10 Tips for Passing the CPC® Exam on Your First Try

If you’re like most students taking the CPC® exam for the first time, chances are you want to pass it, get it over with and not have to pay the $300 fee again (not to mention sit through another five and a half hour test!). So, here are some great tips for passing the exam on your first try.

Passing the CPC® Exam

1. Start with the questions you know.

Keep in mind that in order to pass, you only need a 70% score, which means you can miss 45 questions out of the 150. This means get the questions you know out of the way first. You don’t want to leave easy questions unanswered. This will also help you build up confidence as you go through the exam; so leave the harder questions for later.

2. Invest in study guides and sample papers.

Set timers and do them again and again, studying how you got to the correct answers and try to idnetify patterns as to why you didn’t get correct answers on the questions you missed. Find your efficiency method.

3. Aim for 30 questions per hour.

Draw a line after the 30th, 60th, 90th and 120th question to break them up into timed segments and start from 120-150, then 90-120. The questions at the end are easier. Mark harder questions and come back to them (if you’re running out of time, mark them with guesses in case you don’t get back to them).

4. Read the answers first.

Knowing what to expect from the question will allow you to know which section of the CPT/ICD-9 or HCPCS you need to reference, cutting down on time wasted finding it. Flip right to the section you need to be in and then look at the question. Then, underline the keywords in the question which will lead you to the coding. For example, laparoscopic keywords in the question should key you in on open procedures versus closed procedures, essentially eliminating the wrong answers right off the bat.

5. Look for modifiers.

Other answers give themselves away with modifiers so look for “post-surgical complications, staged procedures, discontinued procedures, etc.” ICD diagnosis codes can also eliminate procedure codes you are not sure about.

6. Highlight key coding conventions.

In the ICD, be sure you know your sepsis, HIV, poisoning, adverse effect, late effects, radiation treatments, neoplasm, diabetes, hypertension, CKD, fetal, maternal and infection codes. Highlight all of these coding conventions for quick key-ins as to the answers.

7. Pay close attention to modifier guidelines.

Highlight all guidelines of usage and non-usage of modifiers, such as mod 53 in colonoscopy, mod 59 in skin repair, medicine sections modifier guidelines, mod 62 in spinal surgery use and non-usage for instrumentation and bone graft, etc. Highlight skin sections for each procedure as well.

8. Reuse terminology and codes.

If you don’t know some of the terminology in a question, look up the word in the back of the CPT code description. Also, keep an eye out for questions that answer other questions (i.e. one question might give away the coding that another question is asking for).

9. Stay calm throughout the test.

Remember that you can miss quite a lot of the questions and still pass, so what you don’t know, take a guess at. Try eliminating the answers you know are wrong so that you increase your chances for getting a guess correct.

10. Don’t follow the advice to bring snacks.

It’s distracting and will take you off track. You can take little mental breathers, but unless you really need to eat for medical reasons, just buckle down, get in the zone and stay there!

Final Thoughts on Taking the CPC® Exam

Remember that taking and passing the CPC® exam is not about memorizing every code, it’s about knowing how to find the best answer in the quickest amount of time. Study how to find answers quickly rather than trying to memorize them all.

For detailed information about the CPC® Exam itself, read CPC® Exam Information – FAQ and How to Prepare.

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