What You Need to Know Before Taking the CCS® Exam

What You Need to Know Before Taking the CCS® Exam

by Mary Beth York, CCS, CCS-P, CIC
Senior Associate, Barry Libman Inc.

The fundamental goal of the Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) coding credential is to demonstrate mastery of acute hospital inpatient and outpatient coding skills. This is not for novice coders! Experience in applying codes is critically important to your likelihood of success.

If you meet one of the following eligibility requirements, the CCS Exam may be right for you.

  • By Credential: RHIA®, RHIT®, or CCS-P® OR
  • By Education: The following courses MUST be completed; anatomy & physiology, pathophysiology, pharmacology, medical terminology, reimbursement methodology, intermediate/advanced ICD diagnostic/procedural and CPT coding; OR
  • By Experience: Minimum of two (2) years of acute hospital coding experience directly applying codes; OR
  • By Credential with Experience: CCA® plus one (1) year of acute hospital coding experience directly applying codes; OR
  • Other Coding credential from other certifying organization plus one (1) year acute hospital coding experience directly applying codes.

Experience has demonstrated that preparation is key to CCS exam success. Successful CCS exam preparation is twofold. You must

  1. Know your coding guidelines well enough to recall, analyze and apply them to either a multiple choice question or a case scenario.
  2. Know how to use your ICD-10-CM, ICD-10-PCS, and CPT code books skillfully.

Sounds simple but it is a lot of work! Having prepared hundreds of students to take and pass the CCS exam, I have identified the attributes of a successful CCS exam study plan. Make the most of the time you have to prepare for the exam by following these suggestions:

  • Ideally, allow 8-13 weeks of preparation time. It takes time to master all the material with sufficient skill to quickly be able to recall it during this high-pressure exam.
  • Don’t go it alone: studying with a buddy and/or group will keep you focused and on-track.
  • Read the AHIMA Candidate Guide, which provides specific details of the exam’s contents. Many basic questions on exam composition are answered in the Guide.
  • Study using your code books and do not depend on an encoder to arrive at the right answer. The CCS exam is based on your ability to use the books skillfully. (Remember, you will not have an encoder available to you during the exam.)
  • Read and thoroughly understand the ICD-10-CM and ICD-10-PCS Official Guidelines for Coding and Reporting.
  • Review Coding Clinic for ICD-10 and AMA’s CPT Assistant. Issues that arise in these publications often appear on the test.

Good luck!

About the Author

Mary Beth York, CCS, CCS-P, CIC
Mary Beth York has over twenty year's experience in coding, auditing and documentation improvement for hospitals ranging from community to teaching hospitals as well as physician group practices. Mary Beth is the author of Libman Education's highly successful CCS Exam Prep course, as well as Libman Education's highly successful CCA Exam Review course. 

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