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Tackle Your AAPC Exam with 12 Time-Saving Techniques

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.

Michelle Dick
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Michelle A. Dick, BS, provides writing and editorial expertise to clients. She is a freelance proofreader for Partners & Napier’s Vine Creative Studios and the owner of My Garden Gal, a garden maintenance and landscaping business. Prior to becoming a free agent, Dick was an executive editor for AAPC.

6 Responses to “Tackle Your AAPC Exam with 12 Time-Saving Techniques”

  1. Karen S Montgomery says:

    I would like to know what notes would be the most helpful to put into my cpt, ICD-10 and HCPCS books? I know the tests are all different, and you may not know what will be on mine in particular. But isn’t there a standard platform or formula that is most used in the strategy of this CPC test? Some of my classmates that have taken the test, claim the notes that they were instructed to use, did not help at all, and they failed! I don’t want to experience that! The 9 month course I have been taking has been a real cjallenge! I know I can code. But my age, 54, has made tests a little difficult to study for and not to mention retain the information. I need all the help I can get to prepare! Thank you, Karen Montgomery, MTI Student

  2. Tanya Roiberts says:

    Take the practice tese over and over until you have your time down and the answers correct. It really will help you.

  3. Kelly Randell says:

    Good article to print and have handy to incorporate into your test preparations!

  4. Maggie Beltran says:

    I will give you some advice, just study the ICD-10 guidelines, and highlight. CPT cases are scenarios which do take more time but, to pass just take each question look at the scenario and start removing the codes that don’t belong and you will find the right answer based on the scenario.
    Start with easier questions to save you time. Just remember you have two chances to pass the exam..

  5. Laura E Hill, CPC, CPMA, CRC, CPC-I says:

    These are all excellent tips. The personality of a coder is to dig in, research and not stop until you find an answer. Unfortunately this personality trait can make taking this exam very difficult too. Giving yourself permission to let go of those traits in order to test successfully is the best tip of all. It is also important to remind students to set a specific time limit of studying the night before the exam. I always recommended to my students 7:00pm, close your books, pack your bag for the morning, eat a hearty meal and go to sleep early. Let your brain rest completely and wake up refreshed and ready to tackle one of the most challenging experiences of your lifetime.

  6. Vanessa Moldovan says:

    This is such a great resource! When I mentor students, this is one of our top conversations! Thank you for listening to the members. It would be great to use this information and update the test taking tips on the website. Vanessa