Pursuing a career in medical billing and coding is a smart decision for many individuals. After all, the healthcare industry is growing exponentially. Even better, medical billing and coding specialists earn a comparatively high salary for exciting work. Of course, before you can begin work as a medical biller or coder, you likely must earn CPC certification. No one wants to take a test more than once. In this article, we discuss 10 strategies for passing the CPC certification on your first attempt. Before beginning to prepare, continue reading to be sure you use your time wisely.
What Is the CPC Certification?
There are several certifying groups for medical billing and coding professionals. The American Association of Professional Coders is the most widely-recognized one. The AAPC writes and administers the Certified Professional Coder examination. The certification is the most prestigious in the industry. The CPC examination has 150 multiple-choice questions, testing the taker’s knowledge of medical billing and coding concepts.
Those seeking certification have five hours and 40 minutes to complete the examination. To schedule the exam, you must pay a $380 fee. This covers the cost to administer and score the test. If you are a member of the AAPC, you can take the test for $300. Membership in the AAPC costs $160 per year for most individuals.Questions on the CPC cover 24 broad topics. Some of the questions come directly out of the professional coder’s manual.
Others gauge your ability to handle real-world coding situations. While the test has two timed sections with a break in between, questions are not identified by topic. You must use your knowledge of coding to answer each question correctly.The questions on the CPC aren’t necessarily straightforward or simple. Instead, to correctly answer many of the questions, you must read through a fact pattern.
Then, you must identify the correct codes for the narrative based on your knowledge of coding rules and regulations. These questions can be tricky, as they often require you to decide between two closely related coding options. To pass the CPC, you must score at least 70 percent. That means you need to answer 105 questions correctly to pass. If you fail, you can retake the test once without paying another registration fee. If you fail a second time, you must pay the full test fee before retaking it a third time.
Who Must Pass the CPC Certification?
To get a job in medical billing and coding, you don’t necessarily have to have a CPC certification. Still, becoming CPC-certified makes good sense for professionals who want to work in specific jobs or earn a higher wage. The AAPC markets itself as the gold standard for medical coding in physician's offices. The average starting salary for a CPC is $54,106, which is significantly higher than it is for individuals who don’t have the certification. When you pass the CPC, you demonstrate to employers that you have a solid knowledge of coding procedures, rules and regulations. Specifically, when you successfully complete the CPC, you show you can do the following:
Handle a wide range of medical topics, including surgery, pathology, radiology, medicine and emergency services
Apply medical coding rules to ensure correct payment or reimbursement.
Properly assign medical codes for diagnosis and treatment of injuries, illnesses and disorders
Because you can’t pass the exam without knowing how to code correctly, many employers require coders to have CPC certification. Most job descriptions indicate whether or not applicants must have CPC certification to be considered. You should note, though, that simply passing the CPC certification does not automatically make you CPC-certified. The AAPC has strict rules about who can become a CPC. In addition to passing the exam, you must become a member of the organization. You must also have experience working in the field. You can check with the AAPC for specific requirements for earning your CPC certification.
What Are 10 Strategies for Passing the CPC Certification on the First Try?
Taking the CPC isn’t cheap. It also involves significant preparation. The chances are good that you have taken many tests in your lifetime. Few of these tests, however, were likely as rigorous or stress-inducing as the CPC.</p><p>To help increase your odds of passing the CPC on your first try, you need a strategy.
Here are 10 tips for avoiding a retake.
1. Take a Review Course
Knowing the information is only part of passing a test. You also must know a few things about the test format, question structure and exam organization. Taking a review course is the best way to learn insider information about the CPC. Instructors not only help you learn subject-specific information, but they also provide tidbits about test structure. These can be invaluable.The AAPC and third-parties offer CPC review courses. Before deciding which class is right for you, look at reviews from former participants. Also, ask for information about pass rates. With a bit of effort, you can likely find the course that best fits with your learning style and budget.
2. Rely on Study Guides
Trying to study for the CPC from your coding book is a mistake. While the book has a tremendous amount of information, it isn’t concise enough to work as a study reference. Instead, buy some study guides that cover the information in short bursts or bullet points. Use your textbook when you need more information about a coding subject. Also, buy some sample papers that explain the correct answer to each question. These can help retrain your brain to think like a successful test taker.
3. Skip the Snacks
On test day, you may be tempted to bring snacks into the room with you. While staying hydrated and satiated may help you focus, snacks can be extraordinarily distracting. The test lasts just under six hours. You can probably wait to eat until it is over. If not, grab a quick bite during the break.
4. Find the Questions You Know
You don’t have to score 100 percent on the CPC. To pass, you only need to answer 70 percent of the questions correctly. That means you can miss 45 questions. If you work on hard questions first, you waste valuable time. You also risk frustrating yourself. As such, when you receive your examination, find the problems you know how to answer and answer them first.
5. Read the Answers Before the Questions
In Jeopardy, contestants hear the answer and come up with the question. You should apply the same approach to your CPC certification. By reading the possible answers first, you know what to expect. Then, when you read the question, you can eliminate answers. By the time you get to the end of the question, you may be left with only two possible answers. This approach saves time and boosts confidence.
6. Watch Wording
There are only so many ways the test creators can write the CPC exam. When you are reading examination questions, pay attention to the wording. Often, modifiers give away the answers to questions.
7. Stay on Track
You don’t want to rush, but you need to work at a steady pace. If you can answer 30 questions per hour, you will have enough time at the end of the examination to review your work. Remember, the only way you know if you are staying on track is if you know what time it is. When the test starts, start a silent timer
8. Compare Questions
While the CPC jumps around in its questions, you often find the answers to questions inside other questions or answers. Try to use exam questions to form mental connections. If you need to look back at a question to help you answer another, do it.
9. Use the CPT Code Description
Terminology can confuse even expert coders. If you are unsure what a term means, look it up in your CPT code description.
10. Stay Calm
There is never a reason to panic when taking the CPC examination. If you freak out, your brain could shut down. Remember, you only need to answer 70 percent of the questions correctly to pass. If you happen to fail, you get to retake the examination. Stay calm and concentrate.
Why Should You Pass the CPC Certification the First Time?
Failing to pass the CPC on the first try isn’t the end of the world. After all, the AAPC allows test takers to retake the examination once without paying the enrollment fee. Still, there is a certain amount of pride that comes with passing a tough test on your first time. Moreover, if you want to compete for a job or promotion that requires CPC certification, passing the CPC on your first time is a smart career move.
Nobody likes to take tests, but for professional coders, the CPC is a way of life. While there is no substitute for preparation, you can boost your odds of passing the CPC certification by developing a plan. The 10 strategies in this article are a good place to start.