Tips for taking the CPC exam
How Do I Pass My CPC Exam the First Time?
Test-taking tips and advice from those who have passed the CPC exam can dramatically boost your test score. Below are strategies CPCs consider most effective. If you’re gearing up for test day, you’ll also want to check out our CPC exam study tips to ensure you’re well prepared the CPC exam.
Before the Exam Begins
To pass the CPC exam, you need to score 70% accuracy on 100 questions. You’ll want to do your best, of course, but you have wiggle room. Remember that. Perfection is not required.
Listen carefully while the proctor reads the instructions. Ask questions if you don’t fully understand something.
Request a last call. Whether or not you brought a watch to track your progress, it’s a good idea to ask your proctor to call time when 15 minutes remain. This heads-up will give you the opportunity to go back and fill in questions you’ve left blank.
The 2-Minute Goal
Most coding students preparing for the CPC exam say their biggest concern is time. Four hours gives you roughly 2 minutes and 40 seconds to answer a question. If you can keep a 2-minute pace, and don’t allow yourself to get stuck on too many questions, you’ll be able to answer all 100 questions without resorting to a last-minute dash.
Keep an eye on the clock. If you brought a non-smart wristwatch or stopwatch, set it to vibrate in two-minute increments. This will let you know how much time you’re spending on a question and urge you to move on if you’re past the 2-minute mark.
Strategies for Dealing with Questions
Start with the easy anatomy questions at the back of the test booklet and work your way forward section by section. These straightforward questions are quick but count the same toward your score. By tackling them first, you’ll have time to answer all of them and can then work the case study questions with a better sense of time remaining, as well as less pressure.
Read the question before reading the long operative report associated with the question. Sometimes a question will refer to only a small part of the report, such as a discrepancy in date of service, and knowing this in advance can save you substantial time.
Underline key words in the test booklet to help you when looking up the code. Note such words such as not, except, most, least and greatest, as these are often pivotal in determining the correct answer. You’ll also want to cross out anything in the case report that’s not relevant to the question. This could help you to eliminate answers.
Code notes are used to define terms, clarify information, or list choices for additional characters. Pay close attention to them when looking up codes, as this provides valuable information and can prevent you from making errors.
Don’t second-guess yourself. Go through a question as quickly as you can and trust your first educated answer. The last thing you want is to get trapped in over-thinking. Remember — keeping the pace means answering more exam questions, which means a better score.
Take your best guess. If you get stuck on a difficult question, make a logical deduction and move on. Tab the question so you can come back to if you have time.
Skip tough questions. You don’t want to spend so much time on one question that you’re unable to answer many questions. Tab obstinate questions and come back to them later.
Caution: If you skip a question in the test booklet, be sure to skip the question on the grid so your answers line up correctly. (Here’s where a rule comes in handy.)
Never leave a question unanswered. A blank answer is definitely wrong, whereas you could get lucky with a guess. But save guessing for when you have no option, typically in the last 15 to 20 minutes of the CPC exam.
Narrow Down Your Answers
For lack of time, you can’t look up every code in all 4 multiple choice answers. You’ll need to take a strategic approach and eliminate as many answers as possible. If you’re able to eliminate two, then you only need to confirm which of the two remaining answers is correct.
How do you use the process of elimination? Again, read the question first, then scan the case, looking for key words to help you rule out two answers.
Does the 1st character of the code align with the correct code range? If a question pertains to the musculoskeletal system, for example, you can eliminate all CPT® codes that don’t begin with the numeral 2.
Check sequencing. Is a secondary code listed as a primary code? If so, eliminate this answer.
Can you rule out an answer based on EXCLUDES notes or other exceptions? How about an inappropriate modifier?
Read notes under the codes. You can often eliminate answers based on note details.
Is a code mentioned in two answers? If so, go directly to that code to see if it fits the op notes and eliminate two answers based on what you find.
If you’re able to eliminate two answers, you’re halfway to the correct answer and only need to check the guidelines for the CPT® and ICD-10-CM codes in the remaining answers.
With any exam time you have left, go back and make sure you’ve answered every question. If you still have time, revisit your best guesses to see if you can come up with a more solid answer.
General Exam Day Advice
Bring earplugs. The sound of chairs sliding across the floor or people clearing their throats are amplified in large and otherwise quiet rooms. Come prepared to prevent noise from disrupting your concentration.
Bring snacks. You’ll want to choose snacks you can get at quietly and eat quietly. Think cheese versus crunchy celery sticks or chips in crinkly paper.
A ruler might help you track rows on the answer sheet to ensure you fill in the right row.
Block out distractions. People may finish before you, but don’t allow that to stress you. Stay calm and carry on, as the saying goes. Use all the time available to you.
Last Reviewed on July 5, 2022
About the author
Thought Leadership Team
Editorial Staff / AAPC
The AAPC Thought Leadership Team is a distinguished consortium of experts, visionaries, and thought leaders committed to shaping the landscape in the industry. With a deep understanding of the profound impact our industry has on society, this council serves as a guiding force, driving the development and implementation of ethical standards in coding practices.