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The #1 time management strategy for passing the PMHNP ANCC EXAM

Time management is a crucial factor when attempting to pass the PMHNP Exam. I want to share with you the story of a nurse I’ll call Wendy.  Wendy contacted me in March of 2018. She was a student of the Lantern review and all the other PMHNP reviews one can humanly purchase. You could say that Wendy was fully invested to pass the ANCC exam. Wendy is an experienced psych nurse who has a wealth of knowledge and not exactly what one would classify as a newbie or novice nurse.  So, what exactly went wrong? Wendy breaks it down for us.

The minimum scoring threshold to pass the PMHNP exam is 350. Wendy scored a 290. Now, before you pass judgment or develop a false assumption, I’m am going to tell you that Wendy was on target to pass this exam. In fact, she was on course to crush the ANCC exam.

There are 175 questions on the PMHNP exam. As you know, 150 of those questions are scored. Wendy got to the mid-way point at approximately the 3-hour mark. Wendy then had to feverishly select the answers for the last 40-50 questions, while barely scanning all of the possible answer choices. Keep in mind, Wendy somehow still scored a 290. How is that possible? This means, Wendy was in great shape to pass the exam mathematically speaking. However, Wendy made 2 critical mistakes that she doesn’t want to happen to you.

I’m am going to break these 2 mistakes down for you and the benefit of the readers of this blog. But first, I want to thank Wendy for reaching out. Her contributions will save many reading this post, unnecessary frustration, time and wasted resources. Nurses like Wendy help the rest of us, and for that, I want to recognize her contributions and unselfishness.

Mark or unmarked, that is the question?

I have shared in the past that you can use the right click option to eliminate incorrect choices when facing wordy policy questions. Outside of this helpful technology, you should ignore the “Mark answer” option entirely. That’s correct, ignore the bells and whistles of which the test center provides. The test center gives you the option of marking a question that you do not feel ready to answer with the option to return to the question later. This is a huge mistake! You do not have the luxury of time when taking the ANCC PMHNP exam. When you mark a question for later review, you don’t get to clear this question from your conscious. The question nags at you, weighing you down, while you attempt to focus on the next question. This raises your stress level and starts to cause low level panic, taking you out of the proverbial zone.

You are far better off just answering the questions as soon as they come up. Use your best judgment. Reduce the provided answers to the 2 best choices. Select the best answer. That’s it! One could argue that they might find clues amongst the other 174 questions, that might give one a better shot at the question you are currently struggling with. This is a falsehood. If you were taking a 50-question exam and had the luxury of time, I would agree. However, the odds of finding an additional clue during the ANCC exam and then linking it to another question is an unlikely phenomenon at best. You will however, waste precious time, just like Wendy did. Frustrations will begin to mount. Panic sets in. Therefore, my advice and the advice of scores of other PMHNP’s who have passed this exam, is this…. take each question as it arises. Answer the question to the best of your ability. Don’t’ look back. Think of mindfulness, where all we have is the present, not the future or the past.

A mathematical dilemma when every second counts

My next tip is one of math. This was Wendy’s ah-ha moment after she failed the exam. This is the gem that Wendy gives us for free. There are 175 questions on the exam. You have 3.5 hours to take the exam. So how long should you take on each question? Wendy admitted that she took as long as 6 – 8 minutes for many of the challenging policy questions. She never thought of the concept of pace. She admittedly overthought the answers. She did not view the questions on the novice level with which they were built for. She dissected each word like a cat in anatomy class, looking for hidden meaning and this basically drove herself into a state of woe. We all know that we don’t make the best choices in states of panic.

Here is the math: 210 minutes/175 questions you end up with 80 seconds. That’s it folks! 80 seconds. You have exactly 1 minute and 20 seconds to answer each question in order to finish at the 3.5-hour mark. So, for each question that you over-analyze, for each question that you take a whole 5 minutes on, you burn through the precious resource of time. Try this experiment out. Ask you colleagues how long they think they have to answer each individual question on this exam. Watch them think. Most never even ponder about this concept while preparing to pass the PMHNP exam. Think about how bizarre this is. When you leave for a road trip, the first thing you do is fill up at the gas station or charge your electric vehicle. You predict when you are going to run out of fuel and need to refuel. Why don’t we think like this when taking the exam?

In summary; you need to stay on a pace of about 80 seconds for each question. For each question that you go over, you need to offset that time loss, with a quick answer elsewhere on the exam. Trust your preparation and don’t schedule this exam until you feel confident. Never dwell on a question. Eliminate the poor choices and take your best educate guess when facing the dilemma of 50/50 uncertainty. Move on – You don’t have to get every question correct to pass this exam. Breathe. Ensure that you have budgeted enough time to read each question. That’s the formula!

Oh, and forget the “marking” option. It’s a time trap that leads you down a false path. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.

Thank you “Wendy”, for all of your contributions!


  1. thanks Wendy, I was wondering how many seconds you needed to pass the exam. Now I can practice at home

    1. Author

      Yes Denise, This exam took me 3 hours and 30 minutes and I usually read pretty fast. Make sure you don’t dwell on a question for too long. Mathematically speaking, its just not worth it. On the bright side, there are some easy questions mixed in, which require little thought and save you time.

  2. You mentioned you dont have to get all the questions right, how many questions do we have to get right in order to pass?
    Thank you

    1. Author

      Great question Deimys. The problem is that 25 of the 175 questions are in “beta” mode or do not count. So how does one know if the actual question is part of the exam? You do not. Therefore, I would recommend spending your time preparing for what is listed on the ANCC outline. Historically, one needs to score a “350” in order to pass. The ANCC does not share the calculation on their website from what I have seen….

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