CCRN: How to Pass The First Time

I passed the CCRN last week! Yay!!! The CCRN is a certification exam for critical care nurses. It basically verifies your knowledge about critical care concepts after working 1750 hours in the last two years. The benefit of getting the CCRN means getting a pay raise or a bonus. Or intellectually, it solidifies your basics. But if you’re reading this, you probably already know that. You have the more important question — how do I pass the CCRN?

Before I studied, I also searched the internet for the best way to study for this difficult exam. There were two things that stood out to me.

  1. Listen to Laura Gasparis’ videos.
  2. Do all of the questions from PASS CCRN®.

I got all of the material from a friend, from another friend.

I listened to all of the videos and wrote down notes the first time around so I wouldn’t have to listen to it again. It meant I had to pause the video sometimes to write notes. There were 6 videos about 2 hours long. So roughly 12 hours. I did 2 videos each week while working full time. It took 3 weeks to complete.

Then I did all of the questions from Pass CCRN. Don’t read the book. Doing the questions will inadvertently make you go through the important concepts and details. I gave myself the goal to complete either a complete section (for shorter, easier sections) or a certain number of questions each day. Cardiac (20%), pulmonary (18%), and ethical (20%) are the most heavily weighted sections. For the cardiac and pulmonary sections, it initially took me about 2-3 hours to complete 30 questions because I would read the rationale and write a flashcard for the material. There are over 300 questions on cardiac alone, and there’s a good reason for it.

I felt the most important things about cardiac are:

  • The different medications (pressors, vasodilators, diuretics, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, ACE inhibitors, ARBs), how it works, side effects, and how it affects afterload, preload, and contractility (which comprises of stroke volume (SV)).
  • How does SV and heart rate (HR) affect cardiac output (CO)?
  • In different disease states, what is lacking, and what do you need to fix the problem?
  • How does the intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP) help? Complications?
  • What does the pulmonary artery measure, what do those values mean, and what do you do when you see a value out of wack? What are physical assessments would you find?
  • What are the different types of murmurs, where do you listen, what typically causes stenosis vs regurgitation?
  • Different types of chest pain, MI.
  • 12 lead EKG — this took some time for me since at work it’s only required to know how to read a lead II EKG. But since I started studying, I’d look at 12 lead EKGs at work and it’s kinda fun.

For pulmonary:

  • ABG interpretation (compensated vs uncompensated; what would breathing too fast or too slow cause? How would you treat different values?)
  • Ventilator settings – which ones affect respiratory rate? What does PEEP do? How does that relate to the V/Q ratio?

As I did the questions, I used a flashcard program called Anki. It’s a fantastic memorization tool using the concept of spaced repetition. And the best part is that it’s free to download on the computer or laptop and to use over the internet. It’s $25 to download on your iPhone or Android but it’s worth it.

Basically, I did the questions on one side of the screen, and had Anki opened on the other side. Anything I didn’t know or wanted to review, I either copy and pasted questions or answers, or paraphrased the concepts. It’s easy to put too many things to memorize on one card and that’s the last thing you want to do. When you’re reviewing the card, you don’t want to think, “oh I got half of the card correct… so do I choose that I got it right or wrong?” You want to be decisive and pick whether or not you got it correct.

I have the flashcards that I created for the CCRN that is easy for you to download, although you should probably create your own or edit mine to make it easier for you. Updated December 16, 2016: these flashcards can only be used with Anki on a computer or phone. If you are thinking about downloading the flashcards, please download Anki first and make an account. Also, please do not download these flashcards unless you will use them right away.

Updated August 3, 2015: I’ve given the CCRN Flashcards to many people who have used them and passed the CCRN. Since it is time consuming for me to email everyone who asks and I’ll have no income for the next two years while I’m in school, I’ve decided to sell them to help me pay for food during school. People have said that it’s worth $50 but I won’t charge that much for it, especially since I really want you, as my reader, to pass!

And good luck in your endeavor.

Just 89 out of 150 questions to pass. So you can do it! 25 are for research. Only 125 actually count. You have up to 3 hours to take the exam.

The exam is $225 if you’re a member of AACN. You’ll go to to see the test sites and register for the exam. You’ll get 3 months to take the exam. Once you pick, you can change the test date once for free. Majority of the test sites are in the HR Block. How nice of them!

I took mine in Astoria, NY. I was the only one and it was quiet. Good experience.

Anyways, go for it.