Preparing for the Medical Billing and Coding Certification Exams

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By DeVry University

September 30, 2021
5 min read

Medical billing and coding is a field focused on finding solutions that help provide more effective care for patients. This profession is centered around coding medical data while also ensuring data quality and integrity.

Certain careers within this field can require a certification earned by completing an independent medical billing and coding certification exam, as well as meeting other requirements. Choosing the right certification for you depends on a few factors, such as your experience in the field, your desired specialization or your specific employment requirements.

There are many different medical billing and coding certification exams, each administered by a different independent governing body. In this article, we focus on three common industry-recognized credentials:

  • Certified Professional Coder (CPC)
  • Certified Coding Associate (CCA)
  • Certified Coding Specialist (CCS)

Getting Prepared for the Exams

The first step to prepare for your medical coding exam is to visit the organization’s website for information and testing dates.

Three of the main topics covered in medical coding exams include the Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS), ICD-10-CM codes and the American Medical Association (AMA) Current Procedural Terminology or CPT manual.

Part of your medical billing and coding certification exam preparation should include studying these codes, as it can help you navigate your way around the CPT manual. This is important as you are allowed to reference it during your exams.

While we do not administer tests or issue certifications at DeVry, we can help students prepare for select medical billing and coding exams through our undergraduate certificate programs. Earning a certificate through an accredited university1 can help provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to tackle questions on these exams. You can also purchase training materials directly from these organizations and take practice exams to help you better prepare.

Medical Billing and Coding Exam Prep Strategies

These exams cover a variety of topics and material, making it important to prepare. Here are two medical and coding exam prep strategies to get you started:

1. Complete a Medical Billing and Coding Program

To build a solid understanding of coding fundamentals, you can complete a medical billing and coding program. Many programs offer courses designed to help you learn the material you need to know in order to pursue these exams.

And you typically don’t need experience in order to get started. At DeVry, for example, you simply must meet our medical billing and coding program prerequisite of having earned a high school diploma or equivalent, as well as other admissions requirements. In addition, DeVry will reimburse qualified students for one certification exam attempt2 upon completion of our Undergraduate Certificate in Medical Billing and Coding program.

2. Take a Practice Exam

The AAPC and AHIMA both offer practice exams to help you prepare with relevant and accurate exam questions. Since these exams vary in length and can take several hours to complete, it can be a good idea to time yourself when taking a practice test. For instance, the CPC certification exam is 5 hours and 40 minutes and has 150 questions, so one option could be to allot 68 minutes for every 30 questions during practice.

CPC Exam Prep (Certified Professional Coder)

The Certified Professional Coder (CPC) exam is offered through the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) and specializes in outpatient or physician’s office settings.

This exam has 150 questions and focuses mostly on proper application of CPT procedure codes, HCPCS Level II supply codes and ICD-10-CM diagnosis codes, which are all used by medical providers to submit claims to payers. To prepare, it can be helpful to spend time studying the guidelines and codes in the CPT manual and either the ICD-10-CM or HCPCS Level II official code manuals. For this exam, a passing score is 70% or higher.

CCA Exam Prep (Certified Coding Assistant)

Available through the American Health Information Association (AHIMA), the Certified Coding Assistant (CCA) exam can be a good option for coders who are new to the field. This particular credential covers coding practices for in-patient facilities and is similar to the CPC certification.

The CCA exam is approximately two hours long. You must have a high school diploma or equivalent to take the test. AHIMA also recommends you have at least one of the following3:

CCS Exam Prep (Certified Coding Specialist)

The Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) exam is also offered by AHIMA. This certification represents a natural next step for experienced medical billers and coders. This test is recommended for people who have already obtained a medical billing and coding credential such as the CCA and have at least 1 year of experience directly applying codes, or at least 2 years of on-the-job experience directly applying codes.

The CCS medical coding certification exam takes 4 hours and contains multiple-choice and fill-in questions primarily focused on coding knowledge and skills.

Quick Tips Studying for the Medical Billing and Coding Exams

Now that you have an understanding of these medical coding exams, here are some quick tips to help you study and prepare:

  • As mentioned above, take the practice exams offered through the AAPC and AHIMA. Time yourself to ensure you will be able to finish the real exam in the allotted time. Pay attention to any questions that you miss to see which areas you need to devote more time to studying.
  • Organize your codebooks. Use different colored highlighters to mark what coding guidelines can and cannot be reported.
  • If you are getting stuck on a question, skip it and return to it later. Chances are, you will find or remember the answer as you complete another question based on the structure of these exams.

Ready to Explore the Medical Billing and Coding Field?

We can help! Learn more about our Undergraduate Certificate in Medical Billing and Coding program, which can be completed 100% online in as little as 1 year4.

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Related Information


1DeVry University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission (HLC), www.hlcommission.org.
2Upon completion of the program, DeVry University offers eligible students reimbursement for one attempt of the CCA exam, the CPC exam or the CCS exam.
3https://www.ahima.org/certification-careers/certification-exams/cca/
4Not including breaks. Assumes year-round, full-time enrollment.