Study Tips

Prepare for an ONCC Certification Test
Before you begin to study for an ONCC examination, review the current Certification Registration Manual. The Certification Registration Manual contains information to help you prepare for a test, including the Test Content Outline (Test Blueprint) and Reference List.

Assess your learning needs.
Review the appropriate test content outline in the Certification Registration Manual to identify the subject areas that will be on the test. Pay attention to how each area is weighted to determine the percentage of scored items in each subject area. Identify which subject areas are your strengths and weaknesses.

Build a personal study plan.

  • Establish learning objectives based on your learning needs. You may want to concentrate on the content that you are least familiar with, or study each area in relation to its weight on the test. Review the heavily weighted subject areas because they will comprise a greater portion of your score. Become familiar with the generic names of drugs used in treatment. ONCC uses generic names, not brand names, on tests.
  • Create a study schedule. Most candidates allow several months to prepare for a test. Allow for time to review each of the test subject  areas. Include time for review courses or seminars if you plan to attend them, and to obtain review materials. Don't leave all your preparation for one long study session the night before the test.
  • Choose your study methods. There are a variety of methods to consider, such as individual study, pairing with a study partner, group study, participating in a review course, using computer assisted instruction, attending educational programs, etc. You may benefit by using a variety of study methods to learn different types of material. Some candidates may be hesitant to let others know they will be taking the test and choose to study alone. However, there are advantages to utilizing a study partner or group. Reference materials can be shared, colleagues can provide support, and nurses with expertise in different areas can tutor each other.

The Test Content Outline (Test Blueprint).
The Test Content Outline is a valuable piece of information when preparing for an examination. The test content outline describes the subject areas and how they will be weighted. If the test content outline indicates that Symptom Management is weighted at 22%, you can determine how many scored items will represent that content area by multiplying the number of scored items by .22.

Collect your study materials.
Review the reference list for potential study materials. You may wish to review a general, widely used textbook or reference for overall review, and supplement your study with references that address your specific learning needs. Remember the test is not based on the content of one book. 

Investigate review courses.

  • If you are planning to take a review course, contact your local ONS or APHON chapter, or check at your workplace for information about review courses.
  • Be aware that ONCC does not conduct certification review courses or recommend specific courses. When evaluating a potential course, remember the quality of the course may be related to the ability and expertise of the individuals who conduct it. ONCC cannot be responsible for errors in the content of any review course.
  • Be cautious about courses or resources that claim or imply direct knowledge of specific ONCC examination content. ONCC does not release test items, except for sample items published on the ONCC website and those on ONCC Practice Tests. Additionally, the individuals who develop ONCC tests are not permitted to conduct review courses while working on test development, and for three years after.

Carry out your plan.

  • Plot your study plan on a calendar. Pace yourself according to your goals. Keep track of your progress. If you fall behind your timeline, revise your plan to meet your study goals.
  • Allow a reasonable amount of time for each study session. Plan sessions at a time that's best for you, and for a length that meets your learning needs. For example, several sessions of a few hours each may be better than one long session. Try to find a quiet place to study, without distractions, and include a few breaks in your schedule.
  • Use study methods that have worked well for you in the past. Depending on the material to be learned, you may find reciting, visualizing, or associating the information with its practical application helpful (Miller, 1993). Some candidates prefer to take notes, highlight a textbook, prepare quiz cards, read into a tape recorder and listen to the tapes, or have someone quiz them from sample tests. If you will be using practice tests, be sure to correct your answers. Look for patterns in the items you answer incorrectly (Rollant, 1994). For example, if most of your incorrect answers relate to a particular content area, revise your study plan to focus on that area. If most of the missed questions are at the beginning or end of a practice test, it may indicate times of anxiety or fatigue when you need to concentrate more intensely. If you find you know the answers to the items you miss on practice tests, you may have a tendency to misread the questions or the responses. Remember that practice items in review books or courses were written by the authors, and may not represent the style of questions or content topics that appear on ONCC examinations.

Reduce your anxiety.

  • Prepare a checklist of items you need to take to the test. Remember to take two acceptable forms of identification (see your Authorization to Test), directions to the testing facility, money for parking, etc. If the test will be held in an unfamiliar location, reduce your anxiety by taking a trip to the site before the test day. If you will be driving, familiarize yourself with the route, traffic patterns, and parking facilities. Review the reporting time instructions in your Authorization to Test. Allow extra time to be sure you arrive on schedule.
  • Complete your study plan before the test day. Instead of last-minute studying, plan to relax and get a good night's sleep so you will be well-rested on test day. A brief review of the material may be helpful, but a long study session can be counterproductive.
  • Make yourself comfortable on the test day. Remember that no food or drink will be allowed in the testing room, and it may be several hours before you can eat again. If possible, avoid substances that could make you feel anxious, drowsy, or create the need for frequent trips to the restroom. You will be permitted to leave the testing room only with the supervisor's permission. If you leave the room you will not be permitted to make up the time lost. Dress comfortably and be prepared for temperature fluctuations in the testing room. Do not bring study materials to the test site. Small lockers will be provided to secure valuables.

Take the test with confidence.

Your score is determined by the number of items you answer correctly. There is no penalty for incorrect answers. It is to your advantage to answer every item rather than leave it blank. If you're unsure of an answer, mark the answer you think is correct and flag the item for review. You can return to it at the end of the test if time permits. The examinations consist entirely of multiple-choice questions. Consider the following suggestions for taking multiple choice tests (Rollant, 1994).

  • Look for words such as most, first, initially, immediately, usual. Look for absolutes such as always, never, every, none, all, all of the time. These words can help you choose the best answer.
  • Read the question systematically. Read the question first and think of the answer. Do not assume information not given or go beyond what the item asks. Then read all of the responses.
  • Try turning each multiple-choice option into a true and false statement. Use the process of elimination to select the optimal choice. If the item is difficult, mark it for review and move on to the next item. Avoid thinking about prior items while you are on a new question.
  • When weighing options, look for those that embody good nursing judgment and that enhance communication, respect, and acceptance of patients' feelings. Choose options that are correct in all respects and that relate to common needs or to the population in general (Coleman, Stanley, Chenevey, Sullivan, and Cardin, 1988).
  • Do not change an answer. Unless you have misread the question the first time or recall new information, it is unwise to change the answer you initially chose.
  • Pace yourself during the test. Don't spend too much time on any one question. When you have completed all of the questions, review your test for incomplete items, or items you’ve marked for further review.

Reporting scores.

Test candidates will receive an official results report after leaving the test center. The results report will include a graph that illustrates your performance in each of the major subject areas. Your results report will not include either the number or percentage of items answered correctly. You will not see the items you answered incorrectly (doing so would compromise test security, and the items could no longer be used on actual examinations).


American Nurses Credentialing Center. (1995). How to take an ANCC certification examination. (Publication No. AC-9 3M 8/94). Washington, DC: Author.

Coleman, B., Stanley, M., Chenevey, B., Sullivan, & Cardin, S. (1988). CCRN certification: Exclusive or expensive? Focus on Critical Care, 15(5), 23-27.

Miller, S.E. (1993). Tackling certification exams confidently. Nursing 93 Career Directory, 30-31.

Rollant, P.D. (1994). Acing multiple-choice tests. AJN Career Guide for 1994, 18-21, 36.

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