Students preparing for the Certified Professional Biller (CPB) exam need all the practice they can get. Consisting of 200 questions to be correctly answered in 5.66 hours, candidates want to have the answers on the tip of their tongue if they want to pass the test on the first try. To help familiarize students with their upcoming exam, we have compiled this guide of the most important and authoritative study materials available online.
In recent years, improved technology has made self-paced learning as effective as a campus-based education for many adults; using recorded lectures and tutorials, simulations, multi-media case studies and practice tests, serious students augment their studies and master content without leaving their living rooms.
Certificate candidates are cautioned to research test prep materials to ensure they buy only what they need; many make the mistake of succumbing to test anxiety and time pressures by overspending, only to learn they could have mastered the subject matter with a fraction of the materials. This guide should help the savvy student narrow down their prep materials to a manageable and affordable few.
Part 1: Exam Breakdown
As noted above, the CPB exam consists of 200 questions that the candidate has five and two-thirds hours to complete. Unlike some, this exam is taken at one of the many testing facilities located across the country. Official, approved manuals may be used, and are highly recommended, in the open book format of the test; these manuals include CPT, ICD-9-CM and HCPCS Level II. The exam is open only to members, and membership is $125 for individuals and $70 for students. The fee for the exam is $300, generally, although only $260 for student members.
Exam content is divided into questions in seven categories. Forty-four (44) questions will be given over different types of insurance (like Medicare, private commercial and worker’s compensation). Twenty-five (25) questions will cover billing regulations (including Local Coverage Determination (LCD)). Ten (10) questions will test the candidate’s knowledge of HIPAA & compliance (covering record retention and privacy).
Knowledge of reimbursement & collections (covering Fair Debt Collections and bankruptcy issues) will be tested over twenty-eight (28) questions, and another twenty-eight (28) questions will cover billing (including appeals and denials). Fifteen (15) questions will assess the candidate’s knowledge of coding (covering the ICD-9), and a whopping fifty (50) questions will test the student’s skills in case analysis (applying competencies to a real world situation).
Part 2: Finding the Right Test-Prep Platform
At this level of education, open book exams are almost always harder to take than traditional exams. Examiners of open book tests craft amazingly, almost ridiculously difficult questions in order to ensure that the test taker has truly mastered the material, as well as the manual. In fact, the latter is so important, that the AAPC examiners have specifically included it in their exam tips, to wit: “Successful examinees have well-thumbed code books . . . and know how to quickly locate the codes, guidelines, tables and instructions within them.”
To develop this level of familiarity with the hundreds of pages in each of the three manuals you will take into the exam, additional practice is highly recommended. Students are encouraged to take advantage of free study materials available online. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) offer a variety of Web-based training courses, including those that cover Medicare billing, fraud, waste and abuse, HIPAA and diagnosis coding using the ICD-9-CM.
It goes without question that to succeed in the exam, candidates must obtain copies of the approved manuals, which may be purchased separately or bundled for as little as $134.95. Practice makes perfect, and most candidates preparing for the certification exam also take advantage of stand-alone practice exams. AAPC members frequently take advantage of the CPB practice exam, which may be taken online and, for members, is relatively inexpensive at only $29.95.
Many students also invest in an online medical billing course; this one, offered through the AAPC, is presented in a series of 16 modules, each of which includes a practice exam at the end. Students have 4 months to complete the course, which is taken entirely online and on their own time. In addition to the instruction and additional exam practice, AAPC members are awarded 40 Continuing Education Units (CEU), at a reduced cost to members of $1,195.
Candidates often want additional instruction in medical terminology and, therefore, take a specialized course in order to become fluent with the unique lexicon of the medical field. At a cost of $520 for members, and consisting of 10 module tests that may be completed over 2 months, AAPC members receive 20 CEUs upon successful completion of the course.
Part 3: What Else Do I Need?
CPB Bodhisattvas have compiled a list of test-taking tips to help you succeed with your exam:
- Get a good night’s sleep. Don’t stay up cramming the night before.
- As soon as the test starts, take a few minutes to scan the entire test. Then, answer the easiest and shortest questions first.
- Keep track of your pace. With 5.66 hours and 200 questions, you have just over 2 minutes to answer each question. Don’t spend too much time on an intractable problem. Move on!
- Bring snacks and eat breakfast before the test.
- Answer each question even if you have to guess. It’s better than a blank response.
- Dress in layers and bring a sweater – you don’t know if the room will be sweltering or freezing so be prepared.
After you take the test, remember the following:
- It takes about a week to receive your exam scores online and nearly a month via USPS.
- You do not need to pass each of the seven sections.
- You do need to pass, overall, with at least 70% correct.
- You get to retake the exam for free once within the same year if you failed after your first attempt.
- Exams will be reported to the candidates with exact scores and areas of study (65% or less).
Although a temptation, test-takers are advised to not overdo their test preparation or anxiety. Most test-takers do well, particularly since there are no surprise questions on the exam. Even those who fail the first time should not despair, since test scores are not permanently recorded. In any event, the best cure for pre-test anxiety is studying.