How To Pass The CPC Exam — Tips & Strategies

AAPC’s Certified Professional Coder (CPC) credential is the gold standard for medical coding in physician-office settings and held by more than 60,000 coding professionals. CPC’s are critical to compliant and profitable medical practices and typically earn 20% more than non-certified coders. The CPC increases your chances of being hired and retained in a competitive job market. However, the  CPC exam can be intimidating if you don’t have a plan going in. In today’s post, we’ll show you how to pass the cpc exam without stress by giving you general preparation tips and test-taking strategies so you are 100% confident when taking the exam!

What is a CPC Exam?

The CPC exam is comprised of 150 multiple-choice questions. The test takes five hours and 40 minutes to complete, making it fairly rigorous. There are two breaks in the middle of the test. The CPC exam costs $399 to take, but only $325 if the test-taker is a member of the AAPC (annual dues are $170 for individuals and $90 for students).

The CPC exam thoroughly tests a coder’s grasp of the entire coding process, from medical terminology to code sets and beyond. Per the AAPC’s website, the CPC exam covers 24 subject areas, including anesthesia, radiology, and medicine.

You should recognize a number of these (like Evaluation and Management, or Radiology) as sections of the CPT code manual. Others, like Anatomy and Physiology, are parts of the coder’s everyday skill set.

You should note that the questions on the exam are not divided or identified by the topic they are related to. That is, questions on the CPC exam will test you on all of the above 24 fields of medical coding, but they won’t outright say, “This is an anesthesia question.” Instead they’ll just ask you about anesthesia, or surgery, or human anatomy.

During the test, you’ll be presented with a number of tests cases pertaining to the practice of coding. These test case questions will present you with a condensed medical report and ask you to select the correct set of codes from the answers below.

CPC Exam Preparation Tips

  • Electronic devices with an on/off switch (cell phones, smart phones, tablets, etc.) are not allowed into the examination room. Failure to comply with this policy may result in disqualification of your exam.
  • Verify the start time and examination address at least two days before your test date. If you are unfamiliar with the exam site, you should consider getting driving directions from or Factor any construction, traffic, or possible inclement weather during your commute into your drive time and try to arrive 10-15 minutes early.
  • Confirm what exam materials are allowed to be used during the examination and gather these items a couple of days before the examination (Photo ID, Member ID, plenty of #2 pencils, and an eraser along with the appropriate coding manuals.) Please view our Exam Instructions to see what manuals are acceptable.
  • Most examinees have found that you perform better when you get a good night’s sleep before the examination. We do not believe that staying up all night studying for the exam is very useful.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast (nothing too heavy) and bring light snacks and water to keep you energized during the exam. Peppermint or lemon candy generally keeps you alert.
  • If you are sensitive to noise, bring earplugs to eliminate distractions during the exam.
  • Layer your clothing in case the room temperature fluctuates.
  • Successful examinees have well-thumbed code books. Become familiar with all parts of your CPT, ICD-9-CM and HCPCS code books, and know how to quickly locate the codes, guidelines, tables, and instructions within them. This may be the most important tip we can give you.

Source: Tips for Taking a CPC Certification Exam

How To Pass The CPC Exam Test-Taking Strategies

When you take the CPC exam, you’re allowed to bring in each of the code manuals (the ICD, CPT, and HCPCS manuals). You’re allowed to have notes in the margins of these manuals, but these notes can’t contain any test-specific information. You are also notallowed to tape anything into these manuals.

It’s a good idea to mark the important or frequently used sections of your code manuals. The 2013 CPT manual, for instance, comes with a number of tabs you can place in the book to mark certain important places. Use these to mark off where code sections begin (like the Surgery or Medicine sections in the CPT manual), and where to find certain appendices.

When you’re taking the CPC exam, you’ll be asked to perform though you were coding at your regular coding job, so set up your manual in the way that makes the most sense for you.

Also be aware that each manual has loads of helpful information beyond the codes. The CPT manual has a number of diagrams of the human body, including illustrations of the ocular system and adnexa, the musculoskeletal system, the nervous system and much more. Mark these pages and refer to them during the test if you’re stumped on a question pertaining to anatomical terminology.

More CPC Exam Test-Taking Strategies:

  • Skip the index. Use the multiple choice options given and go straight to the codes and start matching the code descriptions to your scenario.
  • Keep your CPT book open to the section you are being tested on. All the questions in a section are from the same category in the CPT book. Flipping pages all over the book is a waste of valuable time.
  • Skip the questions that look like they will take a long time. Work through the rest of the exam and come back to the long ones at the end. Make sure you keep your answer sheet straight when you skip!
  • Move quickly but pay close attention to key words in the scenarios that change code selection.
  • When you working through the items you skipped and any that you get stuck on, use the process of elimination. You can usually eliminate 2 possibilities very quickly and focus on good codes.
  • Don’t leave any items blank. A guess has a 25% chance of being correct, a blank has 0%.

Source: Taming the Beast: Tips for the CPC Exam 

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How To Pass The CPC Exam — Tips & Strategies

4 thoughts on “How To Pass The CPC Exam — Tips & Strategies”

  1. As I take my college course I write notes from it in my code book. Will I be able to use my codebook with things that I have learned inside of it?

    • Per the AAPC, Highlighting, underlining and brief notations needed for day-to-day coding is permitted on the printed side of the page. Long passages of information is not permitted on the blank pages of the printout.


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