Oncology nurses can benefit from various types of certifications for professional development. Angie Caton, BSN, RN, OCN®, CHPN, and Melody Ann Watral, MSN, RN, CPNP-PC, CPON®, explained how to better prepare for certifications, how to choose test preparation resources, and ways to assess your personal learning needs.

What Are Your Learning Needs?

As a nurse who holds multiple certifications, Caton understands firsthand the anxiety nurses face when preparing for a test. However, she said that although the certification process can be difficult, “if you want to do something, don’t give up.” First, Caton said, determine what your specific learning needs are (e.g., what you are good at, what you need improvement on). The Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation’s (ONCC) primary certification renewal method is the Individual Learning Needs Assessment (ILNA) and helps to identify a nurse’s knowledge strengths and weaknesses. Based on the assessment results, the nurse can complete professional development activities to strengthen their knowledge. In addition, completion of these activities earns points for certification renewal.  

Caton added that you should also reinforce your knowledge of treatment modalities and generic names of medications. “If you don’t know what MUGA stands for, you’re in trouble,” she said. 

The Practice Test

Practice tests are not the actual tests that nurses will take, so memorizing questions and answers won’t be helpful. However, practice tests are beneficial to see the types of questions asked and to understand the test’s style.

“The questions are not meant to trick you,” Caton said. “Don’t read too much into the question—just read the facts. There’s one right answer—the others are wrong,” she added. Caton said that another advantage of practice tests, in addition to becoming more familiar with the type of items found on an actual ONCC test, is practicing answering questions in a computer-based format. “We assume everyone’s taken a computer-based test, but it can be kind of scary if you haven’t,” she said. 

Test Preparation Resources

“I’m all about test preparation resources,” Watral said.

Each of the ONCC examinations has a sample test reference list, but the lists are not all inclusive, she explained. And try not to overwhelm yourself with the resources available. Watral suggested picking one or two references for an overall review. Understanding your own specific knowledge gaps, especially by using ONCC’s ILNA, can also be helpful to focus on the information that you need the most support for. ILNA renewal can even allow you to earn points for certification renewal by completing professional development activities.

“If you work at a university, take advantage of your library,” Watral added. “Focus on areas you need to refine.”

If you don’t work at a university, you can work with ONS’s librarian in order to get the information you need. Developing a study plan is also effective for preparation, she added. Study groups can help by giving you a setting to bounce new ideas off each other. You can also develop weekly or monthly schedules to cover the test blueprint areas. Watral warned to avoid cramming for tests, which is usually not effective for knowledge retention and can increase anxiety.

When trying to find review courses, Watral suggested to look for courses that are sponsored by ONS or the Association of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses or courses that are employer sponsored.