PCCN Certification

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The Progressive Care Certified Nurse (PCCN) specialty certification was introduced by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses Certification Corporation (AACN) in 2004. The contents of the examination are based on a comprehensive job analysis which identifies the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to excel in the field of progressive care nursing. The examination is regularly revised to reflect current clinical practices. AACN's most recent study of practice in the field of progressive care nursing was completed in 2012, and the examination was updated in 2013 to reflect the results of the study of practice.[1]

Function of the Test

PCCN Study Guide

Candidates who pass the PCCN examination receive the PCCN certification from AACN. The PCCN certification recognizes registered nurses' skills and expertise in providing progressive care to acutely ill adult patients.[1] The AACN encourages nurses to complete the examination and earn the certification in order to stay up-to-date on the best practices for the care of acutely ill adult patients, noting that research studies correlate earning certification with higher levels of clinical knowledge, skill and experience.[2]

The PCCN certification and its older cousin, the CCRN certification, cover similar areas of clinical practice. Although both certifications focus on the needs of acutely ill adult patients, the AACN clarifies that the PCCN certification covers the progressive care provided to patients "along the less acute end of the critical care continuum."[2] The AACN encourages candidates to carefully review the test plans of both the PCCN and CCRN examinations to determine which certification aligns more closely with the candidate's specialty of practice.[2]

In order to take the PCCN examination, candidates must be licensed in the United States as an RN or APRN, and they must meet a practice hour requirement which may be fulfilled in a few possible ways.[1]

In 2013, 3,971 candidates took the PCCN examination, of whom 66.5% passed on the first try. In total, 11,457 nurses have earned the PCCN certification since its creation in 2004.[3]

Test Administration

PCCN Nurse Flashcards

As of 2014, the computer-based PCCN examination costs $175 for AACN members and $275 for nonmembers. Retests and PCCN renewals by exam are available at the discounted prices of $135 for AACN members and $215 for nonmembers.[1] Once a candidate's application to take the examination is approved, the AACN assigns the candidate a 90-day period in which to schedule and take the examination.[1]

PCCN examinations are offered at AMP testing centers twice daily, Monday through Friday, at 9 AM and 1:30 PM.[1] The examination is administered by computer at AMP testing centers, but a pencil-and-paper version is offered in certain rare circumstances, such as at the annual National Teaching Institute & Critical Care Exposition.[4] In either case, candidates have two and a half hours to complete the examination.[1]

Immediately after the completion of the computer-based examination, candidates receive their results along with a score breakdown. Results of paper-and-pencil examinations are mailed three to four weeks following the examination. Candidates who pass the examination receive wall certificates within three to four weeks following the examination.[1]

Candidates may take the PCCN examination up to four times in a 12-month period.[2] Every retest requires the candidate to submit a new application and a retest fee.[1]

Candidates who require accommodations for a disability may submit a request to the AACN. The request must be accompanied by documentation from a licensed professional verifying the disability as well as a statement of the specific accommodation required.[4]

Test Format

Sections of the PCCN Test
PCCN Test Subject Areas Percentage
Clinical Judgment 80%
Professional Caring and Ethical Practice 20%
Total 100%

Test Environment

For admission, candidates are required to bring a primary ID (driver's licence, state ID card, passport, or military ID card) and a secondary ID, such as a credit card or a social security card. The exam is computer-based, and all questions are multiple choice. Breaks may be requested, but the timer for the exam will not stop. Eating, drinking, and smoking are not permitted at the testing site. There is also a pencil and paper exam offered, and the results will be mailed to the candidates within a month.[5]

Test Structure

The PCCN test is made up of both Clinical Judgment (80%) questions and Professional Caring and Ethical Practice (20%). Clinical Judgment questions tests knowledge in the following areas: Cardiovascular; Endocrine/Hemotology/Gastrointenstinal/Renal; Pulmonary; and Neurology/Multisystem/Behavioral. Professional Caring and Ethical Practice has seven area topics covered: Advocacy; Caring Practices; Collaboration; Systems Thinking; Response to Diversity; Clinical Inquiry; and Facilitation of Learning. There will be 100 multiple choice questions, along with an additional 25 unscored, pretest questions. The time allotted is two and a half hours to complete all 125 questions.[6]

Sample Questions

More free PCCN practice test questions.


The PCCN examination has 125 multiple-choice questions. 100 of the questions are scored, while 25 questions are unscored pretest items which are being evaluated for future inclusion on the examination.[1]

Guessing is not penalized on the PCCN examination. Because candidates' final scores are determined by dividing the number of correct responses by the number of questions, incorrect answers and omitted answers are treated the same way.

The questions on the examination are divided into the following categories:

Distribution of content on the PCCN exam[7]
Domain  % of Questions
Cardiovascular 33%
Pulmonary 14%
Endocrine/Hemotology/Gastrointestinal/Renal 18%
Neurology/Multisystem/Behavioral 15%
Professional Caring and Ethical Practice 20%

As of 2013, the passing score for the PCCN examination is 68 out of 100.[8] The passing rate for first-time test takers in 2013 was only 66.5%, making the PCCN examination one of the most-failed examinations offered by the AACN.[3]

Recent Developments

The most recent study of practice for the PCCN examination was completed in 2012,[1] and the corresponding revision of the test plan for the PCCN examination was implemented on June 26th, 2013.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k PCCN Exam Handbook April 23 2014
  2. ^ a b c d Frequently Asked Questions About PCCN Certification April 23 2014
  3. ^ a b AACN Exam Statistics April 23 2014
  4. ^ a b AACN Testing Infromation April 23 2014
  5. ^ PCCN Test Taking Handbook 25 June 2014
  6. ^ PCCN Test Outline 25 June 2014
  7. ^ a b PCCN Test Plan April 23 2014
  8. ^ AACN Exam Passing Scores April 23 2014

External Links