CNL Certification Exam

CNL Certification Exam2017-10-25T13:03:52-07:00

CNL Exam: A Summary of the CNL Certification Guide

The following information has been taken from the CNL Certification Guide provided by the Commission on Nurse Certification (CNC) about the CNL exam. At CNL Careers, we understand the value of your time, so we have compacted the information from the handbook for your convenience.


A Clinical Nurse Leader is a nurse who possesses clinical expertise in a specialty practice area. CNLs utilize interpersonal skills to influence the quality of service given by nurses and other health care providers.
There are only four testing windows throughout the year that occur in December, January-February, April-May, and July-August. There are application deadlines, and if your application is considered incomplete, it will not be processed.
You must apply to take the CNL certification exam and wait for a CNC electronic notification to notify whether or not you are eligible to take the exam.


  • Application requirements include the CNL Examination Application, Education Documentation Form, and the online acceptance of the Application of Attestation and CNL Standards of Conduct.

  • If applicable, you may also submit the CNL Faculty Eligibility Documentation Form, and the Request for Special Accommodations Form.

  • Make sure your name on the application matches the name on the ID.

  • Eligibility notification includes a Registration confirmation email and exam resources.

  • If you are deemed ineligible, there is an appeals process that can be completed.

  • Once you are deemed eligible, contact the school of your testing site for more details.

  • All testing fees are non-refundable.


  • You have three hours to complete 140 multiple choice questions for your CNL exam. Each question has one single right answer.

  • There are pretest questions scattered throughout the CNL exam that will not be identified and will not count against your score. These questions are used for statistical purposes only.

  • The CNL exam is only given in English and translations are currently not available.

  • The Special Accommodations Request form can be filled out when you take the exam, if you have a disability covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).


  • There are local testing locations throughout the USA. Be sure to arrive twenty minutes prior to testing time. Anyone arriving fifteen minutes past the scheduled testing time will not be admitted, and additional time will not be given.

  • On the day of the exam, be prepared to present a valid form of identification and a copy of the registration confirmation email.


  • A CNL must successfully complete the CNL requirements for their Master’s program within two years of their testing date; after that, the score will expire and the exam will need to be retaken.

  • Test takers who don’t pass the exam will be able to see their strengths and their weaknesses in a diagnostic section.

  • Failure to follow the CNL Standards of Conduct may result in a written reprimand, suspension, or termination.


  • The CNL certification must be renewed every five years.

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What education level is required to be a CNL?

You will need at least a MSN with a concentration in Clinical Nurse Leadership or a similar program. This is because a CNL needs to be a resource for their nursing team, and the MSN assures that a nurse is clinically competent to do that.  There are also Post-Master’s Certificate programs that will prepare any nurse already carrying an MSN degree for the CNL exam.

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