Advice from the PNCB for any certification exam
Thinking about getting certified in your specialty? No matter which certification board's exam you take, use these tips from the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) for a smart preparation strategy and a smooth testing experience.
Though this general insider advice from our customer service team should be applicable to any board, be sure to check your specific board's policies.
Understand the timelines for your board.
- Testing window How long does it take your board to assign your testing window? How long is that window? Knowing these two timelines helps you plan ahead. If you have a 90-day window, don't wait until day 80 to schedule your test. Testing centers are used by many organizations, and seats fill quickly. Set your exam date/time soon after receiving your window notification, even if you plan to test later in the window.
- Extensions If extensions are allowed, they typically start counting from the day you pay for an extension. So if you're on day 10 of a 90-day window and order a 90-day extension, you don't receive a 180-day testing window. You only bought yourself 10 extra days to test. Also, be aware how late in your window the board allows an extension.
- Rescheduling or cancelling Testing centers often have timelines (and fees!) attached to these changes. Your board does not reschedule or cancel for you, and does not receive any part of these fees.
Even before you decide to apply, get familiar with available study resources.
- What exactly is tested? Download the exam's content outline (sometimes called a test blueprint). Our staff sometimes hear that applicants aren't aware of this essential tool. Read it carefully to understand the full scope of the exam and identify any weak areas. This will help you structure a study plan with SMART goals and timelines.
- Reference lists Your board should list the textbooks or other resources from which exam question content is developed. Does your unit, hospital, or public library have the latest edition to save you money? We don't recommend buying all of the books listed. Instead, focus on one book familiar to you or recommended by a colleague who recently tested. Especially use it when going line-by-line on the content outline to support your weak areas.
- Sample questions Free sample questions from the board's website should demonstrate the level of complexity for their questions. Many applicants think the exam will use a lot of knowledge recall questions, but most certification boards want you to analyze a question and apply knowledge.
- Practice tests If you order your board's practice tests, don't wait to use them right before your test day. Use them early to uncover weak areas and study more in those areas. Many practice tests let you retake the same questions repeatedly. One strategy is to take an entire practice test in one sitting. Consider not grading the questions as you go, especially if the practice test offers correct answer rationales. Then on your next attempts, focus on a few questions in one sitting, grading as you go. That first attempt gives you a baseline for strengths and weaknesses. The future attempts in short bursts can hone your critical thinking skills. Ask yourself, "What are the board's exam writers really testing in that question?"
Thinking ahead to test day logistics, "know before you go," is the safest approach for your upcoming appointment. Take a trip to the center before your test date, on the same day/time you plan to go.
And don't forget these tips for a great testing experience:
- The exam candidate handbook We know the handbook isn't an exciting read, but we remind candidates repeatedly in important notifications that this resource is, well, important. Candidates get turned away at the test center because they were late for their appointment or didn't bring the correct types of ID. Don't forfeit your exam fees due to a test center policy. Read and understand your handbook. And don't rely on tips from someone who tested five years ago. Policies change, so stay up to date for when it's your turn to test.
- Identification The handbook will describe the IDs required to enter the testing center. Do you need one with a photo? A signature? Both? Do you need two IDs? All this information with examples should be spelled out in the exam candidate handbook. Again, don't rely on hearsay from someone who may have tested at the same center for a different exam. Different boards may have different ID requirements.
- Name changes A first or last name not matching your ID or the application continues to be our team's number one customer conversation. Candidates will not be able to test if the correct ID(s) with the correct names are not presented for entry into the testing center. Put your formal first name on the application. Make sure names match your IDs, especially if you recently had a marriage-related name change. If you need to request a name change, do it well in advance of your scheduled test date.
- Exam security Testing centers prohibit more items than ever for exam security, even down to jewelry and hair clips. Your glasses might be inspected. After the exam, you can't share a brain dump of the test content. Exam questions must stay confidential. We're often asked by testers to share which questions they got wrong. Again, a board can't expose the exam content under any circumstance.
- ADA accommodations If you are requesting Americans with Disabilities Act exam accommodations, do so when completing your exam application. Your accommodations must be sent to the computer-based testing administrator via your board when they send your exam eligibility.
We hope these tips help clarify the process when pursuing certification. If in doubt about any aspect of applying or testing, contact your board for answers. No matter which credential you're considering for the future, we wish you success on exam day!
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