CNL Certification Exam

About the Exam

The CNL Certification Exam is a computer-based three-hour exam. The exam items reflect the CNL Job Analysis Study conducted by CNC and Schroeder Measurement Technologies, Inc.

To maintain the quality of the CNL Certification Exam administration process, CNC’s Board of Commissioners annually reviews feedback from examinees, faculty, and the testing agency.

CNL Exam Scaled Score

CNC reports candidates test results as pass or fail. Individuals who fail the exam will receive their score and a score report indicating levels of performance on the exam based on the content areas: Deficient (percent correct is 69% or less), Marginal (percent correct is 70%-76%) and Proficient (percent correct is 77% or greater). Candidate performance is not compared to other exam candidates to determine the pass or fail status. 

The CNL exam is reported on a scale between 150-500. To pass the CNL exam, a candidate must achieve a minimum passing scaled score of 350 or greater. 

The exam is comprised of 140 questions of which 130 are scored. The remaining ten questions are pre-test items to be used on future exams.  

New CNL Exam Content Outline

“The CNL Certification Program is governed by the Commission on Nurse Certification (CNC), the autonomous certifying arm of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. The CNC Board of Commissioners and CNC staff are not involved in the development of any preparatory resource, and no preparatory resource is endorsed by the CNC nor is a prerequisite to earn the CNL certification. The CNC and its staff is solely responsible for the policies and administration of the CNL Certification Program. Learn more about CNL certification.”

Prepare for the Exam

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.
  • Sign-up for the Clinical Nurse LeaderSM Practice Exam which allows you take as many different practice tests as you’d like.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Apply for the Exam

Review the CNL Certification Guide, the Application & Exam Process Flowchart, the Application Checklist, and the CNL Standards of Conduct. Candidates must submit all required documents to CNC by the published deadline.

Apply to take the CNL exam in these short easy steps!

  1. Determine if you are eligible to sit for the exam. 
  2. If you meet the Eligibility Requirements, please review the Exam Dates and Fees

  3. Once you have determined your exam date, you need to log into your MyCNC Profile. Be sure to complete all of the fields within your profile. Once you have saved your profile, look under the My CNL Certification tab and click on Apply for Certification to submit the Online CNL Exam Application with payment. All fees are subject to change and are non-refundable. Please review our CNL Exam Application Tutorial to help you complete your exam application.  
  4. After submitting your application, contact your CNL Program Director and remind them to complete the Online Education Documentation Form (EDF). They will receive an email to complete the online form as soon as your exam application is submitted to CNC. The form is due by the registration deadline for the testing period you apply for.
  5. Note: Only the CNL Program Director can complete the EDF once they receive the email notification from CNC. All CNL Program Directors receive a  password to access the form from CNC. 
    For Faculty Only: Only the Dean of the faculty applying for the exam is able to submit the CNL Faculty Eligibility Form (FEF). The Dean will receive an email notification from CNC when the faculty completes the exam application. The FEF is due by the registration deadline for the testing period you apply for.
  6. If you require ADA accommodations, be sure to select this option within your online exam application.
  7. Once your application, payment, and documentation is verified, CNC will email you a confirmation letter (up to 2 weeks after applying) with important exam information.

Need to change your exam date? Please review the policy to Request Testing Date Changes. Note that you will need to request approval from CNC first in order to change your exam date. Email CNC at to confirm approval of being able to change to another testing period. 

CNL Program Directors: If your school is not listed as an Eligible CNL Program and you are interested in applying, the school Dean or equivalent must submit the CNL Education Program Verification Form to CNC.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible to sit for the CNL Certification Exam, an individual must:

To be considered for full certification, a candidate must meet the following requirements:  

  • Registered Nurse licensure (The candidate will be ineligible if currently being disciplined by a state nursing board.)
  • Submission of the candidates’ Education Documentation Form by the CNL Program Director.   

Certification will be awarded by CNC upon documentation and verification of RN licensure and submission of the CNL Education Program Documentation form by the CNL Program Director.

To be eligible to sit for the CNL Certification Exam, faculty must:  

  • Have an active and current Registered Nurse license. 
  • Hold a graduate degree in nursing or a related health care discipline (such as health care administration or public health) from an institution accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. 
  • Teach in an existing CNL education program. Current teaching experience must include:
  1. Clinical experience mentoring CNL immersion projects or;
  2. Didactic experience focused on the CNL skill set and aligned with CNL competencies.
    1. NOTE: If not teaching in an existing CNL education program, faculty may submit an appeal request letter to CNC's Appeals committee via email at before submitting the exam application. View Appeals Request Letter Guidelines.

To be considered for full certification, faculty must meet the following requirements:  

  • Registered Nurse licensure (The faculty will be ineligible if currently being disciplined by a state nursing board.)
  • Submission of the candidates’ Faculty Eligibility Form by the Dean or equivalent.

Certification will be awarded by CNC upon documentation and verification of RN licensure and submission of the Faculty Eligibility Form by the Dean or equivalent where the faculty member is employed.