How to Prepare for the CPNE

The pictures & info below contain copyrighted content from Excelsior College, this information is meant for demonstrative purposes. No replication of this information is permitted.

The following is what I did to prepare for the CPNE. Some tips and tricks I learned along the way that may help. I’ve also included a timeline of how I prepared. Disclosure: I am a professional procrastinator, I did spend a lot more time preparing for this than I originally thought I would but it is probably no where near the amount of time that I’d advise someone else to take. I am lucky to have a photographic memory and an ability to retain a lot of information, it has served me well in school my entire life but I will warn anyone else attempting this, do NOT underestimate the amount of preparation needed. You know your own strengths/weaknesses by now, make sure you plan accordingly for this exam, it would be an EXPENSIVE mistake to show up unprepared…

I basically spent 1 month studying in increments. I unfortunately procrastinated as I figured I would but I work well under pressure. I took small bites not really sure what to do or study and solidified my understanding of this finally at the workshop 2 weeks prior to my date. I really started hammering down the last week before I left. I spent my time at the airport and hotel cramming (this works for me) since it was truly the first opportunity I had away from ANY distractions (kids, work, phone calls, business, etc). 



November 1: finished FCCA & submitted app to CPNE
Beginning of December: received my CPNE date of March 1

Mid January: finally printed study guide, ordered lab suppliesstarted watching YouTube videos from former CPNE students.
Feb 1: started reading/highlighting/tabbing study guide making notes on questions and practiced using lab supplies a couple of times. Signed up for Sheri’s online workshop and started watching videos on labs & PCS’s.

Feb 7: finished reading study guide, had phone call with EC to clarify some questions, submitted PCS 1 to EC for review. Created/modified my mnemonics and memorized them this week.
Feb 8-10: attended Sheri Taylor’s CPNE workshop in Atlanta

Feb 11-20: intended to study, didn’t. Week off for family wedding festivities. Submitted PCS 2 to EC for review, participated in EC monthly chat to clarify more questions.
Feb 21-27: Had final phone call with EC for last questions. Spent a good 8 hours total over this time running through labs exactly as I would at test, attempted to do 2 practice PCS’s on my husband. Fail. Submitted several careplans to Sheri and wrote corresponding grids for each, timed myself exactly as it would be at test.

Feb 28: Headed to Wisconsin for CPNE. Re-read my previous notes in the entire study guide at airport and on plane. Reviewed more careplan resources/books on plane. Set up lab stations around my hotel room and ran through labs 3 times. 

March 1: Lab checkoff day. Watched videos on labs, practiced labs 3 times each, ironed scrubs, off to checkoffs. Got first PCS assignment, back to hotel, wrote careplan, watched videos on my assigned AOC’s, ran through mnemonics for 10 mins, practiced wound station (for repeat) 3 times, to bed.

March 2: Wrote out mnemonics while eating breakfast. PCS 1 & 2 at hospital. Back to hotel. Went through several mock kardex info to rattle of careplan diagnoses practicing for day 3.

March 3: Last PCS, finished 3 for 3 no revisions.



If you haven’t printed out the study guide yet, yes you SHOULD print it out. Yes it is expensive because it’s 8 million pages long, so avoid placed like Kinkos & Office Max because they charge about a buck a page. Head over to, they are the cheapest place around (I checked everywhere!) and have a handful of options you can pick in addition to printing if you want (add a cover, get it drilled with 3 holes for a binder, have them bind it for you, etc). Also Google some coupon codes for them and you can end up getting the thing for around $25 shipped.

lab setuplab practicelab sim

second binderflashcardsgridcareplansmnemonics-2

Practice, practice, practice! Keep inventory along the way of what areas you need more help with. DO THE PRACTICE PCS’s from Excelsior, this is the only way to get feedback on whether you are doing things right or not. Clearly I recommend signing up for Sheri’s workshop so you can continue to practice and get feedback. If I could do things differently, I’d have practiced mock PCS’s at home a LOT more than I did, I just didn’t have the time or energy to get people together to help me with this aspect. We had SOOO much going on at the time that it just didn’t happen and this is the area I was most concerned with since I hadn’t done direct patient care in over 3 years. Sheri’s videos were crucial because of this, there is no way I would’ve known what to do in the room without these videos. I also would have had NO clue what to really study, how to organize things and practice succinctly without attending the live workshop. To me this is critical, I will advocate spending the money on a workshop to ANYONE.

Show up and execute!! Cram at the last minute if that works for you. I brought ALL of my supplies with me, checked a bag just to do so. I brought my study guide, books, laptop, everything! Some people need to relax and forget about things prior to testing, if that’s you, then do it.

Remember one step at a time. Take a little bit at a time, write out a schedule for your practice so you can see where you need to be to make sure you’re getting it all in in time. As my Dad always says, “make a plan, and work your plan”. 

This is part of my post series on Excelsior College’s ADN nursing program and the CPNE experience. See all related posts over here.

4 thoughts on “How to Prepare for the CPNE

  1. Pingback: CPNE Resource Zone
  2. Hi! I’ve read your story over and over. I continue to ponder on getting the hands on workshop in ATL. I’m so confused on whether I should buy the workshop or stick it out with out it. I’m a military spouse that works full time along with raising my beautiful daughter and I feel like the workshop is a huge buy with flight, hotel and time away from work and family it adds up. How much more confident were you after the workshop? I guess it comes down to the money aspect of things. I wish i had another 1500 set aside for the workshop. Would you desperately recommend it?

    -A desperate nursing student trying to pass the CPNE
    Elizabeth Yaeger


    1. In all honesty I would not have passed without going to the workshop. I really had no idea what I was doing or what was being asked of me until the workshop where I could see it hands on and practice. I always weighed my decision on failing the CPNE, if I were to have failed I would’ve been out $3000+ to re-take it so I figured the extra money for the workshop ahead of time was well spent rather than winging it at the CPNE.


      1. Thank you!!! I’m really looking forward to passing this CPNE! I’m scared because I honestly don’t know what to expect. Hoping this workshop helps me identify what I need to work on and helps with successfully passing the CPNE.

        Thank you for the response and for sharing your incredible story!



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