The Progressive Care Certified Nurse (PCCN) Exam is a certification exam offered to nurses who provide direct care to adult patients with acute illnesses.

The exam is put together based on the results of a job analysis conducted every five years. It evaluates the skills and knowledge practicing RN’s and APRN’s should have in order to provide direct care to adult patients.

Online PCCN Prep Course

If you want to be fully prepared, Mometrix offers an online PCCN Prep Course. The course is designed to provide you with any and every resource you might want while studying. The PCCN Course includes:

  • Review Lessons Covering Every Topic
  • 750+ PCCN Practice Questions
  • More than 900 Digital Flashcards
  • Over 90 Instructional Videos
  • Money-back Guarantee
  • Free Mobile Access
  • and More!

The PCCN Prep Course is designed to help any learner get everything they need to prepare for their PCCN exam. Click below to check it out!

I’m considering taking the exam. How long is it?

The exam is 2.5 hours and consists of 125 multiple choice questions. Of these 125 multiple choice questions, 100 are scored, and the other 25 are used to gather data for future exams.

*Keep in mind that you will not know the difference between the scored questions and the data questions. Make sure to do your best to answer every question to the best of your ability.

How is the exam scored?

The exam is measured against a predetermined score, meaning that you need to score a certain number in order to pass. This score is established by an exam development committee. This committee carefully evaluates each exam question and determines the basic knowledge an examinee should have.

What about eligibility? Do I need anything special in order to take the exam?

Yes. In order to take the exam, a candidate must have an active, unencumbered, U.S. * RN or APRN license. The candidate must also meet at least one of the following:

  • Practice as either an RN or APRN for 1,750 hours in direct care of adult patients with acute illnesses within the past 2 years.
    • It’s important to know that 875 of these hours must have taken place within the most recent year preceding application.


  • Practice as either an RN or APRN for at least 5 years with 2,000 of those hours in direct contact with adult patients with acute illnesses.
    • 144 of these hours must have taken place within the most recent year.

What if I’m already a nurse manager? Or a nurse preceptor? Can I use those hours?

Yes. If you already hold a nurse managerial role, or if you supervise nursing students who are in direct care of adult patients with acute illnesses, you may use those hours toward your eligibility. However, this is only if you actually participated in the direct care of the patients.

How much does it cost to take the PCCN exam?

The cost of the exam differs for member and nonmembers of the AACN:

If you are taking the exam for the first time, the price is as follows:

  • AACN Members: $185
  • Nonmember: $285

The price for retaking the exam is as follows:

  • AACN Members: $135
  • Nonmembers: $215

If you are renewing your certification, the price is as follows:

  • AACN Members: $135
  • Nonmembers: $215

When can I take the exam?

The exam is offered twice daily, Monday through Friday at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. It is also given year round, and depending on where you are, you may be able to take it on a Saturday.

The exam is given at more than 300 testing sites throughout the United States. You may choose a time and location that works best for you during the application process.

To find a location that is convenient for you, you may visit the goAMP website.

Can you tell me a little about the application process?

Of course! You may apply for the PCCN exam either online or by mail. There are different instructions depending on which option you choose.

Online application:

You may apply online at www.aacn.org/certification > Get Certified. In order to apply for the exam, you must have:

  • Your RN or APRN license number and expiration date.
  • The name and contact information of your clinical supervisor or a colleague who is able to verify your eligibility.
  • You will also need your method of payment, which will be your credit or debit card.
    • Keep in mind that it will have to be either: Visa, Mastercard, Discover card, or American Express.

*Online applications have same day processing.

Paper application:

Paper applications are for persons applying for testing outside of the U.S., for those applying in a group, and for paper and pencil exams.

Make sure to fill in all requested information, and to include your payment method.

*Paper applications take about 2-3 weeks to process.

For both payment methods – online or paper – make sure to use your legal name. This will be the name found on your government-issued identification card.

What happens after I apply?

After you apply, you will receive a notice through an email of your processed application. After receiving that email, you will receive another email 5 to 10 days later from AACN’s testing center with more relevant information. This information consists of your exam identification number, and your 90-day window to schedule your exam.

After receiving the email with your exam identification number, you should immediately schedule the date and time you want to take your exam. Remember that the date of your exam must fall within the 90-day window that was given to you.

What topics will I be tested on?

The PCCN exam covers Clinical Judgement and Professional Caring and Ethical Practices.

Clinical Judgement is 80% of the exam and covers sub-topics including:

  • Cardiovascular (33%)
  • Pulmonary (14%)
  • Endocrine/Hematology/Gastrointestinal/ Renal (18%)
  • Neurology/Multisystem/Behavioral (15%)

Professional Caring and Ethical Practices cover the other 20% of the exam and include sub-topics such as:

  • Advocacy
  • Collaboration
  • Systems Thinking
  • Clinical Inquiry
  • Facilitation of Learning
  • Response to Diversity
  • Caring Practices

How long will I have to wait to get my certificate?

If you passed your exam, you can expect your certificate to come in the mail within 3 to 4 weeks. For those who took a paper and pencil exam, your results will come in the mail 3 to 4 weeks after sitting for the exam.

What is the minimum score that I need to get in order to pass the PCCN exam?

The minimum score you need to get in order to pass the PCCN exam is a 68 out of 100.

What if I don’t know the answer to a question? Will I lose points for guessing?

Not at all. If you don’t know the answer to a question, guessing may be your best option. The exam is based on the number of questions you get correct. You will not lose points for guessing, so try not to leave any answers blank.

What happens if I fail the exam?

If you fail the exam, hope is not lost. You are permitted to retake it up to four times in a 12-month period. Remember that there is a fee to retake the exam.

How long is my certification good for?

Your PCCN certification is good for a total of 3 years. After that, it is your responsibility to take the proper steps to renew it.

How do I go about renewing my certification?

To renew your certification, you may visit: www.aacn.org/certification > Renew Certification.

You must meet certain criteria in order to retake the exam:

  • You must hold a current, unencumbered U.S. RN or APRN license.
    • This license will have had to remain clean, and not have been subjected to formal discipline by any state board of nursing
  • In order to renew your certification, you will have completed 432 hours of direct care of adult patients with acute illnesses as an RN or APRN within the 3 year certification period.
    • 144 of those hours will have needed to be completed in the 12-month period preceding your scheduled date of certification renewal.
  • Retake/pass the PCCN exam or complete the required CERPS.

Can you explain renewal by Synergy CERPS? I’ve heard it before, but I’m not sure what it means.

CERPS stands for, Continuing Education Recognition Point, and it’s one option you have when applying to renew your certification. In order to renew your certification through Synergy CERPS, you will need to meet the eligibility requirements and will also need to complete the CERPS program. The CERPS program requires 100 CERPS in a variety of categories.

How Can I Prepare for the PCCN Test?

That’s a great question.  We’ve broken down the answer into three parts.

  1. Do yourself a favor and study.  Do not walk in unprepared. We have recommended prep materials below, but that only helps if you actually try.  Plus, studying is actually proven to be the best antidote to test anxiety.
  2. Take care of yourself.  Make sure you’re eating well, exercising, and sleeping.  All of these things are scientifically linked to brain performance.  If you take care of your body, you’ll be helping your grades.
  3. Get a study guide or set of flashcards.  Some people study better a certain way. Find your study strengths and make the most of them.  We’ve tried to make it easy for you by tracking down the best study guide, online course, and flashcard set for your exam. Below you’ll see links to all of them!

Study Guide

Online Course



Last Updated: March 8, 2024