Taking the CCS Certification Exam. Is Now the Right Time?


by Cari A. Greenwood, RHIA, CCS, CPC, CICA

In the past year AHIMA revised their requirements for candidates to be eligible to sit for the CCS examination. While AHIMA still recommends that a candidate meet one or more qualifications from a robust list of academic preparation, coding experience, and/or other professional credentials, it is no longer required.

So, while anyone may sit for the CCS exam, the question for you as a candidate (or as a leader wishing to encourage your staff to obtain the credential) is whether it is the right thing to do at this point in your career.

Here are a couple of items to consider as you decide whether setting a goal to obtain the CCS credential is the right career move for you and if now is the right point in your professional development to pursue this achievement.

Know What You’re Up Against
Earning a CCS credential is a mark of achievement. It is not the starting point of a coding career. The CCS is a mastery-level coding credential signifying command of the ICD-10-CM, ICD-10-PCS, and CPT coding systems, including their guidelines, in the abstract and in application. In addition to being an expert in code assignment, a CCS must also possess fundamental skills relevant to data quality and accuracy.

If you are ‘young’ in your career, it’s recommended that you focus on learning to code encounters completely and with accuracy and on the understanding the relationship between coding practices and data quality, before you turn your sights to the CCS.

Coding Credentials Matter
Read any job listing for a coding professional and a coding credential is the most commonly seen qualification required by an employer looking to grow their coding team.

Employers want it all! They want candidates with experience in coding for the particular setting for which they are recruiting and they want candidates with commitment to maintaining their professional skills through continuing education and training.

Having a CCS credential on your resume sets you apart as one who possesses the skills and drive employers are searching for. Having this leg up in the hiring process makes this credential worth the effort necessary to earn it.

The Exam is Rigorous
The CCS is a four-hour timed exam that will challenge both your expertise and your stamina. The exam provides a variety of questions or item types that require candidates to apply their coding knowledge, skills, and/or experience to encounters in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

Ideally you should be shooting to pass the exam on your first attempt. You don’t want to take this test twice, not just because of the expense, but because of the effort it requires.

Next Steps
Whether now is the time to advance your career by earning the CCS, or your employer requires that you become CCS certified to keep your position, there are things you can do to improve your chances of success on the exam.

1. Know what is on the exam. You can and should know what to expect before you sit for the exam. Code assignment, documentation and queries are the main focus, comprising about 70% of the exam. The other 30% of the exam covers regulatory compliance. Downloading the exam content outline gives you the specific details of what is covered on the exam. Knowing the specifics will help you identify areas where you lack expertise.

2. Broaden your experience. Understanding something like coding, in theory, and applying it to real world scenarios can be vastly different. Thus, the first time you attempt to code an inpatient record should not be during the exam. Prior to the exam, seek opportunities to code those types of healthcare encounters that are not part of your regular coding responsibilities to get feedback on your accuracy.

3. Study, Study, Study. Careful preparation for the CCS exam includes spending time studying! Once you know what topics are covered by the exam and you have had some experience with coding encounters outside your comfort zone, you will have a good idea of the areas where you need to level up you skills. Let this guide you in determining where to concentrate your study efforts. Keep in mind that practice in locating the correct codes for diagnosis and procedures should not be the sum total of your study. Effective study of ICD-10-CM, ICD-10-PCS and CPT includes familiarity with and the ability to accurately apply the guidelines that govern their assignment.

4. Get help. Consider joining a class that provides a structured and complete review of the exam content to ensure nothing on the test will be a surprise. (Libman Education offers a great CCS Exam Review course as well as a CCS Practice Exam.)

One of the best things about obtaining the CCS credential is that if you maintain your CEUs, you never have to take the test again!

Good luck!

CCS Exam Review with Live Instruction
Saturdays, October 2 – November 6, 2021
Instructor-led classes to improve your chance of CCS success!
Online, self-paced, interactive and comprehensive review. Valuable study and test-taking strategies. Knowledge checks and coding scenarios to ensure mastery of material.

Taught by Cari A. Greenwood, RHIA, CCS, CPC, CICA, an experienced coding educator with more than 18 years of experience in HIM. Learn more here.

About the Author

Cari A. Greenwood, RHIA, CCS, CPC, CICA
With more than 18 years of experience in health information management (HIM), Cari Greenwood, RHIA, CCS, CPC, CICA, is a well-rounded HIM professional who holds RHIA and CCS credentials from AHIMA, a CPC credential from AAPC, and is an AHIMA-approved ICD-10-CM/PCS Trainer and an HFMA-Certified Inpatient Coding Auditor. Through her 12 plus years as a coding educator, Cari has gathered insight and information derived from her experience working with individual professionals and teams as they pursue advanced HIM training.

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