7 Tips to Prepare for the OCN® Exam 

By Elaine S. DeMeyer, RN, MSN, AOCN®, BMTCN® - Last Updated: January 13, 2023

As you evaluate your professional development plan for the next year, consider adding the Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN®) certification. The Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC), a sister organization of the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS), offers this oncology nursing certification, among others. If you already have the OCN® credential, consider adding another. More than 180 nursing certifications make up the complete list of common certifications. 

Learn more about how to prepare for this exam or other certifications with these 7 strategies. 

  1. Check eligibility. If you are interested in the OCN®, first double-check the eligibility criteria on the ONCC website. A key requirement for RNs is a minimum of 2000 hours of adult oncology nursing practice within 48 months before the application.  
  2. Register. Within 2 weeks of registration, you receive your authorization to test, a test ticket for a 90-day window. Reserve your time early, as some testing dates and locations fill up quickly. Unfortunately, there are no refunds if you miss your deadline. 
  3. Plan ahead. Plan to study for approximately 3 months. Successful test takers treat this exam like the NCLEX exam to become an RN. Allow plenty of study time—several hours per week for several weeks.  
  4. Study what you don’t know, not what you do know. This assignment seems simple until you start reading a familiar topic and get off track—review content outside your practice area. For example, if you work in breast oncology, study other solid tumors and blood cancers.  

Here are some additional strategies for creating a successful study plan: 

    • Pick your designated study time. Schedule time to study when your energy and concentration levels peak. Don’t stay up late studying if you are a morning person or set your alarm early if you are a night person.  
    • Find a study space. Find a place to study if you get distracted at work or home. Consider the library or a coffee shop. Grab a few minutes while waiting for an appointment or child activity by using digital study tools or creating online flash cards. 
    • Know your learning style. Everyone learns differently. Develop tools that match your learning style. For example, if you are a hands-on (kinesthetic) learner, make studying into games. On the other hand, audio learners might consider listening to podcasts.  
    • Gain strength in numbers. Get an accountability partner or form a study group. With video calling, you do not need to be in an exact location. With help, it is easier to locate resources or take turns presenting content. There is often strength in numbers!  
  1. Know the exam time frame. You have 3 hours to complete 165 multiple-choice questions, with 145 counting toward your score. ONCC has 20 questions in the “pre-test” or beta testing. You have no penalty for guessing, so answer every question. Mark uncertain answers on the computer and return to those at the end. 
  2. Memorize generic drug names. In clinical practice, you likely use common drug names or acronyms like FOLFOX or R-CHOP. Many nurses find generic names to be the most challenging part of the OCN exam. Consider creating drug index cards or digital flashcards on platforms like Quizlet to re-learn generic names. Review the National Comprehensive Care Network® guidelines for patients that often list generic and trade names. 
  3. Take ONCC practice tests. Often, review material does not match the format of exam questions. For example, the OCN® test does NOT include “all of the above,” “none of the above,” “except,” or “always.” Oncology nurses may know the content but are not familiar with OCN format.   

As you prepare for an exam, practice positive self-talk. Tell yourself that you’ve got this! During tests, positive self-talk can build confidence and decrease your test anxiety. If you do not pass, it is not a reflection of your ability as a nurse, just your preparation for the exam. You can re-take the test if needed. The only real failure is to give up. 


Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation 

Complete List of Common Nursing Certifications 

15 Positive Affirmations for Test Anxiety (Perform at Your Best!)