Tackle Your AAPC Exam with 12 Time-Saving Techniques
Members reveal their strategies to maximize medical coding exam efficiency.
Most members agree that the biggest challenge they face when taking an AAPC certification exam is time management. Although you have five hours and 40 minutes to take the exam, 150 questions can quickly eat up your time if you get stuck on too many questions.
AAPC member Tammy Mckee leaned on fellow coders to overcome the time obstacle when taking the Certified Professional Coder (CPC®) exam. She posted on AAPC’s Facebook page: “I am looking for tips on time management for the CPC exam. It seems my only problem is, I run out of time.” The responses from AAPC members poured in, with 102 comments worth of tips.
Here are 12 test-taking techniques that members suggested may help you if you’re afraid of a time crunch. You can use one of these techniques or a combination of several.
- Skip the hard questions until the end. Come back to them when all the easy ones are done. Eliminate some of the obviously wrong answers. Warning: If you skip a question in the exam book, be sure you skip it on the grid and mark it (using highlighter or blank tabs) in the test book to go back. Otherwise, your answers won’t line up correctly and they will be wrong.
- Read the question first. Find out what is being asked before trying to read the whole scenario. If you read the question first, not the documentation, you may discover they only want to know a certain part and you won’t waste your time looking for the other stuff.
- Start the exam from the back. The easier questions are at the end, like medical terms and anatomy, so work your way forward from there.
- Do one column per hour. There are five columns to the test. If you allow yourself one hour per column and then move on to the next column after one hour, you will have 40 minutes at the end to go back and finish any unanswered questions. Just be sure you don’t stay too long on a question, so you have time for the ones you know you’ll get right.
- All answers carry the same weight. The short anatomy questions carry the same weight as long operative report questions, so don’t spend too much time reading operative reports when you can answer a lot of quick and easy questions that you are sure of the answer.
- Don’t let noise distractions slow you down. If you are easily distracted by feet tapping, wrappers crumpling, or gum chewing, it could cost you time. Be sure to bring ear plugs to stay focused.
- Keep an eye on the clock. Bring a wristwatch to pace yourself or an inexpensive stopwatch. If you give yourself two minutes per question and set the watch in two-minute increments to vibrate, it will force you to move on when you are taking too long. Highlight the questions that give you trouble and go back to them at the end with the 40 minutes you’ll have to spare.
- Don’t second-guess yourself. Go through as quick as you can and always go with your first educated answer. If there was a question that was too hard, take the best guess and move on.
- Use the rule-out method. Don’t read all the cases, just glance through for key words to quickly eliminate two wrong options. This method works great if you are almost out of time, and helps you take an educated guess without reading each scenario.
- Set yourself up with props for super fast code look-up. You can tab, write in, and highlight your books. Bring pencils, pens, and markers. Because you won’t have time to read the guidelines during exam, write some guidelines that give you trouble next to codes. You can also bring and use a ruler, which may help you turn the pages faster or line up the answer sheet to be certain you choose the right row.
- Take practice exams to gauge your pace. AAPC practice exams are two-hour versions of the real thing. When taking them, set aside the two hours for uninterrupted time and treat them like the real thing. They will help you learn test-taking skills and time management. The AAPC study guide is helpful, as well.
- It’s not a race with those around you. Don’t be discouraged if others finish before you. If people are done and you are not, that shouldn’t take the wind out of your sails or make you rush. If you rush to beat someone else, you’ll have to reread stuff, which will slow you down in the end.
Time and Accuracy Count on the Job, Too
Because some jobs require coders to meet medical coding productivity numbers, being able to code accurately under time constraints may be part of overcoming job performance pressures. It’s good to be conscientious of time while coding, and the test helps prepare you for that.