Prepare for the Exam

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Exam Content and Format

The CNL exam consists of 140 multiple-choice, single answer questions. Some items are presented in a case study format with multiple questions related to the specific case study. Candidates have 3 hours to complete the examination.

Tips for Success

  • Begin preparing for the exam right away.  Cramming and waiting until the last minute is discouraged. 
  • Read through the entire CNL Certification Guide.
  • Familiarize yourself with the CNL Content Outline.  Notice the percentage weight per subdomain. Those areas with a high percentage of questions are a significant portion of the exam, and therefore, require more time of study.
  • Review AACN’s Competencies and Curricular Expectations for Clinical Nurse LeaderSM Education and Practice
  • Take the Self-Assessment Exam to determine areas of success and weakness.
  • Use the Personal Action Plan to assist in the development of a preparatory strategy for the CNL examination. Plan in-depth study and preparation for the subdomains that are less familiar.
  • Review the list of CNL Recommended Reading. Use of the resources does not guarantee successful passing of the certification examination.
  • Review the Additional Exam Resources  page which contains helpful resources to help you prepare.
  • Consider participation in the online CNL Community. The online discussions provides opportunities to communicate with those who have successfully completed the CNL exam.
  • Form a study group with other exam candidates. Interacting with other exam candidates and discussing the content outline of the exam can be helpful.
  • Know when and where the test will be given, appear on time with any required materials (e.g. valid identification and exam confirmation notice), and be ready to be tested.


Question? Contact CNC’s Staff at cnl@aacn.nche.edu.