CCRN: How to Pass The First Time

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Last Updated: July 13, 2020

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I passed the CCRN last week! Yay!!! The CCRN is a certification exam for critical care nurses. It 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. Buy the physical book to get the online code for the online questions.

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. Doing the questions will make you go through the important concepts and details. I gave myself the goal to complete either a complete short and easy section or about 20-40 each day. Cardiac (20%), pulmonary (18%), and ethical (20%) are the most heavily weighted sections.

What are the important things to know about the cardiac and pulmonary 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
    • Examples include vasopressors, vasodilators, diuretics, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, ACE inhibitors, ARBs
    • How it affects afterload, preload, and contractility
    • Side effects
  • How do stroke volume (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 the 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?

Where should I write flashcards?

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.

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!

Updated July 13, 2020: The new CCRN exam came out during the pandemic on March 25, 2020. The exam percentages from the old exam and to the new exam are exactly the same. The AACN has new preparation material where you can try 30 questions for free for 7 days and then have to pay for it.

Another option is to try PocketPrep. I’m currently going through the questions to see if they are similar enough. They also have a free version but to get the most out of you, you must get the paid subscription. It contains 600 questions, as a question of the day (QOTD), a ‘quick 10 questions’, a rationale for the answers and a way to flag questions you want to review. When I finish going through the questions, I’ll write a more detailed review.

How many questions do I need get right to pass?

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.

How much is the exam?

The exam is $245 if you’re a member of the American Academy of Critical Care Nurses (AACN). You’ll go to goamp.com to pick a test site and register for the exam. You’ll get 3 months to take the exam. 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! Good luck in your endeavor.

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