Tips to Pass AAPC’s CPC Exam

Tips to Pass AAPC’s CPC Exam

To pass AAPC’s CPC exam, you have to score 70 percent: of 150 questions, total, you may miss 45 answers. This test is not about memorization. It’s about knowing how to find the best answer.
Preparing For Your CPC Exam

  • 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 prior to your test date. If you are unfamiliar with the exam site, consider mapping your driving directions in advance. Factor potential construction, traffic, or possible inclement weather during your commute and arrive 10 to 15 minutes early.
  • Confirm what exam materials are allowed during the examination. Gather these items several days prior to the examination (Photo ID, Member ID, plenty of #2 pencils, and an eraser along with the appropriate coding manuals.)
  • Most examinees have found that they perform better after a good night of sleep. We believe a late evening study session the night before your exam is not 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-10 and HCPCS code books. Learn how to quickly locate the codes, guidelines, tables, and instructions within them. This may be the most important tip we can give you.

What To Do During The CPC Exam

  • Listen carefully while the proctor reads the instructions. Ask questions before the examination begins if you do not understand the instructions given.
  • Be especially careful about marking your answer sheet. Be sure to correctly fill in your selected bubble on the test grid. Exams are machine graded. To ensure an accurate score, bubbles must be filled out as shown on the example on your test grid.
  • Scan the entire test when you are instructed to begin. Answer the easiest, shortest questions first – this gives you the experience of succeeding and stimulates associations.
  • Remember to pace yourself. You have an average of 2 minutes and 15 seconds to answer each question. Stay relaxed and do not panic. You will be able to finish.
  • Read each question carefully. Note such words in the question as “not, except, most, least and greatest.” These words are often crucial in determining the correct answer. However, there are no “trick” questions on the exam, so don’t worry about hidden words or meanings.
  • Answer every question. If you do not know the right answer, eliminate as many wrong answers as possible, then select among the remaining answers. If you don’t have a clue – guess. A guess is better than a blank response.
  • If you finish with some additional time, use that time to go back and review any questions you were not fully sure you had the correct answer. Use the code books again to confirm.
  • Some people find it helpful to look at the possible multiple-choice answers (not the question), first. That way, you can see the sections of CPT®/ICD-10 or HCPCS that you’ll need to reference to answer the question. Next, look at the question carefully to rule out your incorrect answers. Typically you can rule out one or two possible answers, quickly.

Here are some additional, general tips to keep you determined and dedicated to pass the CPC exam:

  • Passing the CPC exam should be a priority. Do not watch TV, use your cell phone, etc., until you have studied for the day or week.
  • Plan your day to include quality study time. Quality is more important than quantity. If your schedule is hectic, include short bursts of 15-minute study sessions throughout the day instead of planning two-hour study sessions that are not productive due to fatigue, distractions, etc.
  • Believe you can pass the exam. You won’t pass the exam if you have doubts. Recite positive reaffirmations.
  • Remember: Most employers are interested in the credential(s) you possess, not the length of time and number of exams it took you to earn them.
John Verhovshek
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John Verhovshek, MA, CPC, is a contributing editor at AAPC. He has been covering medical coding and billing, healthcare policy, and the business of medicine since 1999. He is an alumnus of York College of Pennsylvania and Clemson University.

42 Responses to “Tips to Pass AAPC’s CPC Exam”

  1. genia says:

    What type of notes are allowed to be written in your books?

  2. Kwilts says:

    Any hand written notes are allowed. The proctors only check your books for loose papers, sticky notes, etc. They will not be reading your notes. Therefore, write as much as you think you may need in your books.

  3. Annie McKenzie says:

    Can you give me any idea as to the best way to tab the resource books?

  4. Tamyra Shaw says:

    Definitely by series!

  5. Zen Weller says:

    I found it very helpful to tab the sections that are most used, and that I knew I would need immediate reference to. For example, if you know you have trouble remembering POS numbers, it would be a good idea to tab the appendix that lists them (in my CPT version when I tested, this is Appendix M). You may want to tab the HCPCS modifier appendix, or the CPT modifier appendix; Both good ideas for taking the CPC exam. Look through your conventions in the ICD book as well. These rules are extremely important for the exam.. Get familiar with them, and tab the ones you may have trouble remembering. Sepsis, HIV, and pregnancy conventions are a few to note. Basically, go through your books, and note the areas that you feel the least comfortable with, so that you can reference them quickly.. Keep in mind that the exam is really only to prove that you know “how” to use the references. Cater your notes and tabs to your own specific needs. Great luck to you!

  6. Eva Baker says:

    Thank you so much for all of these tips. They took me right out of panic mode and my exam isn’t until October.

  7. Connie says:

    Are we allowed to have the AMA QUICK Reference sheet that came with the 2017 ICD 10 code book at the exam? It is loose but it did come with my 2017 ICD_10 .

  8. sareena says:

    How to pass the exam . am writing exam soon ,its difficult to pass

  9. cherelle says:

    Please do! I take mines oct 7

  10. Maria Martinez says:

    I failed my cpc exam and the next available dates in my area will be feb 2018. Can I still use my 2017 books?

  11. M says:

    Yes. From my understanding, we can continue to use our 2017 books for the exam until March or April 2018.

  12. Patti Williams says:

    can we have scratch paper to use to write a code down as we look at them
    Thanks Patti

  13. Brad Ericson says:

    No. You can use your test booklet for that, though.

  14. Jasira mol says:

    We need a total of 70% or in each section we have to score70%??? Please reply immediately. I have my exam exam Saturday?

  15. Jennifer Janek says:

    The total has to be a 70 from what I understand. That means you have to answer 105 questions correctly.

  16. Patti Williams says:

    I have 2018 code books are these ok to use if I take the COC in June?

  17. Brad Ericson says:

    Absolutely. We test using 2018 codes from 1/1 to 12/31.

  18. Patti Williams says:

    one more question does the practice exams A,B, and C help with the exam?????

  19. Patti Williams says:

    does the practice exams help alot

  20. Bijily says:

    Hi, is there any problem in marking or highligting points in the book for 2018 exam

  21. Stephenie says:

    Hi, its highly suggested you tab, highlight, underline important points in all of your references.

  22. Melissa Wassmuth says:

    Do we get a lunch or break during the exam since it is a 5 hour and 40 min exam?

  23. Patti Williams says:

    This will be my second time of taking the COC and on the first test the practice test and the study guide did not help at all except the coding parts . If something to study for in the study guide it should be on the exam. I hope this time will be better. I have coded Ed records for 15 yrs. just a few day surgeries. Does AAPC have the CCA?

  24. venky says:

    2018 books up to when its allowed to exam hall?i mean like 2019 march or apirl?

  25. Laci says:

    do they let you have the guidelines in the test for coc

  26. Ayeshah W says:

    I just graduated school and I’m still preparing to take my cpc test. I’m basically taking it in 2019. Can I still use my 2018 books for the exam?

  27. Bren says:

    Ayeshah, YES, you can use your 2018 books are valid to use from 1/1/2019-12/31/2019. I’m preparing to take my test as well in Feb.2019

  28. Bren says:

    Ayeshah, YES, your 2018 books are valid to use until 12/31/2019

  29. Nivedha says:

    Hai My 2017 books allowed for march 2019 exam?

  30. Brad Ericson says:

    We don’t recommend that. There are hundreds of changes to all three code sets each year, and using two year-old books may set you up for failure. The exams are written to the 2019 code sets.

  31. Felecia Drinks says:

    Hello I am scheduled for my exam February 2019. I keep getting different answers, can I use my 2018 books? Any guidance will be greatly appreciated.

  32. Brad Ericson says:

    You can, but we at AAPC don’t recommend it. There are enough changes in the codes and guidelines from years to year that you are taking a risk by not using updated books.

  33. Ashley says:

    If I wanted to use my 2019 books for an exam I am taking in April is that okay or is it better to use my old 2018 books?

  34. Brad Ericson says:

    Since January 1, all exams are based on the 2019 codes and guidelines. Use your 2019 books.

  35. Jenni says:

    If you fail the exam, how come AAPC assumes that you should practice more and pay more money on sections you failed to get a better score when you have no idea of what questions you got wrong? Paying more money is only good for AAPC. I have not found anyone who can assist me with tutoring or understanding where I’m going wrong on the exam seeing they do not know the questions I missed. I have been working in the Coding field for 6 years and would like to become Certified. I have spent thousands of dollars with AAPC, their instructors, their Prep Exam courses/Work shop and no luck. My last class I took for 6 months, over 20 failed the exam. I’m not sure why AAPC doesn’t provide better ways to make sure everyone pass their exam on the 1st or 2nd try, not to keep spending money for failure. Why can’t AAPC provide the wrong answer to better help the person understanding the mistakes?

  36. Brenda B says:

    I did not pass my first attempt. I tested in March 2019 and used my 2018 books. I now have 2019 books and will retake the test in May 2019 for my second attempt. My question is are the test the same or are questions different or rearrange

  37. Hang says:

    Does anyone like to have study buddy? We can Skype or get together if you live in orange county, ca

  38. Madison says:

    I’m going to be graduating soon with all 2019 books, what is allowed in the exam for in South Carolina? As well as does anybody have any tips on what books are needed and what to take into the exam with me and what notes to take?

  39. Brad Ericson says:

    Hi Madison,
    You will need the 2019 AMA CPT Professional, 2019 ICD-10-CM (any publisher), and 2019 HCPCS Level II (any publisher). If you have any questions check the exam instructions on And good luck on your exam!!!

  40. Ines says:

    Hi, can I highlight the book if colors before taking the exams using the same books.

  41. Ines says:

    Hi, can I highlight the book with the color, using the same books when taking the same books

  42. Brad Ericson says:

    Yes. You can. And you can write in your books, too.
    My books looked like coloring books when I sat for my exam.