Golden Rules for Passing the CPC Exam


Best Practices for Passing the CPC Exam: A Monthly Tip and Tool Guide
By Holly Cassano, CPC

Calling all students — studying for the CPC is no easy task, and I am definitely not going to sugar coat it for you. The CPC has a 70% failure rate for first-time takers and has been compared to Nursing Boards and the Bar Exam in level of difficulty. However, it’s possible to pass it on the first try if you stick to a few “golden rules.”

It is easy for exam takers to get lost in the minutia and be overwhelmed by the exam when it is staring you in the face and the clock is ticking away. You are sitting down at your desk and your hands feel sweaty and your heart is racing a bit — all normal reactions. What you want to do is focus on relaxing and passing the exam.

The CPC exam is about testing a potential coder’s knowledge base and skillset. Like any exam, advance preparation is a must and so I have put together some tips to help you pass it on the first attempt.

CPC Exam Structure

  • 150 questions with multiple choice answers
  • The questions are diverse
  • Some are true or false
  • Some are questions regarding an operative note
  • The CPC exam is timed; you are allotted 5 hours and 40 minutes to complete it

The CPC Exam is divided into 3 Sections

Section One Discusses:

  • Guidelines
  • Payment management
  • Medical terminology
  • Anatomy
  • ICD-9-CM codes
  • HCPCS codes

Section Two Discusses:

  • Integumentary
  • Musculoskeletal
  • Respiratory
  • Cardiology
  • Hemic/lymphatic systems
  • Mediastinum/diaphragm
  • Digestive
  • Urinary
  • Male and female reproductive organs
  • Maternity/endocrine system
  • Nervous system
  • Eyes/ears

Section Three Discusses:

  • Evaluation and management
  • Anesthesia
  • Radiology
  • Pathology
  • Medicine


The Golden Rules

  • Talk to certified coders to get a feel for how they passed the exam and what helped them
  • Visit the FAQ section on the AAPC website to get an inside look at what is recommended to aid in passing the exam
  • Tab out your CPT/ICD-9/HCPCS books to enable easy referencing during the exam
  • Review the official study guides from the AAPC
  • Take some AAPC practice exams
  • Practice time management; spend no more than 2-4 minutes on each question
  • The exam is multiple choice (or multiple guess as I like to call it when I don’t know the answer), so eliminate the two answers that it couldn’t possibly be and reverse code — look up the two answers you think it might be and read the coding conventions to assist you in deciding on the correct answer
  • Take some snacks/candies/water to stay energized and minimize break time to stay on course

Final Thoughts

If at first you don’t succeed, you can retake it within one year and pass it! Study and practice and keep your eye on your goals.

Happy Coding!