CCRN Certificaiton Exam Handbook

Breaking Down Your CCRN Certification Exam Handbook in 5 Simple Steps

A solid understanding of your CCRN Certification exam handbook can improve your testing outcomes.

The CCRN certification exam handbook delivers a tremendous amount of information about the application process and the test itself. Often, nurses look through the exam handbook and feel overwhelmed by the CCRN certification process as a whole. Indeed, there are 39 pages packed with information. Yet, the process for getting your certification is much more straightforward than you may expect.

Here are 5 simple steps for breaking down your CCRN certification exam handbook to make obtaining your CCRN feel attainable.

Step 1: Access the CCRN Exam Handbook Online

The CCRN Exam Handbook is not something you have to buy. It is easily accessible through the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. The AACN is the organization that writes and delivers the exam. It also certifies nurses who pass the test.

This organization has many other benefits as well, including continuing education courses and journals, and it offers members a platform to network with other critical care nurses across the country. You can access the handbook here

The exam handbook tells you what you need to know about the application process and what content is on the test. It also gives you information about how to renew your CCRN certification, the AACN Synergy Model for Patient Care, and a complete bibliography for exam resources.

Some of the information is not immediately pertinent to your testing needs. However, it can be a useful resource for you once you begin studying.

Step 2: Read About the CCRN Certification Program

Nurses in various professional capacities can take the CCRN exam. For example, nurses who do not provide direct bedside care can sit for the CCRN-K exam, which tests your knowledge of critical care nursing practices. Thus, nurses who are in a management position or nursing education can obtain this certification. 

Notably, there are different population-focus areas that you can take your exam. Thus, if you work with neonatal patients, you will want to apply for the Neonatal CCRN certification. Other patient populations you can test for include pediatric and adult. Nurses who work with more than one age group can sit for multiple CCRN exams, so long as they meet the eligibility requirements, which brings us to step 3.

Step 3: Review Your Eligibility to Take The Exam

The first step toward getting your CCRN is meeting the eligibility requirements before you submit your application.

There are two main components to meeting eligibility for certification. You must:

  1. License: Have a current, unencumbered nursing license in the United States (RN or APRN). 
  2. Clinical Practice Hours: Meet the hourly requirements before your application. There are two ways you can meet this requirement:
    1. Practice as an RN within the last 2 years for a minimum of 1,750 hours in direct bedside care of critically or acutely ill patients, of which 875 hours must be in the most recent year before applying. Or,
    2. Practice as an RN for a least 5 years with a minimum of 2,000 in direct bedside patient care of critically or acutely ill patients, of which 144 of those hours must be within the most recent year before applying.

It is important to note that you must spend your hours in the direct care of the age group you plan to test for (or age groups, if you are taking multiple certifying exams). 

To verify your hours, you will need to provide contact information for a nurse supervisor or colleague who can attest to your eligibility.

Step 4: Understand the Application Process

The CCRN Exam Handbook gives you an example of what the paper application looks like for certification. It is also similar to the online application. You will need to:

  • Provide your name and contact information
  • Give your RN/APRN license number
  • Provide your employer’s name and address
  • Indicate if you have AACN membership, or select whether or not you would like a membership for a discounted rate
  • Select the exam you are applying for (CCRN Adult, CCRN Pediatric, CCRN Neonatal)
  • Identify your demographic information
  • Pay your exam fee ($225 for AACN members, $330 for non-members)
  • Sign the Honor Statement

You can submit an application online, by mail, or fax. Applying online is fast and easy and typically leads to quicker approval times. If you apply by mail or fax, it may take up to 2-3 weeks for processing. To apply online, head to  

Step 5: Understand Your Test Plan Based On Your Patient Population

The CCRN Certification Exam Handbook is handy when it comes to telling you exactly what to know for the test. Toward the end of the book, you will see content outlines specific to your patient population. 

Your CCRN test plan is divided into two major categories: Clinical Judgement (which accounts for 80% of test questions) and Professional Caring and Ethical Practice (the remaining 20% of questions). As you can guess, the clinical judgement portion tests your knowledge of pathophysiological processes, appropriate nursing actions, and your critical thinking skills.

Each test has 150 questions that you will need to answer. However, you will only be graded on 125 questions, as the remaining 25 are pilot questions that the AACN Certification Corporation trials for testing and research purposes. 

Your handbook has 8 CCRN sample exam questions for each patient population, which gives you an idea of what to expect. The more questions you see and work through, the better prepared you will be!

What’s next after reviewing the CCRN Exam Handbook and submitting your application?

Make Your Study Plan

You have researched the CCRN certification process, met your eligibility requirements and submitted your application. Now it is time to prepare for the exam. One of the best ways to ensure you will pass your CCRN the first time is to take a CCRN review course

Critical Care Academy offers an evidence-based approach to studying for the CCRN exam. You can access video modules covering all the content you need to know while you are on-the-go. Critical Care Academy also gives you access to numerous practice questions, quizzes, and tests, along with a network of other critical care nurses taking the next step in their careers.

Accelerate your nursing career, better your patient outcomes and save more lives.

Enroll in Critical Care Academy TODAY and earn your CCRN certification.