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The CNA Test Explained

The CNA Test: What to Expect and How to Prepare

The primary role of a certified nursing assistant or CNA is to help provide basic care for people who are staying in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, and long-term care facilities. A CNA’s job is very physically demanding, as s/he must assist in lifting or moving patients.

While the pay scale for CNAs can vary drastically between locations, the median annual wage is typically around $24,000. However, what the job lacks in pay it makes up in benefits, personal satisfaction, and job security. With a projected growth of 21 percent, there is no anticipated shortage of employment prospects.

To become a CNA, an individual must pass a comprehensive background check and possess no less than a high school diploma or GED. The next step is an education program approved by the individual’s state, and finally a competency exam.

The key to passing the CNA test is preparation, which means learning what to expect and how to study, as well as answering some other questions that are common among test-takers.

What specifically does the CNA test consist of?

There may be slight differences from one state to another, but the CNA test generally consists of two sections.

CNA Test Section 1

The first section is a multiple choice written or oral exam. Covered topics include infection control, hygiene, workplace conduct, client rights, ethical behavior, communication, and nutrition, as well as best practices for caring for a person’s cultural, spiritual, mental, and emotional needs and views.

CNA Test Section 2

This section tests the grasp and knowledge of clinical skills. Candidates must demonstrate the instructor’s choice of three to five common job-related tasks of a CNA. Such tasks may include:

  • Recording vital signs
  • Offering and aiding patients in the use of bedpans
  • Providing catheter care
  • Providing perineal care
  • Performing foot care
  • Assisting patients with feeding, bathing, and dressing
  • Performing range of motion exercises
  • Assisting with ambulation, using a gait belt
  • Safely transferring a patient from bed to a wheel chair
  • Dental or denture care
  • Measuring input and output of fluids
  • Recording patient’s weight and height
  • Positioning a patient on his side

While the precision with which candidates perform their specified skills is important, the initiation and conclusion of the skills also influences their overall score.

The Candidate performs each designated skill individually, acting as though s/he is addressing a new patient each time. S/he must always begin by knocking on the patient’s door, addressing the patient by his or her name, introducing him or herself, and explaining what s/he plans to do. S/he then follows proper hand washing procedure and applies a pair of gloves before approaching the patient. Next, s/he performs the skill, remembering to pull the curtain or close the door for privacy. Finally, s/he finishes by removing his or her gloves, demonstrating proper hand washing procedure again, asking if s/he can offer any other assistance, and closing the door behind him or herself.

When is the CNA test administered?

The CNA test is offered numerous times throughout the year and while dates vary by location, most testing centers offer the exam at least once a month.

Upon completion of their training program, candidates will receive a certificate of completion. Approximately two to six weeks after receiving their certificate, candidates will receive a mailing that contains information about their exam appointment date, time, and location.

How difficult is the CNA test?

The difficulty of the CNA test often depends on the individual. If s/he puts in a good amount of effort studying the material and practicing the skills, the test will be easy. The consensus among most candidates is that the CNA test is mainly a test of common sense. In fact, many have stated that their greatest downfalls were over thinking questions, second-guessing themselves, and ignoring their instincts.

How much does the CNA test cost?

The cost of the CNA test depends on the state where it is offered and the format selected. The CNA test is typically offered in English and Spanish and candidates may choose to receive the exam in written or oral format, in combination with the skills assessment. Candidates who choose an oral exam can expect to pay slightly more.

The CNA test costs $59-$140; the lowest cost of $59 is for Minnesota and the highest price of $140 is for Florida. Most other states’ prices usually range from $90-$120.

How long does the CNA test take?

Time allowances may vary by location, testing generally takes between 90 minutes and two hours for the written or oral exam and between 30 minutes to an hour for the skills assessment.

Is there a pass mark?

In most locations, the passing score is 80 percent on the written or oral exam. The skills assessment, on the other hand, depends on the number of skills assigned; if 5 skills are assigned candidates are expected to successfully execute 4 of them. In addition, proper hand washing procedure is such a crucial component of the CNA test that failure to properly demonstrate it results in an automatic failing score.

What is the process to retake the test after a failure?

Candidates who fail the exam may retake it within 2 years. If a candidate passed one section, s/he can simply take the part s/he failed. The cost to retake both sections of the exam is the same as the initial exam, but the written or oral exam and skills assessment also have individual prices, with the skills assessment carrying a higher price.

What are good study guides?

There is a variety of study guides available for the CNA test, but the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program or NNAAP Exam Study Guide is considered the best, since it is a product of the largest CNA exam program in the U.S.

What about practice tests?

A variety of practice tests is available by performing a simple internet search. However, most states offer a free handbook for potential CNAs and there is often a practice test included. Additionally, testing centers, training programs, and the NNAAP website provide practice tests.

Beginning a career as a CNA is a wonderful way to enter the challenging and rewarding medical field. The position of CNA is a versatile career choice; whether an individual is seeking a long term career or a stepping stone to greater things, s/he can expect opportunities in countless environments, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, home health care agencies, nursing homes, physician’s offices, and clinics, as well as day care centers, and schools. CNAs are always in high demand and prospects are unlimited.

Associations and Resources

Many states and even some cities have their own CNA associations and resources; candidates can just ask their program instructor or a classmate or search the internet for resources in their area.

Here are just a few of the many CNA resources available.

The National Network of Career Nursing Assistants is an association for CNAs and other caregivers that promotes advocacy, education, research, recognition, and peer support for nursing assistants.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing is a comprehensive resource for information regarding CNA training and testing.

Pearson VUE is a resource is used by many states to prepare and administer CNA testing.

Prometrics is a testing sponsor for some locations.

All Nurses is a comprehensive discussion board where CNAs can ask questions, find information, read articles, and interact with others in their field.

Ultimate Nurse has a great forum for CNAs who need information, support, and socialization from others in the industry. There is also a dedicated job search page and a blog.

Individuals and employers can visit the State Nurse Aide Registry List to find information about the Nurse Aide registry in their state.

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