If you are studying to become a medical assistant, you will likely take a certification or registration exam when you graduate before you can enter the job market. And if you are already working as a medical assistant and your employer is requiring certification (a common practice to reduce legal liability), you may also have to sit for an exam.
Studying for your certified medical assistant test is vital—you can’t just wing it no matter how well you performed in your training coursework. Therefore, please read on to learn more about the certification process, helpful study methods, and practice tests to help you see if you’re really ready for the exam.
Medical Assistant Certification—the Basics
While there are no state or federal regulations regarding the certification of medical assistants in the United States, most medical assistants today wind up getting certified anyway.
Why is that?
For starters, many employers like to see certification when entertaining candidates for medical assistant jobs. Certification tells them that you meet the national standards of patient care for your field. It also makes risk management departments happy because certification is linked to a reduction in medical assistant malpractice issues. So, certification may not only make you more competitive as a job seeker, it may be required as well.
Certification is also good for you. When you first start out, you may wonder if you’re really up to the task of working independently with real live patients, even if you’re under the supervision of a physician. Knowing that you passed your certification exam will give you added confidence when you first start working as a medical assistant.
And when your patients ask, “What does ‘CMA’ mean on your nametag?” you can tell them you’ve earned an extra credential to provide the best possible care for them.
If you were a patient, wouldn’t you want to hear that too?
Having your certification will also let coworkers know that you can be trusted on the job. This will bring you more respect at work and make it easier for other people to delegate tasks to you. It might even translate to a higher rate of pay for you.
At present, there are four entities that grant certification or registration to medical assistants:
- American Medical Technologists (AMT): registration for both clinical and administrative medical assistants.
- National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT): national certification for both clinical and administrative medical assistants.
- National Healthcareer Association (NHA): certification for clinical medical assistants only.
- American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA): certification for both clinical and administrative medical assistants.
Your training program may dictate which organization you certify with, and the process may be part of your curriculum and tuition expenses. If not, or if you are a working medical assistant who needs to certify, take a look at the different credentialing bodies, and see which one best meets your needs. You need to meet the requirements for the certifying agency, and you also want the credential that’s most in demand in your region.
Study Methods for the CMA Exam
There are tons of different ways to study for your certified medical assistant exam, and each student may require a unique combination of methods to get the best test score.
First, go through all your notes and organize them with tabs by category, so you can easily find information. Make sure any loose handouts or reference sheets are sorted the same way, so you can find them when studying the corresponding section on the test.
The AAMA exam, which is what is taken by the bulk of medical assistants, has ten different sections:
- anatomy and physiology
- patient examination
- diagnostic testing
- medical office management and general office procedures
- medical procedures
- medical terminology
- insurance processing
All but the last two parts on the list above make up about 10 to 12 percent of the test each. The last two sections only amount to about four percent of the exam questions each.
If budget is a concern, you can study for your medical assistant certification without spending any money. In addition to your course notes, you can make use of the following:
- materials on the exam given to you by your instructors.
- homemade flashcards for memorized material
- self-made quiz sheets with questions likely to be on the test
- study groups formed with other medical assistant students
The American Association of Medical Assistants provides a free content outline for the exam on its website, so you can be sure you’re not missing any elements on the test. The AAMA site also offers free medical terminology questions and anatomy and physiology questions as a way to test your knowledge on these topics.
For under five dollars, you can purchase a mobile device app, like CMA Test Prep by iMobiApp, that includes both study and test modes. You can review material by topic, do mini quizzes, and take practice tests (see below). Your test progress can be tracked, so you can see if you’re improving and ready for the real exam. There are other apps online for both medical assistant certification and related topics that will let you study things like phlebotomy and EKG basics on the go.
For about 50 dollars or less, you can also purchase certified medical assistant exam study guides, similar to those you’ve probably seen for other standardized tests. These are a great way to see familiar material presented in new ways and to fill in any gaps in your notes. Some of the top rated study guides include:
- Medical Assistant Exam Success by Kris Hardy, CMA
- Lippincott Williams & Wilkins’s Medical Assisting Exam Review for CMA, RMA & CMAS Certification (Medical Assisting Exam Review for CMA and RMA Certification) Third Edition
- Kaplan Medical’s Medical Assistant Exam Review
- J.P. Cody’s Comprehensive Medical Assisting Exam Review
- National Certified Medical Assistant Exam Secrets Study Guide: NCCT Test Review for the National Center for Competency Testing Exam by Mometrix
- Certified Medical Assistant Exam Secrets Study Guide: CMA Test Review for the Certified Medical Assistant Exam by Mometrix
Practice Tests as a Way to Gauge Your Knowledge
Study guide books usually include a few practice tests at the end, and it’s important to complete these once you are done with your review. Working through individual questions and mini quizzes is great, but you need to also do some simulated exams to make sure you can complete the test in the time allotted and understand the structure of the test as a whole.
A good certified medical assistant practice test will include some fairly straightforward questions as well as some trickier ones designed to make you think harder. The best practice tests also offer the rationale behind each correct answer as part of the answer key, so you know both the “why” and the “what” of every question.
Where to Find Practice Tests
In addition to the study guides and app mentioned above, there are other sources where you can find practice tests, some even at no cost.
On their website, Tests.com offers one free 40-question practice test to get your feet wet. If you like the site’s questions and interface, you can purchase their Medical Assistant Practice Exam Kit. This package covers several different types of certification exams, as well as the AMT registration exam.
Do you like the idea of a 100 percent pass guarantee with your practice tests? MedPreps practice tests are another great option then.
Like Tests.com, CMATestPrep.com by Exam Edge allows you to sample a practice test at no charge and then buy more exams as you like. Users like the review guide that accompanies this exam prep package.
Tips for the Best Scores Possible
With all credential tests in the medical field, there are strategies you can use to improve your score and ensure you finish the exam on time. Here are a few final tips to help you do the best on your exam, so you can seamlessly move into your exciting new career as a medical assistant.
- Always read each question carefully rather than skimming. When you read in a hurry, you miss wording that could trip you up when you answer.
- Look for words like “always,” “never,” “all,” and the like. Definitive words can change the meaning of a question or make you answer differently.
- Try to eliminate at least two possible answers right away, unless you’re going to select “all of the above.” It’s much easier to work with a smaller number of possibilities, and if you have to make a guess, you’ll have better odds of getting the answer right.
- Don’t spend too much time on a question that’s troubling you. You don’t want to wind up with unanswered questions at the end.
- Give yourself a good night’s sleep and a hearty meal before the test. Your career could be riding on your performance, and all the study guides and practice tests in the world won’t help you if you go into the exam tired and hungry. Keep a positive mindset. Convince yourself you can ace that bad boy, and do it!
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