Medical coders who seek certification can choose among three levels of certification offered by the American Academy of Professional Coders, including the Certified Professional Coder, or CPC, designation. The CPC credential is for medical coders working in a physician's office, and provides training in all aspects of medical terminology necessary for coding procedures, claims and reimbursements. Candidates who fail the CPC exam can focus their preparation to shore up weak knowledge areas prior to retaking the test.


The CPC exam consists of 150 multiple-choice questions. You have five hours and 40 minutes to complete the exam, which is given as an open code book exam. The exam is divided into three sections, and you must score a minimum of 70 percent on each section to pass the exam. If you don't score 70 percent or better on one or two of the three sections, you will fail the exam. Approved manuals for use during the exam are the "AMA CPT Professional Coding Book" for the year of the exam, the "ICD-9-CM Expert for Physicians, Volumes 1 and 2 Coding Book" and the "HCPCS Level II Coding Book." Use the current testing year's version of these books as coding numbers are updated every January.


The AAPC recommends you take a medical terminology and anatomy course, then enroll in a CPC preparation course that is taught online or in a classroom setting. The preparation course provides training in basic coding. Candidates should also purchase the "Official CPC Certification Study Guide" for the current year of the exam. The guide offers reviews on terminology, coding for each body system and test-taking techniques to maximize your chances of success on the exam. You can also take advantage of CPC review classes offered by local chapters of the AAPC, and online practice exams to gauge your level of preparation.


If you do not earn 70 percent on all three sections of the CPC exam, you are given a "fail" score. This isn't the end of the world, however, because the AAPC lets you retake the exam within a 12-month period at no cost. You will have to register again to obtain a testing date, but you will not have to pay any testing fees. If you fail the retest, you have to start the process all over again, which means registering for the exam and paying the appropriate fees. You can take the test as many times as needed to earn a passing score, but you can only do so twice per year.

Retesting Preparation

When studying for your retest, first review the feedback given you by the examination results. The AAPC provides areas of study for all candidates who did not pass the exam. This highlights the material on the exam with which you struggled, and gives you the chance to focus on the sections that need improvement. Go back to your preparation material, but hone in on your weaker subjects, concepts and skills. You will now be able to reverse-engineer your preparation, knowing where to focus your studying efforts.