What you need to know about the CRNA Board Exam

I had every intention of integrating board review into my everyday routine as a CRNA student. I figured, we’re constantly doing “board prep” by learning the material right? But interestingly enough, I found myself still going through an intensive 5-week plan to prepare myself for the NCE or the National Certification Examination (no one actually calls it this). In the nurse anesthesia world, it’s “boards.”

Tell me all of what I need to know about the NCE!

So, the NBCRNA is the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists. Certification for the nurse anesthesia profession has been required since 1978 and in 2007, the NBCRNA was incorporated, and separated from the AANA (American Association of Nurse Anesthetists) through the merger of the Council on Certification of Nurse Anesthetists (CCNA) and the Council of Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists (COR).  Certification basically provides evidence of professional educational standards.  Just like the NCLEX, you have to prove you know your stuff before you’re out practicing!

The NCE is the initial certification for Nurse Anesthetists.  It is a computer adaptive test that measures the knowledge and skills to determine competency for entry level practice.  Computer adaptive meaning, as you take the examination, questions are catered to your competency level. You must get enough questions correct at a set competency level to pass the exam. The NCLEX uses a similar computer adaptive method.

Save your coins! The fee to take the NCE is $995. If you happen to fail (17% of exam takers do), you’ll unfortunately have to pay that $995 again. So I don’t know about you, but the price of that exam in and of itself was enough motivation that I needed to make sure I was successful.

It requires you to take more questions than the NCLEX as the minimum, but has a lesser number of maximum questions . Candidates may receive anywhere from 100 to 170 questions. Thirty of those questions are random, non-graded questions with a varying difficulty level. You don’t know which questions they’re testing and which ones actually count, so don’t assume a question “must be a test one.” Fight for all of your points!

A maximum of three hours is provided to take the exam. That means, if you’re lucky enough to get all 170 questions, you have 180 minutes to complete it. Remember, it can stop anywhere between 100 and 170. If you’re still getting questions, you’re still in the game!

So, what does the NCE test?

The NCE covers the following topics: 

  1. Basic Sciences (25%)

  2. Equipment, Instrumentation and Technology (15%)

  3. General Principles of Anesthesia (30%)

  4. Anesthesia for Surgical Procedures and Special Populations (30%)

I highly recommend that you download the NCE Handbook and peruse their site for any other resources about the exam. They split the previous 4 topics into smaller categories that are definitely worth looking at. It’s broad, but it’ll give you an overview of what you need to focus your studies on.

The NCE can be taken up to 4 times per year in a two year period. The examination must be taken and passed within two years of completion of an accredited nurse anesthesia program. If not, you’ll have to complete another nurse anesthesia program to become eligible to take the examination again.

Some important things to note. Once you become eligible to take the exam (there’s a bit of online paperwork involved, payment and confirmation from your program director that you have indeed met the requirements and have graduated), you have 90 days to sit for the examination. 90 days. If you do not take the examination within 90 days, you have to re-apply, pay the fee again and complete the registration process.

Second thing, you must keep your nursing license active. You just need one active. If, for whatever reason it expires, per the NBCRNA, your official results will not be released.

The entire process was and is pretty smooth. As a candidate, you’re not required to directly submit the materials to the NBCRNA. You just need to electronically sign an application, make sure your nursing license is active, and provide your program director with a color photo that has been taken within the last (6) months. Once you have fully completed the program and all it’s requirements, it is up to your program director to submit all the materials.

For me, I graduated on May 17th, 2019. At 11am that same day, I had an e-mail waiting for me to schedule my exam! I went online and set a date, the 13th of June but ended up rescheduling it to June 10th because I honestly couldn’t wait any longer. Studying was brutal, but with self-discipline and lots of healthy snacks, I made it through.

Interested in my study plan for the NCE? Find out when I officially started studying, what worked, what didn’t work and what I’d do differently in a blog post coming soon. Be sure to subscribe to my mailing list so you’re the first to know when the blog/video drops!

Is there anyone else preparing for boards? Did you know all of this about the NCE?

Comment below =)