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Studying for the Medical Coding Exam

You did it! You completed the courses, paid your registration fee, and your exam date is rapidly approaching. Now what? There are several different types of exams and the one you take will depend on which specialty you choose. For example, you may wish to get certified as a medical auditor or to work for a hospital–either way, test day is looming before you.


The nitty-gritty

Unfortunately, this is not a test you can take at home. You will need to register for your exam usually about a month before you are ready to take it. The exams are held at specific locations where approved proctors can monitor the testing process.


Time to Study

Studying for a test can feel challenging if it’s been awhile. Thankfully though, you have been studying for tests during your training and for the most part, preparing will be a review.  But that may not make it feel any easier, and adding the pressure of spending a few hundred dollars to take the test only adds to the pressure.  Not to mention the fact that the future of your career hangs in the balance as well.  The good news is that, at least for the AAPC (American Association of Professional Coders) exams, your fee includes one opportunity for a free retake during the next year.

I have found flash cards to be invaluable when studying for a large exam.  Taking the time to make them serves as a review on its own–and then taping them up everywhere–bathroom mirrors, the fridge, etc. keeps you on your toes all day. Works like a charm!


Thy Codebook, thy Friend

Wanna know how to ace the exam? Know your code books like the back of your hand. You need to be able to locate everything quickly. If your code books aren’t dog-eared and shabby from use, that may not be a good sign. With an average of just over two minutes to answer each question, you’ll need to know exactly where to look to find the information you need.

If you need some extra help, invest in a test prep book available online or in many large bookstores. Prep books are available for all of the different tests and some even include a companion website link or CD with practice tests. The tests are then automatically scored and you get immediate feedback about which areas need more time and attention. The advantage of using a test prep book is that beyond getting answers to sample questions, the rationale is also explained–which helps you know WHY the answer is what it is.


What to Bring

It is your responsibility to make sure you know what you are allowed to have with you during the exam and what you are not allowed to bring. As a general rule, you will need to bring a picture ID, a membership ID if the certifying organization requires you to be a member, pencils, and depending on the test, certain editions of particular medical coding manuals. There are additional rules about what can be written in the manuals or on the tabs, so prepare accordingly. Practice driving where you’ll be going so there are no surprises.

In most cases, purses, cell phones or PDA’s are not allowed. So don’t plan to pack them in with you.


Test Day!

Eat a light breakfast and bring along some mints to keep you awake. Wear comfy clothes since you’ll be sitting for awhile. Bring a jacket to take on or off if the temperature of the room is uncomfortable.   Pay super-close attention to the instructions the proctor gives. There aren’t any trick questions on the exam, but you’ll need to pay careful attention to words like “least,” “greatest, and “more.” The tests are graded by a machine, so you will want to answer each question neatly–and there’s no penalty for guessing. Leave nothing blank! Most importantly, relax and do your best.

About the Author

Rachel Ballard, RNC, BSN is a registered nurse with almost a decade of clinical experience in both acute care and public health settings.

Read Rachel's full bio here...

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