Preparing for the CPC Exam – Certified Professional Coder

Touseef Riaz

September 27, 2021

Preparing for cpc exam

Medical billing and coding are the lesser-known aspects of the healthcare industry. There are no Hollywood movies showing the daily lives and routine of the medical coders that sit behind desks, nor any prime-time TV shows about them. Nevertheless, medical coders are imperative in ensuring that the medical records and bills are accurately documented to allow for timely reimbursements of claims.

Even though the career is shrouded in mystery, there is no denying the fact that it is highly rewarding and comes with plenty of benefits. Medical billers and coders are required in virtually every medical billing and coding company, hospital, clinic, and private practice, which means that the demand is steadily increasing every day. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of positions for medical coders is set to increase by 13 percent by 2025.

If you are looking to start a career in medical coding but have no experience, then a medical coding certification would be the first step for you. Employers prefer individuals who have demonstrated proficiency through professional certification and the Certified Professional Coder or CPC test is the most sought-after certification.

The CPC exam is nationally recognized by employers, government organizations, and physician societies. There is a huge demand for professional, certified coders and the CPC is a great way to enter this highly competitive job market.

What Is CPC?

The CPC exam is conducted by the AAPC (American Academy of Professional Coders) to get certified in medical coding. Being an educational board, the AAPC is responsible for conducting all types of healthcare and medical certifications, including the CPC exams.

The actual CPC exam consists of 150 multiple choice questions spanning over 20 areas of knowledge, including medical terminology, pathology, medicine, anatomy, anesthesia, and a broad range of coding-related topics. The questions are mostly scenario-based to test the understanding and proper application of the different code sets, such as ICD-10-CM, HCPCS Level II, and CPT procedure codes.

In order to pass the CPC test, it is required that you correctly answer 70% of the questions. The total time to attempt the exam is 5 hours and 40 minutes.

Who is Eligible for the CPC Exam?

Even though it is not a strict requirement, it is recommended for anyone taking the CPC exam to have an associate degree from an accredited institute. A little background in the medical field, as well as coding, would not hurt either.

In order to become a fully certified professional coder, it is required to have at least two years of professional experience plus two letters of recommendation after which you can give the CPC exam. If you pass the CPC exam without any prior professional experience, you will get a CPC-A certification, the A stands for an apprentice.

Nevertheless, the base prerequisite for sitting the CPC exam is that you must be a current member of the AAPC and should pay for the CPC exam fee. The cost of membership is $80 for active students and $150 for non-students.

Is the CPC Test Hard?

The AAPC makes sure that the CPC exam covers various topics to test the knowledge of the people attempting the exam. It is important, therefore, to be well prepared and have a clear strategy to pass. Here are a few tips to make the test easier for yourself:

  • Get familiar with the three code manuals, namely CPT, HCPCS and the ICD-10. You will not be required to memorize the thousands of codes in the manuals; rather, you should be able to easily access and extract the particular codes as per the case requirement.
  • Don’t forget to bring your own copies of the three manuals on the exam day. You are also allowed to bookmark the frequently used sections in the manuals as well as write notes on them, which can come handy during the exam.
  • Since 70% is the passing score, you do not need a perfect score to pass. Keeping this in mind, if you encounter a particularly long or difficult question, it is better to skip it and move on to the next question rather than wasting precious time on it.

CPC Exam Questions and Sections

The CPC exam is divided into 12 sections, with a total of 150 questions. Sections include:

Evaluation and Management

Surgical Procedures




Pathology and Laboratory

Medical Terminology

ICD Code set

HCPCS Codes (Level II)


Compliance and Regulations

Coding Guidelines

The Complete Journey to Become a CPC

Although there is no experience or particular prerequisite to sit the CPC exam, we still recommend that you have some level of coding experience to pass the extensive exam. Here are the steps to prepare yourself:

Step 1: Mastering Human Anatomy and Medical terms

To pass the CPC exam, you must have a strong grip on the current medical terminology and anatomy. There are various online courses you can take that are ideal if you have never studied these topics. These courses are a great way to get a hang of the medical terms and anatomy, which can help you in improving your knowledge.

Step 2: Taking a CPC Exam Preparation Course

To better prepare yourself for the CPC exam and to master the coding concepts that are required, it is a great idea to apply in the online CPC exam preparation course offered by the AAPC. This is an 80-hours preparatory course that covers the three coding manuals as well as reviving your knowledge in assigning the correct diagnosis and procedure codes.

Step 3: AAPC Exam Review

The AAPC offers an online exam review that provides valuable insights on the coding concepts that are included in the exam as well as preparation tips to boost your knowledge.

Step 4: CPC Study Guide

The CPC study guide provides an overall review of the coding concepts that help optimize your exam preparations. The guide reviews each of the 12 sections in the exam, providing valuable examples, techniques, and insights on the possible questions.

Step 5: Practice and practice

AAPC offers online practice exams based on the CPC exam which is a great way to practice and test one’s knowledge. The practice questions simulate the actual questions that you may face in the exam.

For more information, you can also visit the Medical billing and study guide

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