The Student’s Guide to Medical Billing and Coding Exams

Many professional test-takers understand that coder and billing certifications can give them a major edge when applying to jobs in the healthcare industry. In fact, students may overspend on test preparation books and materials if they panic before an exam. However, students do not need to unnecessarily stress about completing these examinations, as long as they adequately prepare for them.

Preparing for Certified Professional Coder Exams

Test administration organizations like the AAPC and AHIMA provide innovative online courses and textbooks that allow students to prepare for these exams within a comfortable time-frame. By spending time researching practice exams and authoritative course resources, test-takers can feel confident earning their professional certifications.

Healthcare professionals seeking coding training have two entry-level options: the Certified Professional Coder (CPC) offered by the AAPC, or the Certified Coding Associate (CCA) credential offered by AHIMA.

More than 80,000 professional coders hold a CPC certification from the AAPC. Applicants must have at least two years of coding experience before the exam; otherwise, they will receive an Apprentice designation (CPC-A). Those preparing for this on-site exam must become familiar with coding regulations and rules across 24 different medical fields, including anesthesia, endocrine, pathology, and radiology.

The CPC exam is nearly six hours long and the $300 registration fee is due four weeks prior to the test. The exam contains 150 multiple-choice questions, and test-takers can use open codebooks approved by the AAPC. Test results are available online seven to ten business days after the exam, and are also mailed directly to test-takers. For more information, read our guide to CPC certification.

Healthcare professionals may also pursue a CCA certification from AHIMA. Applicants only need six months of coding experience to apply for this credential. This exam is much shorter than the CPC, clocking in at just two hours to complete 100 multiple-choice questions with open codebooks. The CCA measures broader competencies surrounding clinical classification systems, health records, confidentiality, and IT practices. The CCA exam fees are $299, submitted at the time of application. On-site exam scheduling is contingent upon applicants receiving authorization to test from AHIMA. Exam results are pass or fail, requiring that test-takers obtain a score of 300 out of 400 to pass. For more information on this, check out our guide to the CCA.

Preparing for the Certified Professional Biller Exam

Healthcare workers who wish to understand payment cycles, reimbursements, and HIPAA billing compliance can obtain a Certified Professional Biller (CPB) credential from the AAPC. This exam is nearly six hours long and registration fees are $300. This exam measures in-depth knowledge of various insurance policies, claim follow-ups, and HCPCS Level II coding guidelines. Like other AAPC exams, the CPB is proctored on-site. Test results are made available seven to ten business days after the exam date, posted online and mailed directly to the test-taker. Our guide to the CPB can provide further details.

In General: Study Smarter

Test-takers should thoroughly examine the AAPC and AHIMA test preparation resources, and build a calendar of registration deadlines and study schedules. There are a number of free practice exams and online courses students can use to prepare for these exams.

Juggling a busy work schedule can make it difficult to study efficiently. Depending on one’s comfort level, reading speed, and availability, test-takers should plan to study for three to four months for AAPC exams and up to fifteen months for AHIMA tests. The AAPC provides a guided online prep courses for both the CPC and CPB credentials, which require at least 80 hours of study and must be completed within four months. AHIMA provides an online, 12-course coding basics program that spans 15 months and prepares test-takers for the CCA and provides 33 college credits upon completion.

Approved manuals, such as the CPT Books offered by the AAPC, are recommended for CPC and CPB exam preparation. These manuals are also allowed during the exams, along with ICD-9 CM and HCPCS Level II books. These three books cost about $170 for AAPC members, and are also used during the 80-hour AAPC prep courses. Test-takers who are pursuing a CCA credential from AHIMA should focus on these five recommended books and review guides.

Third-party exam prep companies, such as HC Pro, provide free practice exam questions online. Test-takers can also purchase practice exams directly from AAPC, which mimic actual exam content and gauge readiness. Those who do not feel comfortable with the medical vocabulary presented in these tests may also opt to take a 40-hour medical terminology course online through AAPC, which must be completed within two months.

All in all, test-takers should plan out and begin their study routines before setting an exam date. This will allow them to adjust timeframes in case the study process proves to be more or less time-consuming than expected.

Test Day Tips

On the test day, make sure to eat a solid meal and bring snacks, since exams range from two to six hours. Manage time properly by answering every questions, starting with the easiest answers first. Then move on to working out the more challenging questions. The AAPC recommends spending about two minutes and 15 seconds on each CPC or CPB exam question.

AAPC test-takers receive their exam results online within seven to ten business days, and AHIMA test-takers find out their scores immediately after exam completion, with certificates arriving four months later. Once these organizations award the CPC, CPB, or CCA credentials, test-takers can begin applying for jobs. Prospective employers can verify AAPC credentials online and view the AHIMA credential professional database.

Last Minute Reminders

To remain in a calm state of mind, be sure to leave early on the exam date to avoid stress from traffic or faulty directions.

Educated guesses can be made during the test using a process of elimination. On a piece of scratch paper, cross out multiple-choice options that seem to be unlikely answers. Narrow it down to one or two answers, and then choose the best possibility. Don’t spend too much time on a particularly challenging question if there are other difficult questions awaiting your attention.

These exams are meant for test-takers who already have some experience within the coding field, so scores won’t make or break a career. Scores for AAPC exams are reported, so test-takers should take advantage of the free retest if they have an unfavorable score. Since the AHIMA exam is pass or fail, past scores are not reported when employers verify certification.

Don’t get overwhelmed by test-taking strategies – they are meant to ease your mind and instill confidence before an exam. Scores are not permanent, so take advantage of retests and pass/fail options to earn your professional certification — and be sure to use practice exams, online courses, and recommended materials to get the most out of study periods.