There are a variety of prep materials for the Certified Professional Coding- or CPC- exam that you can obtain through the AAPC that can help you get a CPC exam passing score. However, you must understand that these materials can get expensive.
You can learn all you need to know by taking a coding course at your local community college or university. The only time you should purchase the materials through the AAPS is if you’re extremely out of practice. Of course, you do want to consider taking the practice exams.
Strategies to Prepare for the Exam
Since there are so many topics covered on the CPC exam, you may become easily overwhelmed when you’re getting ready. So, here are a couple of ways you can cope with this intimidating exam.
You must know that during the exam, most of the time will be spent on the CPT manual. Sure, there are some questions on HCPCS and the ICD-9-CM codes, there are more questions relating to the CPT code set, so you need to focus most of your study there. Make sure that you know the manual from front to back and you’re comfortable navigating and using the appendices.
In most cases, an individual only takes the exam after they’ve worked in coding for a bit- you need a passing exam score and 2 years of professional experience- or the educational equivalent.
If you have that experience under your belt, you should be pretty familiar with anatomy and physiology and medical terminology. Still, you may want to consider working with flash cards or taking a refresher course or two.
You will also find that there are some exam questions that specifically refer to anatomical or medical terminology- but as long as you have a strong medical vocabulary, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Once you feel like you’ve studied enough, make sure that you take advantage of as many practice exams as possible.
These should be treated like real tests. Take the time to study for them, time yourself as you take them, and then take note of the questions and type of questions that you typically get wrong. Avoid treating your practice exams as a formality or waste of time.
Most of the time, the practice exam will be easier than the actual exam- but they should still be taken seriously. Try getting at least an 80 on a practice exam before taking the real CPC exam.
Taking the CPC Exam
When you go to take the CPC exam, you can bring in the code manuals and you can have notes in the margins of the manuals. However, you can’t have any test-specific info in these notes.
In addition, you can’t tape anything into the manuals. You might want to mark the important/frequently used sections of your manuals so that you can find them easily during the exam.
When you’re taking the exam, you’ll be expected to perform as though you were actually coding at your job, so set up in the way that makes sense for you. In addition, be aware that each of the manuals has tons of helpful info besides the codes.
There are a variety of diagrams of the human body in the CPT manual- so be sure that you mark these for reference during the exam in case you have trouble with a question regarding anatomical terms.
Manage Your Time
When you’re taking the exam, which will take about 6 hours, it’s a good idea to break it down so that it’s easier to manage. Try separating the questions into blocks and work on one block for a set amount of time before moving on.
The CPC exam can be divided into 5 groups of 30 questions. You can take one full hour for every 30 questions- or you could take on 10 questions in 30 minutes. As soon as your time expires for a particular block, move on to the next one. Then, if you end up finishing a different block early, you can go back and fill in what you skipped.
It’s critical that when you’re taking an exam as long as the CPC, you keep your momentum- you don’t want to take too much time on any one particular question. Make it a goal to read- and answer- every single question on the test. You might want to bring a timer to the exam with you, just make sure it doesn’t have a distracting alarm on it.
Know Your Goals
You should know that the CPC exam passing score is 70 percent or better. The longer questions where you need to look up 3-5 codes is worth the same amount as the general knowledge ones. If you find yourself stuck, don’t be afraid to skip it and come back to it later.
Keep in mind that you can get up to 45 questions incorrect, so don’t waste too much time on a question that’s got you stumped. Instead, move on and get your momentum back with the questions that are not as time consuming. Then, if you have extra time, go back to the ones you skipped.