PCCN Practice Test

The Progressive Care Certified Nurse (PCCN) exam is administered by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), which is the largest specialty nursing organization in the world. The PCCN examination tests applicants’ knowledge of caring for acutely ill adult patients.

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PCCN Exam Eligibility

To be eligible for the PCCN exam, you must meet the necessary licensure and practice requirements.


You must hold a current and unencumbered RN or APRN license in the United States.


You must meet ONE of the following requirements:

  • Within the last 2 years, you must have obtained 1,750 hours of practice as an APRN or RN, providing direct care to acutely ill patients. At least 875 of those hours must be earned in the most recent year preceding the application.
  • You must have at least 5 years of experience as an RN or APRN, with at least 2,000 hours of experience providing direct care to acutely ill adult patients. At least 144 of those hours must be earned within the most recent year preceding the application.

Please note that orientation hours, in which you shadowed another nurse who was assigned an acutely ill patient, cannot be counted towards PCCN eligibility. If you were the assigned nurse and had another nurse shadow you while working with an acutely ill patient, you may count those hours toward your PCCN eligibility.

Nurses with managerial or education positions may apply hours spent supervising nursing students or nurses at the bedside. These hours are only eligible if you participated in the direct care of the acutely ill patient.

PCCN Exam Outline

The PCCN exam contains 125 multiple-choice questions, 25 of which are unscored, and you will be given a time limit of 2.5 hours. The unscored questions are unmarked and spread randomly throughout the exam, so you will not know which questions are scored or unscored. These questions are used to evaluate the quality of questions for future exams.

The exam is based on the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN) Synergy Model for Patient Care, so you need to be familiar with this framework and set of procedures.

This exam is split into two sections:

Clinical Judgment (80%)

These questions test your knowledge of various aspects of the systems of the human body.

  • Cardiovascular (27%)
  • Pulmonary (17%)
  • Endocrine/Hematology/Neurology/Gastrointestinal/Renal (20%)
  • Musculoskeletal/Multisystem/Psychosocial (16%)

Professional Caring and Ethical Practice (20%)

These questions test your knowledge of various professional caring processes and ethical practices.

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

exam outline for the Adult PCCN exam, which contains 125 multiple-choice questions and has a time limit of 2.5 hours

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How to Register for the PCCN Exam

There are two application options for the Progressive Care Certified Nurse (PCCN) examination.

Online Application
Applicants can complete the application online, on the AACN website. The application will ask you for your RN or APRN license number and expiration date, as well as contact information for a co-worker or clinical supervisor, who can verify your eligibility. At this time, you must also pay the $305 examination fee ($200 for AACN members).

Paper Application
For applicants applying with a group, taking a paper-and-pencil exam, and/or testing outside the US, a paper application is required. The application will ask for your RN or APRN license information and an honor statement. At this time, you must also pay the $305 examination fee ($200 for AACN members). Your application will then be processed within 2 to 3 weeks.

After applying, you will receive a confirmation email stating that you successfully applied. Approximately 5-10 days after the confirmation email is sent, qualifying candidates will receive an approval-to-test email and postcard from AACN’s testing service, PSI/AMP. The email and postcard will include an exam identification number, instructions for scheduling the exam, and a 90-day window for scheduling and taking the exam.

Test Day

In-person Testing

On the day of your exam, you should arrive at the testing center 15-30 minutes earlier than the scheduled exam time. Arriving later than 15 minutes after the scheduled appointment time will result in your exam being canceled.

Once you arrive, you will need to show a valid, government-issued photo ID. If your ID is invalid or you forget to bring it, you will not be able to take the exam.

Before the exam begins, you will be asked to leave all personal items (cell phone, books, papers, notes, food, jacket, hat, etc.) in your car. You will then be asked for your AACN customer number, and a digital photograph of you will be taken.

You will then be given a practice exam to help you familiarize yourself with the computer system. Once the practice exam is complete, the real exam will begin.

You are permitted to take breaks during the exam, but the timer will not be stopped while you are away.

Live Remote Proctoring

You should log into your AACN account 15-30 minutes before your exam is scheduled to begin. Once you are logged in, the proctor will guide you through the check-in process. You will not be allowed to wear headphones, and you must ensure that your testing area is free from food, your cell phone and other electronic devices, notes, and reference materials.

How the Exam is Scored

The PCCN exam is scored using a modified version of the Angoff method. This means that AACN panelists are given information such as test results and other panelists’ rating results to determine the cut score. The cut score is a raw number that is based on how the AACN panelists established the difficulty ratings for each question.

To pass the exam, you will need to achieve a cut score of 68.

If you take the computer-based exam, you will receive your score report as soon as you finish the exam. If you take the paper-and-pencil version of the exam, you will receive your score report by mail 6 to 8 weeks after exam day.

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PCCN Online 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:

  • 104 Lessons Covering Every Topic
  • 500+ PCCN Practice Questions
  • Over 90 Video Tutorials
  • More than 900 Electronic Flashcards
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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!

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How hard is the PCCN exam?

The pass rate for this exam is 67%, so this is considered to be a moderately difficult exam.

How many questions are on the PCCN exam?

There are 125 multiple-choice questions on the exam, 25 of which are unscored.

How long is the PCCN exam?

The time limit for the exam is 2.5 hours.

What is the passing score for the PCCN exam?

To pass the exam, you must achieve a cut score of 68.

How much does the PCCN exam cost?

The examination fee is $200 for AACN members and $305 for non-members.

By Kate Nockunas

Kate has been Mometrix’s Nursing and Medical Editor for over four years. She has a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Vanderbilt University, a bachelor’s degree in Nursing from Marymount University, and a master’s degree in Education from Johns Hopkins. Kate is a critical care registered nurse who still works occasionally in the ICU and PACU.

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by Mometrix Test Preparation | This Page Last Updated: September 21, 2023

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Get a discount code for our comprehensive PCCN Online Prep Course! All of our resources in one place for one low price.