Certified Professional Coder (CPC) Exam Details

So you’re thinking about a national certification exam? Here are some of the frequently asked questions we get from students and graduates preparing to get certified. For the most up-to-date information and more detail, you should visit the AAPC website.

CPC Exam FAQs (the CPC is offered through AAPC):

How much does it cost to take the CPC exam?

You must be a member of AAPC to take the CPC exam. The CPC exam costs $399 and membership costs $170. As long as your Career Step medical billing and coding online course access is still current, you qualify for the student membership price of $90.

How do I sign up for the CPC?

You must register for the CPC and schedule it at least 3-4 weeks in advance from your desired testing date. Exam availability and dates are posted on the AAPC website. The exams are offered through local AAPC chapters, and there are usually multiple chapters in every state. As each chapter offers exams 4 times a year, there is usually an exam date every few months.

Where do I take the test?

You take the CPC exam in person at a local testing center. To locate an exam site for the CPC:

What is the AAPC?

The AAPC, also known as the American Academy of Professional Coders, was created to provide professional development and standards for the medical coding industry. Through the AAPC, medical coders can receive documented certifications indicating their knowledge and understanding of Medical Billing, Medical Auditing, Medical Compliance, and more.

What is AAPC certification?

The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) will issue AAPC certifications to individuals who receive a passing score on the various CPC exams. The AAPC certification shows potential employers that you are educated in the field and have earned your badge of competence and dedication.

There are four primary AAPC certifications that you can earn:

  • CPC
  • CPC-H
  • CPC-P

The first three certifications we have listed are the basic Certified Professional Coder certifications. The CPC is for coders who work in a medical office and covers all of the basic aspects of the coding profession, such as coding guidelines, medical terminology, diagnostic codes, and more. The CPC is the most popular certification in the field, and is a great place to start.

The CPC-H is for outpatient department coders who work in a hospital setting. The CPC-P is for those who are employed by insurance providers, Medicare, or Medicaid. The fourth AAPC certification is the Certified Interventional Radiology Cardiovascular Coder (CIRCC). Those with the CIRCC certification are responsible for billing-related duties for cardiac invasive radiological procedures.

Beyond the four main AAPC certifications, coders can also pursue a certification in Medical Auditing, Medical Compliance, and the Practice Manager Certification. 

In addition to these primary certifications, coders also have the opportunity to increase their credentials and abilities by earning additional specialty certifications. These specialty certifications apply to specific areas of the medical field, such as surgery, cardiology, family practice, etc.

What is the difference between AHIMA and AAPC?

The AHIMA, or American Health Information Management Association provides certifications that are closely related to Certified Coding Specialists (CCS) and are primarily focused on the mastery of in-patient and out-patient coding.

The AAPC, as mentioned above, is related to the education and development of certified professional coders (CPC).

When it comes to employment, some clinics, or physician’s may prefer one certification over the other. It’s important when looking for employment as a medical coder to always acknowledge whether or not the employer has specified which certification they prefer.

Am I allowed to bring any notes or books?

You are only allowed to bring your three code books with you the day of the exam (your ICD-9, CPT, and HCPCS). The code books must be versions from the current or previous year. You cannot have anything attached/glued/stapled into your books, but you can highlight, tab, and have notes handwritten on the pages.

How many questions are on the CPC?

The Certified Professional Coder exam is a lengthy one, so you’ll definitely want to prepare for a long test that stretches out over a long period of time. The CPC exam is a 150-question exam—all multiple choice. You have 5 ½ hours to complete it. This time allotment gives you roughly two minutes per question.

How many questions can you miss on the CPC exam?

In order to pass the Certified Professional Coder exam, you must get a score of at least 70% or higher, which means you may miss a total of 45 answers. It’s important to keep track of your progressive scores as you take the test exams offered by the American Academy of Professional Coders.

If you miss more than 30% of the questions on the test exam, try and try again until you succeed! This is where the CareerStep learner’s resources and community forums really come in handy. Take note of the questions you miss and the areas you’re struggling with, and turn to our wealth of resources for additional study, or send out an SOS on our community forums for other Career Step learners who have conquered the AAPC CPC exam.

What is the pass rate for the CPC exam?

The AAPC has not released info about the pass/failure rates for the exam. Regardless of the CPC exam pass rate, CareerStep can give you the resources you need to be one of the success stories.

The pass rates for our CareerStep test-takers are much higher, as we prepare our learners with additional resources and quizzes along the way. And our final course exam will help prepare you for the real thing with a passing score of 75% or higher.

Is the CPC exam all multiple choice?

Yes, all 150 questions on the Certified Professional Coder exam are multiple choice. Some consider this a good thing, but be careful; with all of the different codes and coding scenarios, it can be easy to confuse answers because they’ll look quite similar.

You may want to reach out on Career Step’s community forums and ask if anyone has any useful tips for remembering the correct codes for certain situations. 

How many times can you take the AAPC CPC exam?

You can take the exam as many times as you need to pass it, but don’t forget about the CPC exam fees. As we’ve mentioned, it costs $390 to take the Certified Professional Coder exam, and with each payment you are also offered a free retake. If you fail both tries, you will be required to pay the CPC exam fees again for your next two tries.

What does this mean for you? It means that your study skills will make a massive difference in your bank account. Take all the time you need to study, take practice tests, and get help from others who have taken the exam so that you don’t have to pay $700 or more to join the field as a medical coding specialist.

Oh, and did we mention that our program includes one voucher for you to take the exam? So, if you complete your training through Career Step, take advantage of all of our additional study tools and resources, and ace the exam on your first or second try, you won’t have to pay another dime to earn your certification!

How long is the CPC exam?

The AAPC CPC exam is 150 questions, for which you are allowed five and a half hours to complete. It is imperative that you practice studying for long durations of time so that you can become accustomed to keeping your brain sharp for such a long time period.

What kinds of questions are on the exam?

About 70% of the questions are coding scenarios and the rest cover topics such as medical terminology, anatomy, etc.

These questions are broken up into 17 different subject areas with up to ten different questions in each. To help you study effectively, we’ve provided you with a list of content areas to prepare for:

  • Surgical procedures performed on the…
    • Integumentary system
    • Musculoskeletal system
    • Digestive system
    • Respiratory system
    • Cardiovascular system
    • Hemic and lymphatic systems
    • Mediastinum and diaphragm
    • Urinary system
    • Reproductive systems
    • Maternity and delivery
    • Endocrine system
    • Nervous system
  • Evaluation and management (Inpatient, outpatient, nursing, etc.)
  • Anesthesia
  • Radiology and laboratory pathology
  • Medicine and medical terminology
  • Anatomy
  • Coding guidelines, compliance, and reporting for ICD-10-CM, HCPCS, and ICD-10

What do I have to score to pass?

An overall score of 70% is a passing score on the CPC exam. Exam results are provided to you within 7-10 days following the exam date.

What if I don’t pass?

If you do not pass, AAPC provides you with scores from your weakest areas to help you study for a second attempt. A free retake on the CPC is included with the price you paid for the first attempt. You can retake the exam as soon as another exam date is available.

What is the Apprentice status?

If you do not have 2 years of work experience before taking the CPC exam, you will receive a CPC-A credential after passing. The “A” stands for apprentice. Once you submit proof of 2 years of coding work experience, you can have the apprentice status removed from your credential. The Career Step program satisfies one of the two years required.

What if I move? Will I ever have to re-certify?

The CPC is a national exam and is thus recognized in all 50 states. Once you pass, you do not have to retake the exam itself again as long as you submit 36 CEUs to AAPC every 2 years. For more information on CEUs, you can visit AAPC’s website.

How do I prepare for my CPC exam?

Everyone studies a little differently. Here are a few ideas:

  • Review areas you could improve on the Career Step final exam. If you passed your Career Step final exam on your first try, take advantage of the available retakes for additional practice.
  • Review the reports in the practicum and the information in the program.
  • Use the Career Step forums and Career Step support team for tips on the certification exams.
  • AAPC sells 3 practice exams and prep books that some students recommend for added preparation.

We hope all your questions about medical billing and coding have been answered with this post. Still have some questions? Feel free to call us or request more info on our website.

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55 thoughts on “Certified Professional Coder (CPC) Exam Details

    • Career Step says:

      Donna, there is only a slight difference in the CCA instead of the CPC. The CPC is certification through AAPC and CCA is through AHIMA. Hopefully that helps! Contact your instructor if you have additional questions. 🙂

    • Coding Support says:

      Hi Donna!

      The Career Step Professional Medical Coding and Billing course prepares you for either the CPC or the CCA. We encourage you to sit for whichever certification will be most sought after by the organizations with which you will be applying for employment.l

  1. Carin Columbus says:

    Is there a discount code for AACP to join, as I saw their was a cheaper rate for the exam, if you are a student.

    • Steve Hirchak says:

      Hi Karen,

      If you are a student of AAPC’s coding program the cost of the exam is $300 vs $380 is you are a student of another program or a non-student. Either way AAPC requires you to be a member of their organization in order to take their certification exams. An opportunity to save money comes in if you join AAPC as a student because you can purchase a student membership which is cheaper than a regular membership.

    • mbunderson says:

      Hi Solai, you can log in to your AAPC account to get a breakdown on what areas to work on. You can see percentages for each section so you will know where to direct your study efforts. Good luck!

  2. Doug says:

    So, the ICD 10-PCS isn’t part of the CPC exam? Is that correct? Another question is in regards to membership/testing fees. I may have misunderstood, but I thought part of the Career Step price was for a free exam and a 1 year membership. How much additional cost is there involved once we are ready to test?

    • mbunderson says:

      Doug, for the CPC exam, there is no PCS coding. This is a physician based exam, and in the physician setting, PCS codes are not used. Physicians use CPT codes.

      We do not cover the cost of AAPC membership; however, the cost of your CPC certification is included with your course unless you are attending a school in North Carolina. You can choose to take either the CPC or the CCA certification exam. As a reminder, if you are taking the CPC in 2018, you will need to update your books to the 2018 books.

      I hope this helps, and good luck!

  3. Krob says:

    If some passes the exam and still has the extra retake exam. Can they transfer that exam to a friend, so that friend won’t have to purchase one for $380.00?

    • mbunderson says:

      Hi Krob,
      If you passed the CPC on the first attempt, the second attempt at the exam cannot be transferred to another person. Your friend will need to purchase the exam herself.

  4. M.Noogu says:

    Hai Everyone,
    In last 3 model exam my percentage is above 140 out of 150 (96.0%) can i purchase exam? please help me. already two time get failed..

    • mbunderson says:

      I’m sorry you have had difficulty with passing the exam. Are you a Career Step student or graduate? If so, I encourage you to connect with other Career Step students in the student and graduate community at http://community.careerstep.com. You’ll need to create an account to login. If you’re not sure what your Student ID is, just shoot us an email at support@careerstep.com, and we’d be happy to look it up for you. Sometimes all you need is a little encouragement from others working toward the same goal.

      If you are referring to a module exam within the course, these can be taken as many times as needed to achieve your desired score. You can also reach out to the coding instructors at codingsupport@careerstep.com or by phone at 1-888-657-5752 opt 1 then opt 2, and we can assist you. For practice exams in preparation for CPC, you can purchase practice exams from AAPC. For the CCA exam, there are practice exams for purchase on the AHIMA website. Good luck.

  5. Cassandra Shogren says:

    What is the difference between the CPC exam and the CCA exam? Also, which is more desired in the employment companies?

    • mbunderson says:

      Hi Cassandra,
      While it’s extremely important that you get your industry certification after graduation, whether the CPC or CCA depends on the employers in your area. We recommend that you watch job postings and maybe even call a few employers in your area to see which they prefer (this also helps you start building your professional network!). We’ve had students report success with both exams. If you’d like to do a bit of research on your own, you can find our more about the CCA exam by visiting the AHIMA website (http://www.ahima.org/certification/CCA) or find out more about the CPC exam by visiting AAPC website (https://www.aapc.com/certification/cpc/). Luckily for Career Step graduates, we provide a voucher to take the exam of their choice upon graduation, so they don’t have to worry about any of the exam costs. 🙂

  6. Jillian says:

    I have an associate degree for health information technology. I would like to sit for my RHIT, but the college I graduated from is not yet accredited. In two months I’ll have been coding for two years now. Am I qualified to take this test? Would I be sufficiently prepared to pass?

  7. Awie says:

    I failed my 1st take last july and 2nd take this december..i got 66% only need a few more but still not lucky coz i run out if time. My question is how can i schedule for a retake this coming year and also where can i purchase the new books? Im from the phils

    • mbunderson says:

      Hi gopan,
      Thank you for your question. The CPC exam consists of 150 questions and you are given 5 ½ hours to complete the test. If you want to check what time you are scheduled to take the test, you’ll need to check with AAPC.

  8. Tammy says:

    December 16, 2017 I took AAPC’s COC exam and failed with 60%. I will be taking my second exam February 10, 2018 and know 2018 coding books are now in use. I really hate to purchase the 2018 books because when I pass my second attempt at exam I will be getting employed by a huge hospital who is already coding from 2018. My question is: from past experience do you know passing rate of people who took exam with previous year coding books?

    • mbunderson says:

      Hi Tammy,
      Unfortunately, we do not have statistics on the pass/fail rate of students based on using current coding books versus outdated books for exams proctored by other organization like AHIMA and AAPC. What we do know is that the updated exams will absolutely contain questions related to updated codes. We don’t know how many, so we always recommend to students that they update their books, because the risk of missing questions simply because they couldn’t locate codes in outdated books isn’t worth the possibility of failing.

      I hope that helps, and good luck!

  9. elizabeth Plaisance says:

    I enrolled in the Coding/Billing class in October. I will be at the point of needing codebooks in Feb.
    I will be receiving the newer 2018 books won’t I?
    Thank you,

    • mbunderson says:

      Hi Javeed,
      Thank you for your question, and I’m sorry you did not pass your exam. The CPC exam is administered by AAPC. You can contact them with any questions regarding the exam.

  10. ajitha says:

    Valuable replies, can u provide me the contact mail id of aapc. how can i contact the office regarding my exam.

  11. Rachel says:

    Is it enough to get overall 70% to pass the CPC exam, or we have to get 70% in each 3 session in the question paper.

  12. Anand says:

    I have recently attended an interview for medical coding. The company says they ll take all the cost of of CPC certification with a bond of 2 years. Is the certificate valid after 2 years? Or should i renew it? Is it possible to seek job in different companies based on the certification after 2 years?Helps me to find out.

  13. Tisha Wilson says:

    Is the 2018 COC study guide just like the 2016 version? Do you have to buy the 2018 version to take the exam course?

    • mbunderson says:

      Hi Tisha,
      Thank you for reaching out. Do you mean the CPC study guide? Since the CPC exam has been updated to reflect 2018 coding changes, it would probably be in your best interest to study with the most updated study guides before you take your test. You can check with your instructors for more information, or check with the AAPC, since they administer the test.

  14. Rose says:

    If I do not pass the exam the first time, and the cost of the exam was covered by the online course I took, will the retake test be covered in full still?

    • mbunderson says:

      Hi Rose,
      The Certified Professional Coder (CPC) exam, specifically, allows for a retake, so you should be good.

      Good luck!

  15. Sree Kuttan says:

    Iam not graduated..just completed bsc. Microbiology with 4 arrears.. Can i write cpc exam? Or what i do to become a coder?

    • mbunderson says:

      Hi Sree, thank you for your interest. To sit for the exam you need to think about the knowledge you will need to pass the exam as well as meeting the qualifications to take it and earn the CPC designation. You can check on AAPC’s site (they administer the exam) for the qualifications.

      As far as the knowledge of medical coding goes, it sounds like with the training you’ve already had, our Medical Coding and Billing program would be a great fit for you. It’s excellent preparation to take the CPC exam. Call one of our Academic Advisors if you have more questions at 800-411-7073.

    • mbunderson says:

      Hi Yaya,
      You are only allowed to bring your three code books with you the day of the exam. The code books must be versions from the current or previous year. You cannot have anything attached/glued/stapled into your books, but you can highlight, tab, and have notes handwritten on the pages.

      I hope that helps!

    • mbunderson says:

      Hi Krish, The CPC is administered by AAPC. If you have specific questions about the exam, please visit their website.

    • mbunderson says:

      Hi Uzma, you are only allowed to bring your three code books with you the day of the exam. The code books must be versions from the current or previous year. You cannot have anything attached/glued/stapled into your books, but you can highlight, tab, and have notes handwritten on the pages. So that would be a no for online resources and the laptop.

  16. Nicole says:

    Upon completion of this course, will I be eligible to sit for the CCS exam? I’m aware of the CPC being included but want the CCS.

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