Tips for the ANCC Certification Exams

APNA News: The Psychiatric Nursing Voice  |  March 2018 Members' Corner Edition

Sattaria "Tari" Dilks

Sattaria "Tari" Dilks, DNP, APRN, PMHNP-BC, FAANP, is the recipient of the 2017 APNA Award for Excellence in Education. As a psychiatric-mental health nursing educator for over 12 years, Tari has motivated and mentored students through her courses and beyond to help them become effective psychiatric-mental health nurses. With ANCC Certification Exams a hot discussion topic on Member Bridge, Tari shares 10 tips to help you prepare for your test, whether it’s the PMH-RN or the PMH-NP exam:

  • Answer practice questions.

    Doing so will help you develop a better understanding of the layout of the test and how the questions are presented. If you can, find practice questions that provide rationale for the correct answer.  There are a large number of resources available in print and in e-book formats. Identify your weaker areas to concentrate on.

  • Check out study resources.
    These resources, like the Barkley Course, ANCC Review Guide, and more, may help you feel more confident going in to the exam. Consider taking a review course based on your individual learning style – face to face if you do better with interactive presentations, audio presentations that can be reviewed while driving, and others.

  • Pace yourself.
    While review books are helpful, don't wait until the last minute to prepare for the exam. Don't overdo it, either. Set aside specific time to review for the test and stop when you reach the end of that time.

  • Find a study buddy.
    APNA Member Bridge is a great place to look for a study buddy if you do not have one. Review test taking strategies, including breaking apart questions, reading and eliminating answer choices, and time allotment in order to best prepare for the experience of the test.

  • Figure out what is really being asked.
    It seems simple, but be sure to practice breaking down questions and understanding what the question is asking. Once you fully understand the question, it will be easier to answer that question. For instance, if a test question asks "Which of the following would you do first?", know that all of the answers are things that would be done. In that case, prioritize and look at patient safety issues while doing so. Don't jump to conclusions about what the question is asking. Read each question carefully before answering.

  • Don't overthink it.
    Your first answer is usually the best answer. If you find you are taking a long time on one question, flag it and go back to it later. Answer all of the questions and guess if you have to. There is no penalty for wrong answers.

  • Memorize mnemonics.
    There are many sites that list mnemonics for psychiatric disorders, medications, and assessment. When you get into the testing room, you should have a piece of paper that you can write down the ones that you struggle with. (And don't forget those pesky cranial nerves!)

  • Remember medical issues.
    Be sure not to overlook common medical co-morbidities and medication interactions, especially those that are potentially dangerous with psychiatric medications (CYP450).

  • Don't forget those foundational classes!
    Know the basics about your new role, including when to refer, health policy, advocacy, research, and leadership. Review the test content outline for your exam.

  • Take care of yourself.
    Set aside time to engage in leisure activities that you enjoy.  Go to a movie, read a book, practice meditation, visualize success, exercise, or even get a massage. Put all of your study material away the day before the exam and do not look at it again. If you have set a comprehensive study schedule and followed it, you are unlikely to need the last minute review. Make sure you have eaten some protein prior to the exam and are hydrated. Go into the test rested and alert.


Know a leader in education like Tari? Nominate them for the APNA Award for Excellence in Education!

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