Pass the CPNE the First Time

If I knew then what I know now… That’s what these 24 CPNE passers that passed at various testing locations across the country were thinking when they put together this invaluable list for you about studying for the CPNE.

Here’s what they say they wish someone would have told them when they were gearing up for their own clinical weekend.  These are fantastic tips from passers that know what it really takes to pass.

Now you’ll know where you should be emphasizing your study efforts and how you can get the inside track on ensuring your CPNE success.


MBurgin“Do a mock – prepare yourself to deal with randomness and not lose your mind”
Meagan Burgin RN, Passed at Southern Regional in Riverdale, Georgia

Practicing your skills and critical elements over and over will aide in you not losing your mind because when you do the skills over and over, muscle memory will take over when your mind plays tricks on you.  Participating in a mock solidifies your confidence in knowing that you are doing the skills to the standards expected of you when testing.  It also gives you time to change and perfect those skills.

MMiller“Do not over think your care plans, keep it simple and specific, pick the easiest, most obvious diagnosis, a very specific assessment, and very simple interventions”
Matt Miller RN, Passed at Northside Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia

Keep it simple stupid or the “KISS” method is what you must do when writing care plans.  Overthinking due to your current skill level or due to nerves will harm you.  Practicing care plans over and over is essential in simplifying your understanding of care plans as well as perfecting your ability to write them.  It is important to be able to submit your practice care plans to someone who can give you constructive feedback and guide you in the direction you need to go. This is one area of your studies you really shouldn’t practice alone.

LDevivo“Be confident in your mnemonics but not so confident that you don’t refer back to them”
LeeAnne DeVivo RN, Passed at St. Marys in Wisconsin

Mnemonics are catch words or catch phrases to help you remember your critical elements when testing.  These mnemonics must be rehearsed over and over until it is second nature to you.  By committing your mnemonics to memory and incorporating them into your daily practice, your muscle memory will take over when performing those critical elements on your patients during your clinical weekend.  They will guide you in your organization, focus, and overall performance.

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KBransford“Doing the ATL Clinical Workshop hands on workshop and online workshop is a must.  Practice care plans over and over again.  Sheri’s care plan book is great.  Find study buddies that you can practice PCS’ from start to finish with.  Have faith in yourself and know that you’ve got this”
Kimberly Bransford RN, Passed at Southern Regional Medical Center

Hands-on practice with guided learning is the best way to study for the CPNE.  Take a workshop.  Any workshop.  Just choose one that works best for you and has a proven track record of success.  With ATL Clinical Workshop you can choose either an in person workshop or an online CPNE workshop.  Either one will increase your chances of passing.  When you leave a workshop it’s a good idea to find a study buddy, either from your workshop or one that is near you, so that you can study with someone that not only understands the challenges of studying for the CPNE but also has the same focus and determination as you to push you to succeed.

DStarky“You must know your care plans, keep them simple and try to use the 10 most frequent Nanda’s that EC talks about.  Double check your math calculations and control your anxiety”
Denise Starkey RN, Passed at Albany Medical in New York

In your EC study guide there are about 20 most commonly used Nanda labels. Over time and we have realized that there are 10 Nanda labels that keep popping up more often than others so those 10 need to be your focus first.  Get really strong with those 10 first then move on to some more.  As for math, there are really only three math formulas that you need to know for this test and if you don’t practice them, silly nervous mistakes can be made.  Practice various calculations at home.  You can look in your drug guide and see what the standard dose is and see how the medication comes then create your own practice calculations.

MElliot“Stay focused, keep calm, keep care plans simple and safe.  Write mnemonics on the GRID, attend the workshop and a mock.  Pray without ceasing and have faith that you can do this”
Mark Elliott RN,  Passed at Grady Memorial in Atlanta, GA

A GRID is a useful tool for organization and staying on task as well as keeping up with your critical elements when nerves are getting the best of you.  Practicing over and over is really important and a valuable tip.  Analyze, think ahead and evaluate ways you are going to regroup if you get nervous during the test.  Having belief in yourself is always a positive thing to help build confidence and put your mind at ease when you are nervous.

AWhitemore“Use a grid, know your mnemonics for every assessment and management.  Pray.  Know the top 10 care plans and control your nerves.
Amanda Utley Whitmore RN, Passed at Meriter in Wisconsin

If you are not a mnemonic kind of person, you can simply create a things to do list as long as you can remember each and every critical element.  The way to do that is to practice over and over creating muscle memory. The main thing is to find a way to get those critical elements to your GRID correctly during the planning phase so you can revisit them consistently during your test.

AKeihn“Know your mnemonics, know when to revise care plans, don’t give up, focus on what you are doing not on the examiner.”
Angie Keihn RN, Passed at Meriter in Wisconsin

Never give up!  Give it your all when you are practicing as well as when you are testing.  Don’t be afraid to do a revision on your care plans.  Once you learn how to revise and you practice them, they really are pretty easy to do and you will see you got all worked up for nothing.  A revision can occur when you don’t carry out a specific intervention for whatever reason or the focus changes for the outcome or maybe you need to change the entire care plan. The form looks the same as the planning phase with the exception of a box below to explain why you are doing the revision in the first place.

SEverett“Set up a spare area with a fake patient and supplies.  Practice knocking on the door, washing hands, introducing self, verifying patient, 20 minute checks, etc…”
Shannon Everett RN, MSN, FNP-BC, EMT-P Passed at Grady Memorial in Atlanta

As has been said many times before, practice, practice.  The way you practice plays a huge part in being successful.  If you do not use the correct equipment or you don’t practice a certain way it can harm you.  The way you practice at home carries over to how you perform when you test.  No matter how silly you feel or if you think you already know something, practice anyway and the correct way.

JDuckwell“Set aside blocks of time to focus on labs, care plans, pcs’ without interruptions, run full ‘start to finish pcs’ nonstop for two weeks prior to testing.”
Jenn Duckwall Burns RN, Passed at St. Mary’s, Wisconsin

Time management is key during your testing weekend.  Practicing effective time management begins at home.  Be honest with yourself.  Are you a procrastinator? Do you give yourself time specific to study or is it hit or miss?  Learning bits and pieces of the CPNE is okay in the beginning stages but towards the end prior to testing, you really need to be running through a patient care situation from start to finish.

EBenenati“Your prior experience doesn’t matter.  Study to pass the test”
Edward Benenati RN, Passed at Southern Regional Medical Center

Knowledge is not always power when it comes to the CPNE.  We create bad habits, we learn to do things the way our facility wants it done, and we become confident in what we do.  Confidence is okay but being cocky is not okay.  If you feel you have a wall up with regards to this test, you have to learn to take it down.  Do it the way EC wants it done!  It does not matter how you do it on a daily basis or for how many years.  You must do it the EC way.

GOlivia“Start studying now! Don’t put it off”
Gus Oliva RN, Passed at Southern Regional in Riverdale, GA

This is a test that requires a significant amount of time and effort spent on learning.  You have to practice a little bit every day.  Procrastination and then tying to cram will cost you a repeat exam.  It is very rare that someone passes this exam without studying for months before testing.  Keep telling yourself that practice makes perfect.  Don’t try to study too many elements at one time.  Break it down into sections and study pieces at first.  For example, you may want to just do one lab today. But you do that lab over and over until you can do it blind folded or until you can recite every step.  When you feel overwhelmed or that everything is running together, simply walk away for a minute.  It is okay to take a break.

EDeVecchis“Utilize free services of EC.  Specifically weekly phone calls and the message center”
Ed DeVecchis RN, Passed at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania

Outside resources to aid in your studies are wonderful.  Free is also good.  EC does provide phone services once you receive your test date but you have to call and get them scheduled.  I love it because it gives our students confirmation as to what we have been teaching all along.  Sometimes it takes another person saying it for the information to sink in.

MRohrer“Know your critical elements.  Patient safety and infection control is a major focus during this test”
Mary Rohrer Dexter RN, Passed at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania

We have talked about keeping it simple (KISS) and learning your critical elements through mnemonics or a things to do list.  Mary hits on a key point here though about safety and infection control.  We want our patient’s safety to be first, which is the importance of identifying the patient, the side rails, bed low and locked, doing your 5 rights with medications, etc.  Nosocomial or hospital acquired infections are things we can prevent and a major focus during this test which is why you gel or wash hands, use alcohol to clean IV ports, wear gloves or other personal protective equipment, etc.  If you keep these two items in mind when caring for your patients you won’t miss some of the important critical elements that could jeopardize your success.

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AGarden“Know your critical elements, take your time, don’t panic”
Alicia Graden RN, Passed at Madison, Wisconsin

Controlling your nerves before testing is a must but first you must assess your level of nervousness when facing a crisis and being honest with yourself.  Many students feel like they can handle the stress of this exam only to get to the test and find out they were wrong.  Plan ahead of time.  Research various techniques or products out there that may be helpful to you.  Maybe even schedule an appointment with your primary care physician to discuss this test and possible solutions for controlling your nerves.

PSmith“Practice skills over and over”
Paula Smith RN, Passed at Southern Regional in Riverdale, Georgia

Redundancy is key.  Practice makes perfect. How many times have you heard that?  Can you do the skills in your head? Are you reciting the mnemonics in your sleep? If not, you are not there yet.  Keep practicing.  It is best to focus on one at a time.  Don’t try to do all of your labs in one day.  Do one at a time.  Once you learn them and are becoming proficient, then you can step up your game and start doing all of them in one day but not during the learning process.

MWilliams“Do it the EC way.  Mnemonics – know them.  Know PCS paperwork front to back and practice all of it when practicing pcs’.  Do a mock.”
Michelle Mic Williams RN, Passed at Grady Memorial in Atlanta, Georgia

In this day and age, paperwork and legal matters are crucial for nurses. If it is not charted, it is considered not done.  Miss one word and you are going to fail because charting is so important.  There is no reason to not know each form you are going to be using and how to fill them out.  They are in your EC study guide so have them printed and learn each form.

“Know mnemonics, charting, and care plans.  Be confident, take care of yourself, give yourself time to study”
Sharon WesthSWesthoffoff RN, Passed at Lubbock Texas

Nurses are known for taking care of everyone but themselves.  It starts even before we are nurses.  When you are under a lot of stress, your immune system weakens.  When you study so much and don’t take time out for yourself, you burn out and don’t retain the information anyway so why not take time for yourself?  Create a study schedule that blocks off time to study but allows for family time as well as some “me” time.  Take your vitamins, get plenty of rest, eat well, get your exercise, and learn to laugh again.  Sometimes we forget to be happy when studying for this exam.  The wait can be a long time and you don’t want to be unhealthy and unhappy for that long.

JFarr“Communicate with the CEs. Listen to what they have to say, suggest, clues.  Get in the habit of ID’ing every patient”
Judy Farr RN, Passed at Southern Regional in Riverdale, Georgia

Yes indeed the examiners will give you subtle clues if you breathe, listen, and pay attention to those cues.  If you have a question then ask them.  Don’t be afraid of it being the wrong question.  If it is a teaching question, they won’t be able to answer you but they will tell you they cannot answer it.  You just might ask that one question that could be the difference between passing and failing.  You never know until you ask.

RHancock“Make sure your mnemonics cover every critical element.  Remember the only right way is the EC way”
Rich Hancock RN, Passed at Grady Memorial in Atlanta, Georgia

Mnemonics are not just great for helping you remember the critical elements to do in the room but also to guide you to chart all of the critical elements. If your mnemonic is missing a critical element then you might forget to do the critical element as well as chart the critical element.  When practicing, learn to chart according to normal findings first then learn how to chart the abnormal findings.  Remember if it is not charted it is considered not done.

LHall“Know mnemonics like they are your own name. Write them down on the back of the packet you will get.  Chart using your mnemonics.  Make a ‘game plan’ as to what order you are going to do things in.  If you have a plan of action in your head it will go smoother and you will have a better chance of getting everything done quickly.”
Lorene Hall RN, Passed at Northside Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia

A game plan is part of what your GRID is for.  It is to write down all of your assignments in the boxes along with the mnemonics or critical elements but other than the first four boxes of the GRID being in that order, you can arrange the assignments in any order you would like. Be thinking about what you would do first if you find the patient in the bed or how much time you have before breakfast trays come, plan your assessments or managements accordingly.

JJohnson“All hail the GRID!  It will be your rock, your stability, your place to go when you ‘brain fart’.”  
John Johnson III, RN Passed at Southern Regional in Riverdale, Georgia

Once you have those mnemonics or critical elements on the GRID, you just need to look at the GRID and follow them.  As long as the critical elements are correct coming from your brain to the GRID, you won’t miss anything if you follow it.  If you don’t practice with a GRID at home then it will carry over when testing.  Practice the way you will actually do it when testing.

Naomi B“Memorize mnemonics and rules of care planning”
Naomi Bigari-Stittleburg RN, Passed at Meriter in Wisconsin

Rules, rules.  Play by the rules, follow the rules. There are rules for everything with this test.  Getting in the door is the first thing and in order to do that you must get the care plans correct.  To do that, you need to learn the rules to care planning.  These are things like no assessments for interventions, writing the Nanda word for word, and making the outcome clear and measurable plus many more.  They are all in your EC study guide you just have to read and look for them.  This is where practicing care plans and sending them in for grading is a must because you will learn those rules much quicker.

LMunn“Call and schedule a conference call with EC staff.  Keep your eye on time.  If you have extra minutes at the end, walk away from the paperwork, take a few deep breaths to clear your mind.  When you go back, read it again before you turn it in.”
Liz Munn RN, Passed at Syracuse, New York

If you have managed your time well and you think you have completed all of your charting, take a minute to re-read your documentation and be sure you have covered all of your critical elements according to your mnemonics. If you feel as if your nerves are getting the best of you and all of your notes are running together, just close your eyes and take a deep breath!  A good cleansing breath will help get you that last boost of energy and focus for double checking prior to turning your documentation in.

Are You Really Ready?

How did you do?  Did you feel comfortable with everything or do you feel like you need to study more?  If you don’t feel like you hit all 21 points, don’t fret about it.  At least now you know where you need to focus before you go test so you can fill in any knowledge gaps you’ve discovered through this exercise.

Use all the bullets that you fell short on as a personalized study plan.  Study and practice until you feel confident that all of the points are skills you can do with ease.

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The last thing you want to do is rush into the CPNE before you’re ready.  Take the time to be prepared so you know the CPNE is only something you’ll have to do once.

Need help doing that?

Check out this video presentation where we explain a proven method that can quickly and effectively prepare you for the CPNE from home.  With this method you’ll not only be able to check off all 21 points but could increase your chance of passing by 45%.

>> Special Video:  Be Prepared for the CPNE <<

Disclaimer: ATL Clinical Workshop is a private training company and is not affiliated with Excelsior College.    The purpose of our workshops is to prepare EC students to pass the CPNE and no college credit will be earned for attending either our online or hands-on workshop.

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