July 13, 2009 | | Comments 9
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The CCDS exam experience

“Only a life lived for others is worth living.” – Albert Einstein

Interesting that a man most known for his intelligence is quoted for his humanity and belief about sharing with others. With that thought in mind, I thought that I would share with the ACDIS membership my experience with test taking and the Certified Clinical Documentation Specialist (CCDS) exam so that others may benefit from my experience.

The most frequent question that I’ve had lately from other CDS’s once they’ve learned that I have taken the CCDS is exam is what I thought of the exam and what is the best way to prepare. I have been working with and training CDS’s for several years and the first word of advice that I can offer is to be confident that your knowledge base and experience gained from working in the role on a daily basis will serve as the best resource. Having a strong clinical background, knowing coding guidelines, understanding how to analyze the data and being able to communicate RAC purpose are areas that you should be confident in before you should consider taking the exam. However, like every other exam one takes as an adult, there is no true way to “study” for this exam. Instead, as a former nursing professor, I would like to offer some advice on test taking that might be helpful.

I made sure that I got a good night’s rest before the exam. Not easy to do in Vegas. Upon awakening the morning of the exam, I ate a protein rich but light breakfast and arrived at the test site early. I found my place, made a trip to the restroom and then spent a few moments relaxing and just getting comfortable in my assigned space. I find that this is key to staying relaxed and confident and doing well.

Once the test began, I made sure to read the directions carefully and listen to the instructions supplied by Brian Murphy. Although those of us who took the first exam in Vegas took a paper/pencil exam, I realize that most of you will take a computerized version. Probably the most important strategy to think about when taking a test by computer is time management. Do a quick calculation of how much time is allotted for the exam and divide by the number of questions on the test. This lets you know the average time that can be allotted for each test item. Keep your watch nearby but don’t look too often, stay focused to the questions and not the time remaining.

Ok, now the actual test taking. Read the question carefully, look for the central idea of each question. What is the main point? Eliminate those answers you know to be wrong, or are likely to be wrong, don’t seem to fit, or where two options are so similar as to be both incorrect. Once you decide on an answer don’t change it unless you made a mistake, or misread the question. Computerized tests do not usually allow you to easily go back and review answers. Since I’m a firm believer in the “gut-instinct” theory that works fine for me. Over analyzing questions usually leads to changing a correct answer to a wrong answer. So once you’ve read and completed a question move on! Never change your original answer unless you are sure it is completely wrong.

If you get panicked or frustrated, sit back, close your eyes and refocus. If necessary stand up and go to the restroom. To do well, you must remain calm, focused and comfortable. Don’t’ worry about the pace of others. Especially in a computer environment, most of the other test takers aren’t even taking the same exam. Therefore it is pointless to become concerned with the speed of the test takers around you.

So you’ve finished the exam, now what? Before reviewing results, it’s always important to take stock of the experience and learn from it. Jot down problem questions, thoughts, items you’d like to review or look up to clarify your knowledge. Pat yourself on the back! You’ve just completed an extensive exam and you deserve congratulations for having the strength to finish the exam. Regardless of how you’ve done, this was an exhausting experience and you are deserving of a small reward, hopefully a certificate to frame and hang in your office!

Preparation tips:

  • Arrive early
  • Be comfortable but alert
  • Stay relaxed and confident

During the test:

  • Make sure to read the directions carefully
  • Don’t rush but pace yourself
  • Read the entire question and look for keywords
  • Always read the whole question carefully
  • Don’t make assumptions about what the question might be
  • Keep a positive attitude throughout the whole test and try to stay relaxed. If you start to feel nervous take a few deep breaths to relax.
  • Bring a watch to the test with you so that you can better pace yourself

Best of luck as you enter the certification process!

Entry Information

Filed Under: ACDISCertification

Fran Jurcak About the Author: Fran Jurcak, RN, MSN, CCDS is a manager with Wellspring Partners, a division of Huron Consulting, and has been a nurse for 25 years. She has a strong clinical and educational background having served as a professor of nursing for many years. She is currently active in several professional associations directed at revenue cycle and documentation management.

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  1. Thank you Fran- I am hoping to get the exam completed by the end of the year. I have taken certification exams through AACN in nursing your advice above is all exactly correct.

    Can you identify what sources you used to study with or prepare with? We have such precious few out there to pull from.
    clinically I feel strong but the coding side I feel less prepared.

    The website had practice questions and I found them to be almost too easy which left me feeling less ready if that makes any sense!

  2. My advice is to take the exam content outline from the Certification Handbook and go through and write the answer to each question. I put together a document and researched and answered every outline question.

  3. Where can I get a certification study guide? Did you attend a Boot Camp?

  4. Thanks Jessica- I study that way often so this is helpful.

  5. That is exactly what I did. I also reread the CDI Specialist’s Handbook. It worked… I passed!

  6. Can anyone offer their thoughts on how this certification has helped them? I am in the process of putting together funding to take the exam and need to show why I choose this exam to take as opposed to other, less expensive ones. I have not really seen anything regarding acceptance of this certification.

  7. Melissa Varnavas

    We are in the process of developing a CCDS Study Guide that should publish early 2010.
    In terms of benefit, the CCDS exam is the only exam that targets the specific job requirements of the Clinical Documentation Improvement Specialist. Other exams may give you coding or case management or nursing background but the CCDS tests the professional experience of the CDI professional.
    Just my two cents.
    Maybe others who have taken and passed the exam can weigh in with more personal stories.

  8. Melissa, do you have the CCDS Study Guide available yet??

  9. Melissa Varnavas

    It will be out at the end of April! http://www.hcmarketplace.com/prod-8231/CCDS-Exam-Study-Guide.html

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