Certified Professional Coder (CPC) Exam Details

Posted on 02.20.2024

Offered through the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC), the Certified Professional Coder (CPC) credential is a gold-standard in the industry, allowing you to stand out when you’re applying for medical billing and coding jobs. But how do you become certified? What is the exam like? Here’s what you need to know!

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 physicians 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.

What is the CPC exam?

The CPC, or Certified Professional Coder, exam is considered the gold-standard certification exam for medical billing and coding professionals. Earning this certification shows that you have expertise in coding medical services and procedures. The exam consists of 150 multiple-choice questions assessing 17 areas of knowledge, including CPT, HCPCS, and ICD-10-CM codes.

Read more: CPC or CCA: Which Medical Billing Certification is Right for You?

Is the CPC exam hard to pass?

The CPC exam is a challenging test, so it’s not easy to pass. It’s also not necessarily difficult if you’re prepared. In order to pass the exam, you need to have a minimum score of 70%. To make sure you have the highest chance of passing, it’s important to dedicate time to studying, taking practice exams, and reviewing your coding materials.

If you don’t pass the first time, that’s okay! The exam fee covers a second attempt.

Can I take my CPC exam online?

Yes, you can take the CPC exam online. If you choose to take the test online instead of going to a testing center, you will need to do so with a remote proctor. To successfully take the exam at home, you’ll need a quiet space, reliable, high-speed internet connection, a computer, and an external webcam that can be positioned to show your face, hands, keyboard, and the area around the keyboard.

Is the CPC exam open book?

You are allowed to reference certain coding books throughout the exam. Currently, the approved books are

You can only have one copy of each book for the exam. For example, you can’t have a 2020 and 2022 edition of the ICD-10.

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.

Can you take the CPC exam without going to school?

Yes, you can technically take the CPC exam without going to school. However, it is not recommended. The exam covers highly specific material, medical coding procedures, and codes. Without having studied medical coding, you may have a more difficult time passing the exam.

Read more: How a Skills-focused CPC Program Can Help You Prepare for the CPC Exam and a Job as a Medical Coder

Which medical coding certification pays the most?

The Certified Professional Compliance Officer (CPCO®) certification has the highest average salary at $81,495. However, it’s important to remember that salary can vary based on your experience, your employer, and even where you live.

Read more: How CareerStep Can Help You Get Hired

How long does CPC certification last?

CPC certification is valid for two years. To maintain your certification, you’ll need to earn 36 continuing education units every two years.

Read more: Is CareerStep Legit?

How long should I study for the CPC exam?

You should study for as long as you think necessary to pass the exam. Remember, it’s not an easy test so you definitely don’t want to cram the night before you’re scheduled to take it.

What is a good score for the CPC exam?

To pass the CPC exam, you need to have a score of at least 70%.

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 $499 and membership costs $210. If you’re a current student, you could qualify for the student membership price, which is $145.

How do I sign up for the CPC?

To sign up for the CPC exam, you’ll need to go to the AAPC website. From the “certifications” page, you’ll click on “Schedule Your Exam.” Then you’ll walk through the steps for scheduling, including purchasing the exam or redeeming a voucher, and selecting a testing site (if you’re taking the test in person).

Where do I take the test?

You can take the exam online at home if you choose to. However, if you prefer to take the test in person, you will take it at a local testing center. You can visit the AAPC website to find testing center locations.

How many questions are on the CPC?

The CPC exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions.

Is the CPC exam all multiple choice?

Yes, all 100 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.

How long is the CPC exam?

Test-takers are given 4 hours to complete the CPC exam, whether they take the test in person or online with a remote proctor.

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 30 answers.

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 $499 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.

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 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.

What if I move? Will I ever have to recertify?

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.

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 CareerStep final exam. If you passed your CareerStep 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 CareerStep forums and CareerStep support team for tips on the certification exams.
  • AAPC sells 3 practice exams and prep books that some students recommend for added preparation.

Prepare for a career as a medical coding professional with CareerStep

Interested in medical coding? Through CareerStep’s online Medical Coding and Billing Professional Program, you can build healthcare and coding skills that could help you take the next steps toward a new career – and give you the foundational knowledge that can help you pass the CPC exam! To learn more about the program, give us a call at 1-800-411-7073!