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CRNA-Recommended Tips and Tricks to Pass the National Certification Exam

Written By: Editorial Staff @

You have worked diligently these past few years, giving up a considerable portion of your time, money, and sanity only to stand at the bottom of this mountain called the National Certification Exam (NCE) administered by NBCRNA. This exam is the last thing standing between you and the restoration of all the things I just mentioned. I know it feels daunting, but there is a successful formula that will get you to the other side. This article reveals some inside tips and tricks to help you pass the National Certification Exam, so that you can start practicing as a CRNA.

1. Know Your Learning Style

Knowing your learning style helps you become efficient in preparing for the exam, which in turn means you are not wasting time futilely trying to process content in a way that is not helpful to you. The Vark Questionnaire is a quick way to determine your learning style. At the end of the questionnaire, you are provided with a free summary of your dominant learning tendencies. There is an option to buy a more in-depth report, but that is not necessary for our purpose. Not everyone fits neatly into one category, many of us learn in a variety of ways. However, now that you are aware of how you learn, let’s look at how this helps you efficiently prepare for the certification exam.

Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic learners gravitate toward the clinical environment and learn through hands-on experiences. The simulation lab is a great place for kinesthetic learners to prepare for exams by merging didactic knowledge with hands-on experience. Try the tips below to best prepare for the certification exam.

• Study the airway cart and handle all equipment
• Study dosages, indications, and the precautions for all medications as you draw them up
• Perform an anesthesia machine check noting the rationale for each step
• Use a hands-on anatomy model to learn the airway landmarks

Visual Learners

Visual learners usually come to lecture with a full set of highlighters in tow. Visual learners learn by watching, but they also tend to notice patterns in information. Helpful ways for a visually learning anesthesia student to retain information are:

• Turning lecture or text materials into charts and diagram
• Putting gas solubilities in a chart for memorization
• Designing a spreadsheet to visually represent medication properties
• Drawing out and labeling pressure-volume loops
• Using Wigger’s diagram to learn cardiac physiology
• Drawing and labeling the Circle of Willis
• Using visual mnemonics
• Making a set of flashcards online or by using index cards

Auditory Learners

If you record lectures and play them back to study, you are likely an auditory learner. In addition to recordings, you may find it helpful to:

• Make a playlist of concepts you want to review
o Video tape yourself explaining the brachial plexus
o Make an in-depth review of pharmacological principles
o Record a lecture for yourself on peripheral nerve blocks

• Utilize online teaching tutorials
o Read these tutorials out loud
o Make up a clinical scenario to go with each section

• Read your textbook aloud to yourself, stop to place the information in context.
• Study with others and take turns reading through and explaining difficult physiological concepts
• Remembering a storyline, such as a clinical situation, to help you with memorization
• Utilize mnemonics like the ones in this book made specifically for anesthesia students


If you are on your third notebook and it is only Tuesday, it’s likely that you retain information through reading and writing. Listed below are some tips to help you organize all those notes.

• Most anesthesia textbooks come with access to an online version, save time by creating a bookmark folder to access your books on the go
• Find out if your hospital system is affiliated with an online library. You can find endless amounts of clinical and didactical information on these websites. They may even have versions of your anesthesia texts.
• Use an organizational system to help file notes. Some of the best-known applications are OneNote and Evernote. Make a section for each one of the major certification exam headings. File anything you come across that maybe useful to read later.

If you are writing fanatic, the Livescribe pen is a unique option. As you write on a specific type of paper, Livescribe pens digitize and upload your notes to an application. Certain pens also allow you to record audio while writing.

2. Read the Handbook

The National Certification Exam Handbook does an excellent job of explaining the layout of the exam. The handbook will also help you refine your study plan and prepare you for the types of questions you will encounter.

Content Breakdown

Knowing the content breakdown is a great way to devise a study plan and decide where to focus your attention. The handbook lays out a detailed list of all the exam content and what percentage each section is worth. You may notice that basic and advanced principles comprise more than half of the exam, making them useful areas to study. The overall break down listed below is a great starting point.

• Basic Sciences (25%)
• Equipment, Instrumentation, and Technology (15%)
• Basics Principles of Anesthesia (30%)
• Advanced Principles of Anesthesia (30%)

Types of Questions

Knowing the structure of questions that are on the exam helps you to start looking at information in a different light. For example, if you are studying pressure volume loops start thinking about how the content writers would present a question on this topic. Let’s say they give the patients vitals and stats and ask you how the patient SVR would affect the pressure volume loop. This is a two-fold question first you would have to calculate the patient’s SVR and then identify the corresponding pressure volume loop.

The handbook tells you exactly the kind of questions that are on the exam. A great way to practice these are through mock examinations. There are a few companies that offer online study modules and mock examination Apex Anesthesia Review and Prodigy Connect are examples of these services. Review any missed questions and ask yourself: Did I miss this because I didn’t know the content or because I didn’t realize what was being asked? It may surprise you how often we unknowingly misread a question. This process also reveals gaps in your knowledge and helps you to refine your study plan further. Listed below are the formats of questions you will encounter on the exam.

• Multiple choice
o Question stem
o 4 options

• Multiple correct responses
o Question stem
o 4-8 options
o Question stem will indicate the number of correct answers

• Computational
o Compute a value from information given
o TIP: Know all your computations by heart

• Drag and Drop
o Matching
o Placing objects in order

• Hot Spot
o Locate items on a picture or diagram

• Graphics and Video
o Any format above may be augmented with multimedia

3. Take the SEE

The Self Evaluation Exam commonly referred to as the SEE, is a voluntary examination that may be required, sometime twice, in select nursing anesthesia programs. It is a computer adaptive test that adjusts the level of difficulty based upon the way you answer questions. There are 240 questions and you will be given a four-hour window to take the test. If your program does not require or pay for the exam you can still opt to take it and pay out of pocket. It serves a three-fold purpose

1. To allow students to assess their progress in the program
2. To allow administrators to assess student readiness
3. To mock the experience of taking the national certification exam.

The exam does have some positive correlation with pass rates on the national certification exam but scoring high on the SEE is not a guarantee of passing the certification exam.

4. Study Smart

Most of us are familiar with the following tips when it comes to studying, yet we still seem to negate them when crunch time comes. It’s difficult to do your best when you are failing to take care of your mind and body. Love yourself!

• Study in measured chunks and avoid cramming
• Set a timer for breaks
• Get some fresh air
• Hydrate
• Don’t subsist on sugar and caffein

5. Prepare for Exam Day

You have put in the hard work now it’s time to show your skills. Just a few finishing details remain.

• Note the time of day you are most mentally alert. Schedule your exam for that time.
• Locate the exam center so you are sure of your route
• Know what you need to bring and what you can’t bring to the exam center
• Wear comfortable clothing (minding the dress code)
• Utilize relaxation techniques (deep breath here)


This article is not an all-inclusive study guide for the National Certification Exam, but it hopefully gives you a great place to start. The first principle is to know yourself, know how you study and why you study that way. This helps you to tailor a plan that will work for you. Read the handbook it’s a like a free guide to some of the most important tips! Practice your questions through mock exams and practice envisioning what types of questions could be asked. Most importantly, take care of yourself. Best of luck, now it’s time to knock it out of the park!