CPC® Exam Information – FAQ and How to Prepare

The CPC® (Certified Professional Coder) exam is a tough series of questions designed to challenge would be medical coders to be proficient in the codes and symbols of the profession. It is only through intensive preparation that one can reasonably expect to get a passing mark on this exam. This article will provide everything you need to do just that.

How Is the CPC® Exam Structured?

The proctored CPC® exam contains 150 questions total. 130 of them are multiple choice, and the other 20 are pre-test questions that may appear on later versions of the exam. 5 hours and 40 minutes are allotted to complete the exam; however, many test takers find that they finish the test in less time.

The exam is open book, meaning that you are allowed to use approved manuals while taking the test. Just because the CPC® exam is open book does not mean you’ll be able to get by without studying. This challenging exam is such that you will need extensive preparation even with the manuals.

What Topics Are Covered?

The CPC® exam will test the proper application of the CPT®, HCPS Level II procedures and supply codes, as well as the ICD-9-CM codes that medical coders use when billing medical services to insurance companies. You will be evaluated on your knowledge of these codes and procedures, as well as the following subject areas:

  • Musculoskeletal System
  • Nervous System
  • Male/Female Genital
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Endocrine System
  • Digestive System
  • Maternity and Delivery
  • Pathology
  • Urinary System
  • Respiratory System

How Can I Best Prepare?

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You can prepare for the CPC® exam in a couple of ways. First, the AAPC offers online courses in medical terminology and anatomy (note: they also offer a combined program called Medical Terminology & Anatomy Bundle). These online courses run for two months and are offered several times throughout the year. You can go on AAPC’s website for more information on dates and prices.

Second, the AAPC also offers CPC® exam preparation courses online. This particular course will prepare students to work in an outpatient physician’s office. The AAPC recommends that people who wish to take this course (and the exam) either have extensive coding experience or have successfully completed this preparation class in the past.

Finally, in preparing to sit for the CPC® exam you may consider local review classes. You can go on the AAPC’s website to see if there are preparation classes offered by certified instructors in your geographical area. The same guidelines regarding coding experience also apply to local CPC® preparation exam courses.

What Study Materials Are Available?

There are plenty of preparation materials available to coders who are planning to sit for the certification test. One of the first prep items you should look for is the CPC® Certification Study Guide. This particular study guide will review every example of the exam in exhaustive detail. Further, you’ll be  exposed to a variety of practice questions and test taking techniques that you can use on test day.

Another item you have at your disposal is the CPC® Online Practice Exam. This practice test emulates the difficulty, format and time constraints of the actual exam. The AAPC offers three different practice exams, and you can buy the 50 question packets either separately or in a bundle. It’s recommended that you buy all three packets as a bundle as this will best recreate the atmosphere of the actual exam.

A final option includes purchasing one of the many non AAPC sanctioned study manuals on the market. These exam preparation materials can vary greatly in quality, so be sure to read plenty of reviews and/or talk to medical coders before purchasing any of these resources. It’s important to note that non sanctioned materials will not be allowed in the exam room.

What Is Required to Take the Exam?

The first item you’ll need is your examination fee. At the time of this writing, the examination fee is $260 for AAPC members and $300 for non members. You also need to submit the yearly AAPC membership fee with your application. The yearly fee for AAPC students enrolled in a medical coding course is $70. If you’re not enrolled in any coding course, you’ll be required to pay a $120 membership fee.

The AAPC recommends that their certified medical coders have on the job experience; however, they offer an apprentice designation for those who have passed the exam but don’t have the work experience prerequisite. Apprentices must also submit CEUs (Continuing Education Units) to the AAPC on an annual basis. To remove the apprentice designation, a medical coder must submit two letters of recommendation from employers and co-workers that can certify two years of on the job experience.

What Is Allowed / Not Allowed in the Exam Room?

  • Allowed: During the test, you may use ICD-9-CM and HCPS Level II books from any publisher. There are some imitations with the CPT books, and in the exam room you may only use those that are AMA (American Medical Association) or professional standard. CPT books from any other publishers are not allowed.
  • Not Allowed: You are not allowed to bring any electronic devices that have an on/off switch into the exam room. These would include cell phones, tablets and digital cameras.

What Happens If I Fail the Test?

With the payment of each examination fee, you get one free retake within a 12 month period should you fail. If you require another retake, you’ll need to pay the examination fee once again. You are allowed to take the exam as many times as necessary to pass, but only up to two times per calendar year.


As stated before, the CPC® certification exam is a difficult endeavor as it aims to find those medical coders best suited for the demanding job; hence, your best chances for passing come with extensive preparation, hard work and dedication.


  1. Well, as long as they are delaying it, how hard would it be to add an R to the end of codes when it’s a rule-out doignisas? Someone comes into the office who’s 50 overweight, etc. The doc tests for diabetes. If the patient has diabetes they get coded (in the ICD9s) 250. if the patient has NO diabetes, they get coded 250. This hugely complicates many people’s lives, especially in a move to ACOs or PCMH’s where knowing how many diabetes one has is critical, and where testing is encouraged.

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