Who Needs Certification?

Coding and Billing8 Comments

Who needs certification? You do!

If your plan is to be a medical coder, you need to be certified. Credentials are important. The letters next to your name are not just to show off (ok, sometimes they are); they show you have the skills necessary to do the job.

The challenge of the sitting for the exams seems daunting. I recently took both the CCA and the CPC exams, and I am not a great test taker (which is the nice way to say it). Here’s my CCA adventure:

Signing up for the exam on the AHIMA website was strange. You actually pay for the exam up front without knowing your exact exam date and time. After paying the testing fee, I was emailed by Pearson Vue (they run the testing center) to schedule the date and time.

I purchased the official AHIMA CCA study guide to help me prep for the exam. I mostly did this because I thought it would help relieve some of my testing anxiety, but I quickly learned that it is an extremely valuable resource. Working through the study guide the first time told me 2 things:

  1. The coding scenarios were not as difficult as I expected. I found that I could locate the correct codes quickly and easily for the majority of the questions and effectively use the process of elimination for others.
  2. I really didn’t know very much about subjects like Medicare, NUBC, RBRVS, OPPS, Compliance, and Health Information Technologies. That list was way too long for my comfort level.

For the next 2 weeks I used the study guide and the online quiz builder that it comes with. It was invaluable study time.

On test day I woke up early and stuck with my normal routine. The sweaty palms started around mid-morning (my exam time was at 1pm). I had decided beforehand that I would resist the urge to cram before the test, which I think helped with my nerves a bit. The only thing I studied on test day was a short list of bulleted items I had made from the material in the study guide.

I arrived at the testing center early, and they actually let me go ahead of my scheduled time. They checked my code books and gave me a laminated sheet and a dry-erase marker to write with. I think the girl that checked me in could tell that I was nervous because she told me, “You will be on camera the whole time, and we will be watching you so you don’t cheat or pick your nose.” I laughed and told her I would be sure to pick my nose the entire time.

They assigned me to a cubicle with a computer and handed me a pair of those giant plastic ear muffs the guys working on the tarmac at the airport wear. Digging into the exam I found that the coding questions went very quickly. I consciously made an extra effort to pay attention to the details, specifically sequencing rules and instructional notes in the code books. I found that my 2 weeks of study from the study guide really paid off in the sections I wasn’t as confident in.

Going through the 150 questions the first time, I flagged 7 of them to go back and look at again. After I had answered those last 7, I submitted my exam with about 15 minutes to spare. I walked to the front desk and they looked up my score and gave me a print out that let me know I passed!

The moral of the story is that you need your credential. When you’re taking the cetrification test:

  • Use the study guide
  • Pay close attention to the details in the code book
  • Use the process of elimination if you get stuck
  • You’re on camera—don’t pick your nose

Learn more about Career Step’s Professional Medical Coding and Billing Online Course to kickstart your career today!

Leave a comment below »

  1. Mary Guard-Langdon March 05, 2014

    I am suppose to be receiving my Coding Books today, 03/05/2014.  When do you suggest I sign up for the exam?

  2. Career Step March 05, 2014

    Hi Mary,

    We recommend that you wait to register for the exam until you are at least half way through the practicum reports.

    Best wishes,
    Coding Support Team

  3. Eileen Krol March 29, 2014

    Are all questions on the exam coding questions or are their A&P, Pharmacology, or terminology questions as well?

  4. Craig Laursen April 02, 2014

    There are a few Med Term and A&P questions on the CCA. Your Career Step course has prepared you well for that content. I would highly recommend the CCA study guide to get the more in depth reimbursement content covered on the exam. Let us know if you have any more questions.

  5. Lisa Holliday April 04, 2014

    what exactly are you aloud to bring with you to the test?
    ie coding books, medical dictionaries? I am pretty nervous about the terminology, I still struggle to fully absorb some terms :/

  6. Craig Laursen April 09, 2014

    You are allowed to take your ICD-9 and CPT books into the exam—no other resources are allowed. They check your books before you go into the testing room. They allow you to have notes written in the books but nothing taped or stapled in. My tip on terminology if you are not comfortable with it is to make sure you focus on the word in its context. Reading the entire scenario will give you a better idea of what an unfamiliar term means.

  7. Annette Gollotte May 02, 2014

    Is the AHIMA   CCA study guide included in my program are do i have to purchase it seperate.

  8. Career Step May 06, 2014

    Hi Annette,

    You would need to purchase the study guide separately. I was trying to find it in the AHIMA store for you so I could provide a link, but I’m not seeing it right now. You can see a whole list of AHIMA recommended preparation resources here though: http://www.ahima.org/~/media/AHIMA/Files/Certification/CCA_Recommended_Resources.ashx.

    Best wishes!

  9. Elaine December 22, 2014

    I have not taken an A&P course which is a prerequisite for the AHIMA coding basics program. If I purchase the recommended study guide, will that suffice with providing enough info for me to hypothetically pass the CCA exam? If not I may hae to take the course just to qualify to take the coding basics program before I can apply to take the test. I’m hoping that the study guide will be enough.

  10. Career Step December 23, 2014

    Hi Elaine,

    Since we offer our own medical coding training we do not have specific information on the requirements and content of AHIMA’s training programs and cannot comment on whether the study guide will be enough. Sorry we can’t be more helpful!

    Best wishes!

  11. Teri May 01, 2015

    I am curious if I should purchase the CCA prep book that is focused on ICD-9, or should I buy the CCA prep book that is focused on ICD-10. I guess my real question is; does the CCA have ICD-10 questions yet, or is it all still about ICD-9??

  12. Career Step May 04, 2015

    Hi Teri,

    AHIMA has announced that they will not be changing their exams to focus on ICD-10 until after the Oct. 1, 2015 date. So as long as you’re planning to take the exam before they, stick with the ICD-9 focused study guide.

    Best of luck!

  13. Regina Scott May 20, 2015

    I am currently working in Pulmonary office I want to get my credentials. I don’t have time for actual classes. Do I need both certifications CCA and CPC

  14. Career Step May 20, 2015

    Hi Regina,

    You will only need one credential. The best way to decide is to ask your employer which they would prefer. Since it sounds like you’re working in an outpatient specialty clinic, they will probably want you to earn the CPC credential.

    Best of luck!

  15. Rita May 20, 2015

    I took a medical and coding course in college, will that be enough to pass the CCA exam? or I need more training?

  16. Career Step May 22, 2015

    Hi Rita,

    A great way to get an idea of what’s covered on the CCA exam is to review their CCA Exam Content Outline: http://www.ahima.org/~/media/AHIMA/Files/Certification/CCA_Content_Outline.ashx?la=en.

    Hopefully that gives you an idea of whether you’re be prepared for this exam. If you determine you need additional training, may we suggest our Professional Medical Coding and Billing ICD9/10 program? It’s the only completely online coding certificate program approved by AHIMA. =)

    Best wishes!

  17. Tammy Mooney June 17, 2015

    I took my exam May 28th 2015 and failed it by 22 points.  I need to find a study guide that has just the area’s I didn’t do so hot in.  Like, Clinical Classification Systems, Reimbursement Methodologies and Health Records and Data Content.  Is there a such place to find them.  One more question will the questions be different the second time around or will they be the same?

  18. Career Step June 17, 2015

    Sorry to hear you did not pass on these few sections. We have several ideas, you could study these sections in the CareerStep program by enrolling in the current program, you could use some of the practice tests and/or study guides published from AAPC/AHIMA.  Their website also has some other good references and resources as well.
    Good luck!

  19. Tami October 05, 2015

    Hello,  I am scheduled to sit for my ICD-10 version of the CCA exam on October 22, 2015.  I have been studying the CCA Exam prep book/quizzes/content and have done pretty well.  I have revisited areas where I was lacking and have been able to pass all those practice tests yet I feel there is still more I should do.  I am assuming that none of the questions on the actual exam are like the ones in the exam prep book so I am still fearful that I am not prepared enough. Any suggestions?

  20. Coding Support October 05, 2015

    Sounds like you are taking the correct preparatory steps for the certification exam.  The exam is not likely to have the same questions as the prep book contains, but will likely have similar scenarios and questions. Reading the study guides, practicing with practice tests, and taking a coding training program are the best options at preparing for the exam.  Good luck to you!

  21. Carolyn December 03, 2015

    Hi Craig,

    What exactly is the AHIMA CCA study guide?  I tried to find it on their site but it just takes me to the certification page.  Thanks

  22. Coding Support December 04, 2015

    Hi, At the AHIMA.org website you may purchase a 2015 Certified Coding Associate Self review (product code: CCA15), and/or a Certified Coding Associate (CCA)Practice Exam in ICD-10, 2015 edition (product code: CCAPRAC10).  As the new year comes up, it is highly likely they will have newer publications available. 

  23. Olivia King March 16, 2016

    Hi! I know I may be a little late on this blog but I have a couple questions….

    last March I took the CBCS through NHA. I passed but everytime I try to apply for medical billing & coding jobs, no one seems to recognize my certification even when I give them a copy of it & my ID #. Should I go through AAPC to take the CCS exam instead?

  24. coding support March 16, 2016

    Hi Olivia-

    Thank you for your question. The billing certification is not as nationally recognized as the coding certificates are. If you are applying for a coding position, it would be advantageous to have a coding certification because employers require one.

    Best wishes!

  25. Kate May 16, 2016

    Hi, regarding the author who wrote this blog:

    Did he have an prior experience in coding or took an medical coding courses? Or was he a beginner who wanted to gain the CCA cert without prior knowledge ( on the job experience or school training).

    I’m finding it encouraging yet hard to believe that he only studied for two weeks than took and pass the CCA.

    I’‘m a self studier for the CCA as I cannot afford a dime towards cost of the program ( even with their payment options with career step.

    I’m been a nurse for 8 yrs now and worked in various settings ( bedside and desk side) ‘d like to be able to sit for the test by July and now in thinking it can be done.

    Can anyone give insight on the authors background experience with medical coding before testing.


    Hi Kate-

    Thanks for your comments and questions! The author of this blog post is a actually a Career Step medical coding and billing instructor and thus very knowledgable on the subject. smile The purpose of this post was to highlight the importance of taking a certification exam and how to prepare for it if you plan on being a medical coder. (In addition to taking a course)

    Sorry to hear that it hasn’t worked out for you to take our medical coding and billing course. We would be happy to talk through your options with you and do our best to make it possible for you to take the course. Please call an Academic Advisor at 1-800-411-7073 to discuss your financing options.  We also frequently offers promotional offers that can help you save on your tuition. Visit CareerStep.com/promo for more details.

    We wish you the very best of luck in your future career pursuits!

  26. prerana December 01, 2016

    What is the best study guide for the CCA exam?  I plan on taking it this month (Dec 2016) or Jan 2017.  Is the Certified Coding Associate (CCA) Exam Preparation, Fifth Edition the latest out there for preparing for this exam? If so, where is best place to purchase it.  Any other study guides/resources anyone can recommend so I can have enough practice for this exam.  I’ve already taken the Careerstep Medical Billing and Coding program and have passed the final exam.

  27. CodingSupport December 01, 2016

    Hi Prerana,
    Thank you for your question.
    AHIMA provides a list of recommended resources at their website: http://www.ahima.org/certification/CCA
    The Certified Coding Associate (CCA) Exam Preperation, fourth edition by Kay Piper published by the AHIMA press is a great reference!

    Hope this helps!

  28. Debbie January 16, 2017

    I just got into the coding section of the coding course and will be getting my coding materials soon. I am concerned that, should I take my exam in March or after, I will not be able to bring my Coding books with me to take the exam. I had read somewhere on your site that AHIMA updates their materials annually in March and if the materials are not the most updated version, you will not be able to bring it with you during the exam. If so, how can I get the most updated version and will I have to pay out of pocket for it?

  29. Instructor January 16, 2017


    AHIMA is currently planning on updating their exam to 2017 in late April or early May. They have not specified a date. Since you will have all 2017 books, you will need to wait to take this exam until AHIMA has switched over to the 2017 books. You will be able to bring your code books to the exam.

    Good luck.

  30. Shayna McKinley January 21, 2017

    I have 2017 versions of the ICD-10-CM/ICD-10-PCS and 2016 versions of the CPT/HCPCS code books. Will I have to wait until April to take the CCA as well or can I take it in March?
    Also, are we provided a voucher for the exam?

  31. CodingSupport January 23, 2017

    Hi Shayna,
    Thanks for reaching out to us! AHIMA has not announced when they will switch the exam to 2017.  Historically the change is made in March, but they have not announced this years change.
    Please connect with graduate services for a voucher on the national certification exam. You can reach them at 1-888-657-5752 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

    Best wishes!

  32. LaToya Brown January 30, 2017

    Hello, I have about 8 weeks left in my last courses when should I register for to take CCA. I think my school is supposed to cover the cost for the time but I am not sure where to go.

  33. Career Step January 30, 2017

    Hi LaToya,
    I would suggest speaking with someone at your school or contacting AHIMA directly.

    Hope this helps!

  34. Ryann Riggs February 18, 2017

    I am looking for tips on studying and retaining different procedures associated with the various parts of the body & body systems.  It seems that some of the procedures (and body parts) are not all listed in the code & terminology books.  Often times I am referring to medical terminology (procedures & parts) through an electronic device.  Please let me know of any tips, materials, and/or study guides to help with a more effective way to retain and understand this part of the process.  Thanks!

  35. CodingSupport February 21, 2017

    Hi Ryan,
    Thanks for your question!
    Medical terminology and anatomy books are good references. There really doesn’t seem to be one text that contains every type of procedure that can be performed on every body part except for the coding book itself.  Even then there are some unlisted cpt codes for procedures that do not fit anywhere else.  For a breakdown of possible surgeries on various body parts performed with various approaches you can check with the PCS book.

    Hope this helps!

  36. CodingSupport March 13, 2017

    Hi Ryan,
    The Merck Manual available in the 3M reference is a great resource for diseases and procedures.  The internet also has many many excellent resources. Try googling a term to find some popular sites such as medicinenet.com or mayoclinic.org

  37. Robyn Hunter March 22, 2017

    Hello, I will be taking my CCA exam this Saturday coming up. Do we have to assign DRG or anything of that nature on the exam? I have been practicing the online assessments, am I gonna do fine by practicing those tests? I’m extremely nervous…

  38. coding support March 23, 2017

    Hi Robyn,
    Thanks for reaching out to us! Yes, the CCA will ask inpatient reimbursement questions.  AHIMA realizes you do not have access to an encoder on the exam, so they provide a chart with a list of DRG, and related information to select from.

    Best of luck!



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