Make “Study Hall 101” a Priority
It’s a smart and inexpensive way to prep students for a coding exam.
by Rena Hall, CPC
Offering a free study assistance program in your chapter can be a valuable asset to members. Most coders aspiring to be certified have little or no money to spend on resources to help them understand coding concepts and assist them through the testing process. By offering an inexpensive—or even free—class to students, you’re helping to foster coders who will become an active part of the chapter after they’ve passed the exam. They’ll feel the chapter truly cares and they’ll share that experience with others.
Study Hall Is a Bonus
A “study hall” is not meant to replace AAPC pre-certification courses or the mock examinations, nor is it to replace mentorships. It’s intent should be to help students become more relaxed in their preparation for test taking.
Through experimentation and getting feedback from the students involved in my chapter’s study hall, we came up with tips that can be used by test takers and by members in new positions as professional coders. These tips are ways to make learning fun and build test-taking speed in your study hall.
Use Games to Build Speed
Games can help students to become familiar with CPT®, ICD-9-CM/ICD-10-CM, and HCPCS Level II books. It’s important for test takers to become fast at finding coding information in these books—flipping pages can cost up to 30-45 minutes of wasted time during the test. And if you’re unfamiliar with the books, you can estimate 20 seconds to find a page and then an additional three to five seconds to find the code on the page. That adds up to roughly 62 minutes of time wasted. The following games will help future coders build the speed they’ll need to pass the exam.
Scavenger Hunt – Students write down on a small piece of paper several codes from each section in a code book. Throw the codes in a bowl and have someone draw one out. Time how long it takes that student to find the code in the book. You can give rewards if he or she keeps it under a particular time.
Match Game – Have students match modifiers to particular service codes that allow their use.
Meat and Potatoes – Supply an actual, redacted operative report for students to review. The focus of the game is to find where the “salad” stops and the “entrée” begins. Everyone goes to the operating suite, gets prepped, and an incision is made (salad). Students need to know when the surgical part (entrée) begins in the report.
Cover Important Test Strategies in Study Hall
Students need to know when to stop looking for a particular answer. Test takers who struggle with an answer need to move on, returning to it only when finished with all of the other questions.
Students should try to answer all of the questions—a guess has a chance at being right, but an unanswered question is 100 percent wrong. They can’t depend on answering a certain number of questions and all of them being correct. Even though this is noted in the Proctor Instructions, it’s surprising how many count the questions they answer and hope for the best.
Review Test-taking Essentials
Another tip is to be sure your students have a good understanding of:
Guidelines: The information that’s noted in the coding guidelines is an integral part of getting an answer correct.
Modifiers: The student needs to pick out easily which modifiers are evaluation and management (E/M) only. This way, they can skip over answers that include E/M modifiers placed with procedures.
Terminology and Anatomy: Have students make a list of important pages (diagrams, definitions, etc.) on a blank page in the front or back of their code books for them to quickly and easily reference, when necessary.
Keep Calm and Take the Test
In study hall, let students know the test is open book and they should do their best to relax throughout the process. Stressed test takers tend to make mistakes. The calmer a person is, the better he or she will do.
Get involved in helping future coders become successful. Be there for them and the rewards will benefit the entire organization.
Rena Hall, CPC, began her career in the medical field as a medical assistant in 1982. She became a certified coder in January 2001 and has been an active member of the AAPC Kansas City, Mo., local chapter ever since. Hall has worked for the same neurosurgery group for almost 26 years.