For more than ten years, instructor Pamela Biffle CPC, CPC-I, CHCC, CHCO has been preparing folks to pass the Certified Professional Coder exam, so we were thrilled when she agreed to share some of her sage advice with us.
Think Like a Teacher
Biffle teaches coders who are fresh out of college classrooms, as well as coders with lots of on-the-job experience who want to boost their careers with a CPC. And despite their inexperience, coders right out of college classes have an initial edge when it comes to the exam, she reports.
That’s because folks who’ve been in school recently have learned to “think like teachers” because their success in class has been tied to how well they can predict the kinds of things their instructors will put on quizzes and exams. But experienced coders – who are more used to the real world – can develop an edge of their own if they spend some time developing CPC exam skills, says Biffle, who devotes most of the classes she teaches for Coding Cert to test taking.
Biffle advises experienced coders to forget the idiosyncratic guidelines from carriers while taking the exam. To answer the CPC questions correctly, you must rely on the official guidelines in your ICD-9 and CPT manuals, and some coders who’ve been dealing with carriers a lot aren’t as familiar with the official guidelines as they need to be to pass the exam.
Can you answer this sample CPC exam question?
When teachers are writing multiple choice exams, they often like to include a choice that’s really wrong (a gimme), a choice that’s wrong, and a couple choices that are plausible, Biffle explains. And the folks who write the CPC think like teachers too. You can save yourself time during the exam if you eliminate the “wrong, wrong, dead wrong choices right away,” she says. As you choose among the more plausible answers, it helps to consider what coding principle the question is trying to test you on.
Let’s look at how this works with this simple CPC exam sample question.
Provide the correct ICD-9-CM code for choledocholithiasis with obstruction.
The correct answer is B. To understand how to get through a question like this quickly, let’s turn to the 574.xx section of our ICD-9 manual.
If we look at the pink box under 574 (Cholelithiasis), we read that we use the 5th digit 0 for “without mention of obstruction” and the 5th digit 1 for “with obstruction.” Because the question mentions “with obstruction,” we immediately have two “wrong, wrong, dead wrong” answers – Answers A and D, which have the 5th digit 0.
A lot of CPC exam questions are trying to get you to look at details in the coding scenario to choose properly among codes. Unlike some doctors’ documentation (which can be vague, as seasoned coders know), the exam questions tell you what you need to know to select the right code.