General Discussions

For Future CCS Takers!

Picture of Emily Ol
For Future CCS Takers!
by Emily Ol - Friday, 5 February 2016, 1:54 PM

Hi everyone!

I just took the CCS yesterday and learned some valuable tips.  Linda wanted me to post some of them for you all, so here goes!

First:  Make sure you have the correct books and book years!  AHIMA and AAPC will differ, so be sure you are looking at the most recent AHIMA CCS book list.  As of 2/5/2016, the ICD-10 books need to be 2015 or 2016.  The only CPT book that is allowed is the 2015 AMA CPT.  The moderator said I was the ONLY person they have allowed to test for the CCS this year at that particular testing center because everyone else had come with incorrect books.

Second:  The ONLY things allowed into the testing room with you are as follows:  ICD-10-CM/PCS books, CPT, medical dictionary, drivers' license (or other ID), and a notepad that the testing facility provides for you.  You can't have any food, water, watches, calculators, loose paper, pens, pencils, purse, phone, etc.  They provide a locker with a key to store any of those nonessentials.

Third:  This may vary by testing location, but according to my emails with AHIMA and talking to Pearson Vue, this is what they said about tabbing/writing in books:  "No tabs whatsoever are allowed in your books unless the tabs are permanent tabs that you can't remove."  (In other words, the book manufacturers would have had to make the book with permanent tabs).  This means that even the sticky tabs in the front of your CPT book are not allowed!  The moderator even tore out that page so I couldn't bring it into the test with me.  (I was able to keep it, but I had to put it in my locker.)  For writing, AHIMA and the moderator said "no writing" in the books.  I had called Pearson Vue a few weeks earlier, and they said "some writing is okay as long as it doesn't look like you wrote a whole book."  This is conflicting information.  I erred on the side of caution and only had 2 tiny sections in which I wrote a couple random notes.  I didn't have any bubbling/highlighting in my CPT.  If you do have bubbling/highlighting/lots of written notes, I suggest you contact AHIMA or your local Pearson Vue for their opinions.  Get it in email format, that way you can bring written proof with you on test day!

Fourth:  Andrews prepares us well.  I felt very confident in the coding sections.  The case questions are similar to the intermediate Coding Clinic cases I think.  There ARE outpatient questions, so be sure to brush up on outpatient guidelines and using the CPT!  Also, be sure to study health insurance (DRG, APCs, the various organizations that deal with insurance).  Our "Understanding Health Insurance" book is huge, and let's be honest, it is dry reading.  BUT it has very useful information that will help you on those questions.  Also, be sure to study Status Indicators (in reference to APCs) and Discharge Status Codes.  There aren't a ton of those types of questions, but those were my Achilles heel, so I'm giving you all a heads up!  Just be sure you have a general understanding in how information is gathered regarding patient care for billing purposes.  Like I mentioned before, there aren't a TON of those types of questions, but there were a few more than I expected which may have tipped the scale for me negatively.  Don't make the same mistake I did of focusing mainly/only on the coding aspect.


Sixth:  Take a deep breath and remember this:  It is just another test.  Nothing horrible happens if you fail!  You gain experience.  You will see what you know well and will find out what you need to work on.  If you fail, you're still an amazing coder and you can try again.  If you pass, you're also an amazing coder!  I know everyone wants to pass, but it's a very hard test!  Our nerves get the best of us at times.  If I don't pass (which is a definite possibility), I will be scheduling that exam as soon as I can, practicing coding questions, researching more about Health Insurance, and I WILL obtain my CCS and I WILL be a medical coder.

Keep calm and code on all you amazing medical coders!

Picture of Lida St
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Lida St - Friday, 5 February 2016, 2:35 PM

Thank you, Emily, for taking time to give the rest of us so many articulate, practical and very helpful tips. You have saved me and I'm sure many of our classmates a lot of pain and inconvenience with your cautions about the books, and hopefully a few jitters and test points from knowing more what to expect in the exam. I'm still in the beginning of Module IV so it will be a while before I attempt the CCS exam. I bet you did much better than you think. My hat is off to you and all our other classmates who have gotten through this course and even just taken the certification exams. Please keep us posted!

Picture of Nicki Br, CCS, CPC
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Nicki Br, CCS, CPC - Friday, 5 February 2016, 2:49 PM
Huge thank you Emily!!  This is invaluable.

Keep us posted on how you did!



Picture of Donna G
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Donna G - Friday, 5 February 2016, 3:16 PM

Thank you.  What a valuable "bit" of information.  

Donna G 

Picture of Kim Jo, CCS, CPC, CDEO, CRC, ICD-10-CM/PCS Trainer
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Kim Jo, CCS, CPC, CDEO, CRC, ICD-10-CM/PCS Trainer - Friday, 5 February 2016, 3:32 PM

Thanks so much for sharing.  What wonderful tips!  This helps quiet nerves and also gives us a heads up on what we need to do to prepare when the time comes. 

Let us know when you pass so we can rejoice with you.

- Kim

Picture of Kell Fe, CCS, CPC-A
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Kell Fe, CCS, CPC-A - Friday, 5 February 2016, 5:17 PM

What a great post!!  I am still rather green and in Module I but I tend to fret about the "unknown."  (Yes, as is what the heck happens at testing and what do I need to know besides how to code!!)  Thank you so very much for this!!

Keep us posted ... I bet you did great :D

Enjoy your weekend!


Picture of Nisiba Ne, CCS, CPC-A
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Nisiba Ne, CCS, CPC-A - Friday, 5 February 2016, 6:53 PM

Thank you so much for sharing it. This will definitely help us when we sit for the CCS exam.

Good luck for ahead!


Picture of Mardenia An
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Mardenia An - Friday, 5 February 2016, 7:23 PM

Valuable information!  Thank you!

Linda Andrews, Director
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Linda Andrews - Saturday, 6 February 2016, 9:17 AM

Very helpful!  Thank you so much for posting.

Another thing to be aware of while you're taking the test is, people may leave...early. Don't assume that they are finished and you are behind.  MANY people give up when they realize they didn't have adequate training and they're in over their heads. You won't have to do that.

Picture of Emily Ol
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Emily Ol - Saturday, 6 February 2016, 11:03 AM

Thank you all for your well wishes and you're welcome!  I'll keep you all posted on how I do, pass or fail!  It's all a learning experience either way :)

Picture of Becky Sh, CPC-A
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Becky Sh, CPC-A - Sunday, 7 February 2016, 12:58 PM

Thank you Emily!  This is invaluable information :)

Picture of Instructor Peggy
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Instructor Peggy - Sunday, 7 February 2016, 6:06 PM

Yes, that IS conflicting information.  Just a word of advice… never ask AHIMA or the AAPC questions on policies by telephone. They will say anything over the phone. A lot of times that is because the people who are answering just really don't know. They are people who answer the phone, that's all. If you need an opinion, email them so that you get a response in writing. When you do that, you will find that they most often quote something on their website. 

According to the published exam guidelines, some writing is allowed in your codebooks. Also, only handmade tabs are prohibited. The tabs that come on the sheet in the front of your book should be acceptable because they are not handmade.  (The person who answered your question was thinking of a rule from years ago when tabs had to be permanently affixed and no writing was allowed. That person did not keep up with the changes to the rules that occurred when the publisher of your textbook stopped selling books with the tabs glued in already.)

That being said, I never recommend tabbing your books anyway. You shouldn't need to. 

This is what the guidelines say: 

Code books with handwritten notations, or comments are allowed but must be free of any notes containing  coding rules and guidelines from other reference  materials (for example, Coding Clinic, CPT Assistant, and similar materials). No handmade tabs will be  allowed. Post-It® Notes and any loose materials are not al-lowed (code books are for use on CCA, CCS, and CCS-P exams only). The testing center staff reserves the right to deny code books that contain excessive writing and infor-mation that may give the candidate an unfair advantage.

 For the CCS exam, you typically do not need to know outside information. The questions should be based primarily upon what is in the codebook itself, the guidelines, and what you have learned in your textbook. There should be minimal need to write notes in your book. You can see, however, why I recommend writing very lightly in very small writing in pencil. You don't want any notes to stick out and attract the suspicion of someone at Pearson.

 Just for comparison, I have never had anyone at Pearson even open one of my books. I have even attempted to demonstrate that there was nothing in my books, and have them tell me they didn't want to see them. It seems to vary a great deal from one testing location to another. 

 When I take these exams, I take my notated books in with me, but leave a blank copy from work in the car.  I also bring a copy of the other years book if there might be a question about which one it is. That way, if someone doesn't like my book, I can still take the exam. 

 I also bring a copy of the candidate guide and every bit of paperwork that is available on the AHIMA website. If there is any question of what year's book will be used, or anything else, I write to AHIMA in email and get a written response from them. I print that out and take it with me to the exam. 

 You will be better off in the long run if you learn using minimal notations in your codebook. When you are learning, you can make your notations on sticky notes so that you can later remove them as you learn what you need to learn. 

Picture of Emily Ol
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Emily Ol - Tuesday, 9 February 2016, 2:28 PM

Thanks for the additional information Peggy!  I just wanted to add in a couple extra comments below:

The tab situation is such a sticky thing.  I personally don't tab, but for those of you who do, definitely contact AHIMA and Pearson and get written/emailed confirmation to take with you.  The "no tabs are allowed" I mentioned was from someone at AHIMA.  I contacted them on their website in their "chat now" feature, and she said no tabs whatsoever were allowed.  I'm not saying she was right as I also saw the reference that Peggy posted, but if you want to tab, be sure you get some sort of written statement saying it's okay to use the ones in the front of your book!

I agree with Peggy on the handwritten notes as well.  I did, however, write a few notes that aren't in our books.  I'm not sure if my test was typical of the new ICD-10 CCS tests or not, but there were a decent amount of questions on my test that were not answerable by looking in my coding books.  (Things I mentioned in my first post.)  For example, I wrote down the different discharge status codes and the OPPS status indicators.  If I have to take the test again, I may write down some of the organizations initials with their full names as well because I have a tendency to draw a blank on them during testing.  For the most part, the questions can be answered from our books, but you definitely want to be prepared for other aspects of the coding world/technical questions.

Picture of Nicki Br, CCS, CPC
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Nicki Br, CCS, CPC - Tuesday, 9 February 2016, 3:27 PM

Thanks Peggy and Emily!  I do not have a lot of tabs or notes in my books, but I do have the CPT tabs on there that came with the book.  Maybe I will just remove them prior so as to not have to worry about it!

Emily - when you were preparing, you used AHIMA's study guide for the CCS, correct?  I plan on getting that when I purchase the test, but I also just purchased the Professional Review Guide for the CCS Exam - I wonder if the content of it will be any different or useful?  I will keep folks posted.  


Picture of Emily Ol
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Emily Ol - Wednesday, 10 February 2016, 10:01 AM

Nicki - Please let me know about the Profession Review Guide in case I have to take the CCS again.

I did use AHIMA's study guide and found it very informative.  It helped prepare me for some areas on the test that I wouldn't have studied on my own.  I found it very comparable except some of the questions on the actual CCS seemed to be more vague (could have just been my nerves though).  I did very well on AHIMA's practice exams, and I don't think I did as well on the actual CCS.  Again, I think that was just my nerves and me concentrating so hard on finishing on time.

Speaking of time, the CCS is 4 hours long.  I finished it in 3 hours which gave me an hour to go back and look at my flagged questions and then started to go through and recheck some of my answers before time ran out.  Just an FYI :)

Picture of Tracey Pa, CPC-A
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Tracey Pa, CPC-A - Wednesday, 10 February 2016, 10:27 AM

Thanks for posting this; your experience is so helpful to the rest of us! Best wishes-- I hope you passed with flying colors!

Picture of Fredia Se, CPC-A
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Fredia Se, CPC-A - Wednesday, 10 February 2016, 11:34 AM

Thank you so much for posting this!  I'm about to finish Module 3 and schedule CPC so any and all test-taking tips are so very appreciated! 

Best of luck on your CCS! 

Picture of Tara Ha, CPC-A
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Tara Ha, CPC-A - Tuesday, 16 February 2016, 9:39 AM

Thanks Emily and Peggy for the wonderful suggestions and tips! Test taking of any kind makes me cringe, and I am a ball of nerves so this post is one that I will print out and keep handy when my turn comes around. Hoping you passed the CCS Emily and please keep us posted. :)

Picture of Emily Ol
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Emily Ol - Friday, 19 February 2016, 3:43 PM

You're welcome ladies!

I'm VERY happy to announce I passed my CCS!  I just found out this afternoon!  Andrews prepares us well, so trust the process!

Also, I wanted to send a huge shout out to Linda and our amazing instructors!!  Virtual *hugs* ladies!

Picture of Tami Em, CCS, CPC-A
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Tami Em, CCS, CPC-A - Friday, 19 February 2016, 8:12 PM

Congratulations Emily!!

Picture of Donna G
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Donna G - Saturday, 20 February 2016, 4:56 AM

Congratulations to you, Emily.

A few questions please.  How may hours are allotted for the CCS.  Did the proctor check your code books to see if there was any writing?  What year was the ICD-10 code book you used? and last, what about bathroom breaks?

Again, congrats.  Donna G

Picture of Emily Ol
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Emily Ol - Saturday, 20 February 2016, 10:11 AM

Thanks ladies!


CCS is 4 hours long.

Yes, the proctors checked my coding books for writing and loose papers.  They both checked individually before AND after my test (I assume to make sure I didn't take notes about the test in my books).

I used the 2016 ICD-10-CM/PCS books.  There is an "acceptable book list" on AHIMA's site under the CCS exam which will list the years/brands of books you can use.  Be sure to check this before scheduling your exam so that you have the correct books per AHIMA's guidelines.

You can take bathroom breaks, but they do not stop the time on your exam, so you are on the clock if you take a break.  Plus, you have to be logged out and logged back in.  In my case, this meant waving my arm for the proctor to come get me, signing me out on her computer, having my palm scanned, walking/going to the bathroom, coming back to the testing room, being logged back in, having my arms/glasses checked for hidden notes, having my palm scanned, and then walked back into the room.  It's not quick to take a bathroom break, so try to avoid it if you can!

Picture of Dale Sp, CPC-A, CCS
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Dale Sp, CPC-A, CCS - Wednesday, 9 March 2016, 11:08 AM

Congratulations Emily and thank you for sharing your exam experience.  It was very helpful on my passing the exam as well.  I especially concur on your Fourth Point for future CCS takers.

Picture of Teri Ta, CCS, CPC-A
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Teri Ta, CCS, CPC-A - Tuesday, 22 March 2016, 7:30 PM


Thanks so much for sharing this invaluable information with us. This will help tremendously in preparing for the CCS exam.

Best of luck to you in your new career as a medical coder. You are going to do great!!  



Picture of Nicki Br, CCS, CPC
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Nicki Br, CCS, CPC - Thursday, 24 March 2016, 10:00 PM

In addition to all of Emily's great advice, I took Instructor Debby's advice to me and just drilled practice test questions.  I used AHIMA's study guide and The Professional Review Guide - both have online components where you can design your own mock exams.  

Picture of Teri Ta, CCS, CPC-A
Re: For Future CCS Takers!
by Teri Ta, CCS, CPC-A - Saturday, 26 March 2016, 11:13 AM

Thanks Nicki!!