all states require certification.
- The ANCC issues a board certification and the AANP issues a certification; both validate an NP's knowledge and education.
- Most NPs who seek ANCC certification are typically interested in teaching and research, while those who seek an AANP certification often want a clinical career.
After graduating from your nurse practitioner (NP) program, you'll need to select a national certification examination to earn your credentials to practice.
You can choose between two credentialing bodies: the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) is a national membership organization for NPs. The AANPCB is the certifying organization incorporated separately from the AANP.
While both are rigorous exams and recognized certifying options for nurse practitioners, there are differences you should understand before determining the one that best aligns with your goals. In 2022, 17,968 family nurse practitioner candidates took the AANP examination and 74% passed, while 8,192 took the ANCC examination and 87% passed.
Let's dive into the similarities and differences between the certifications exams so you can take the one that best meets your needs.
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ANCC vs. AANP Certification: What's the Difference?
The ANCC is a subsidiary of the American Nurses Association (ANA) and was first incorporated in 1991. However, the ANA first established criteria for certification in 1973, and by 1975, it had initiated a joint program in maternal, gynecological, and neonatal nursing.
The history of the AANPCB is a little complex. It began in 1985 when the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners was established. The AANPCB was separately incorporated in 1999. In 2013, the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners merged with the American College of Nurse Practitioners to form what is now the AANP.
The AANP is the membership organization, and the AANPCB is the certification body. However, many continue calling it the AANP certification.
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ANCC vs. AANP Certification Examinations
How the certification examinations were developed also contributed to key differences in the tests. The tests are similarly priced — the AANP certification examination costs $315 for nonmembers, and the ANCC costs $395 for nonmembers.
Both the ANCC and AANP exams are similar in length and given at contracted test centers. The AANP exam for family nurse practitioners (FNPs) is 150 questions that candidates must answer in three hours. The ANCC exam has 175 questions which candidates must answer in 3.5 hours. In the ANCC exam, only 150 questions are scored and the remaining 25 are "test" questions considered for future examinations.
In the past, the ANCC test had a research focus, but this was updated in 2019 to include more clinical information and less theory. The ANCC test evaluates clinical skills, including comprehensive history and physical, risk assessment, diagnostic test selection, pharmacologic intervention, cultural congruence, and resource management.
By contrast, the AANP exam has a stronger clinical focus that tests an NP candidate's abilities in assessment, diagnosis, planning, and evaluation. In other words, the test is 100% clinically based, which is why some NPs believe the AANP exam is easier to prepare for, take, and pass than the ANCC exam.
However, as opposed to the ANCC, which can certify five primary care specialties, the AANP test certifies only adult-gerontology, family, and emergency nurse practitioners.
The ANCC issues board certification (FNP-BC) that has a broad focus. NPs are credentialed for clinical practice, but those who choose an ANCC certification tend to go into academia or have an interest in guiding nursing policy. The AANP issues a certification (FNP-C) aimed at NPs who are seeking a clinical career.
Both certifications require renewal every five years. You may apply for an ANCC renewal up to one year before the certification expires. To be eligible for renewal, a nurse must hold a current, active RN license, current ANCC board certification, complete 75 continuing education credits, and pay the renewal fee.
An NP is also required to complete at least one of eight professional development categories, which include presentation, continuing education, publications, and research.
The AANP allows NPs to renew by meeting a minimum number of clinical practice and continuing education hours or by retaking the certification examination. An NP must have at least 1,000 practice hours in their population focus and 100 contact hours of advanced continuing education.
ANCC vs. AANP Certification: Which Exam Should You Take?
Some NP candidates may believe that one exam may be 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, we've listed a few pros and cons for each.
ANCC: Pros and Cons
- Only clinical content is tested with 10% of the questions about the professional role.
- Certifications are available in adult-gerontology (primary and acute), family, pediatrics, and psychiatric mental health.
- NPs are board-certified (FNP-BC) with a broad focus that also covers nursing policy. FNPs who take this route are certified in clinical practice but have a higher likelihood of academic or research practice.
- Certification renews every five years and requires candidates to complete 75 continuing education hours and hold an active RN license and ANCC board certification.
- Questions are not all straightforward multiple choice. The test includes drag and drop, multiple answers, and hot spot-type questions.
- The test is slightly longer than AANP; 3.5 hours and 175 questions.
AANP: Pros and Cons
- Straightforward, multiple-choice questions.
- The test takes 3 hours and has 150 questions.
- NPs are certified (FNP-C) with a strong clinical focus; most choose clinical practice.
- Certification renews every five years. Candidates can retake the exam or complete 1,000 practice hours, 100 continuing education hours, and complete at least 1 of 8 professional development categories.
- Certifies only in two primary care specialties: adult-gerontology and family.
- AANP certification had a lower pass rate in 2022, but in 2018 the ANCC pass rate was 86%, and the AANP pass rate was 85%.
Note: You can decide to take both tests. However, you're not required to take both unless you're certified by one credentialing body, and you want to switch to a specialty they don't certify.
The Benefits of Being a Board-Certified Nurse Practitioner
There are benefits to certification even if your state does not require it to practice as an NP. An NP can practice in some states without being certified, but they cannot practice without being licensed. A 2001 study of over 19,000 certified nurses demonstrated that nurses who were credentialed believed they made decisions with greater confidence.
Certification helps hospitals differentiate themselves from competitors and demonstrates to patients and insurance companies that employees deliver skilled and experienced care. Certification reflects a nurse practitioner's achievement beyond what is required for licensure.
While it is a voluntary process in some states, certification can also help nurse practitioners advance in their careers.
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