Smiling female medical assistant

How to Pass the NCMA Certification Exam

10 Essential Test Prep Tips to Help You Pass the National Certified Medical Assistant Exam

Smiling female medical assistant

Without Medical Assistants, hospitals and medical offices could literally grind to a halt. Patients would be unable to schedule appointments. Practices would go broke as billing dried up. And patients’ lives would be at risk due to inaccurate medical records.

Thousands of physicians and millions of patients around the world rely on Medical Assistants, and for this reason, the Medical Assisting field is rapidly growing, particularly as healthcare needs expand, practices grow, and offices seek help to keep up with it all.

(Click here to learn how to become a Medical Assistant).

Medical Assistants are one of the few healthcare positions that are not required to hold special certifications or licenses to practice. However, choosing to earn one of the optional Medical Assisting certifications can open you up to more jobs and higher pay opportunities.

There are multiple MA certifications available, as detailed in our recent breakdown of top Medical Assisting certifications, and each has its own unique advantages and requirements.

For this article, we examine the NCMA (National Certified Medical Assistant) Certification by detailing everything you need to know to know about the NCMA exam. Continue reading to learn how to best prepare for, take, and pass the NCMA exam on your first try.

What is the NCMA Certification Exam?

The NCMA exam, administered by the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT), is a nationally recognized certification and is similar to the RMA exam in that graduation from an accredited Medical Assisting program isn’t a requirement. If you have the necessary work experience or training, you may already qualify for the exam.

The cost of the NCMA is slightly less than both the RMA and CMA credentials, and the exam length is shorter. While not as universally recognized as the RMA or CMA exam, the NCMA certification may be a better choice if you plan to work with patients directly. It’s important, however, that you check with your preferred employer for any specific certification requirements before applying.

How Long is the NCMA Certification Exam?

Test takers are given three hours to complete the NCMA certification exam—with no regularly scheduled breaks—and the full exam consists of 165 questions. That includes 150 scored questions and 15 pre-test questions that do not impact the overall score.

However, if special testing accommodations are required under the American Disabilities Act (such as break periods, an audio test, oral interpreter, or extended testing time), the NCCT will consider these cases if submitted in writing ahead of the test date.

What’s the Value of NCMA Certification?

Healthcare worker taking a patient's vital signs

Many employers prefer their Medical Assistant candidates to be certified, even though certification isn’t required by most states. Holding an MA certification tells your future employers that you are already familiar with the responsibilities of a Medical Assistant, are reasonably prepared to handle a variety of medical office scenarios, and that you’ll only require a limited amount of training before you’re ready to work unsupervised.

Passing the NCMA exam and earning your certification means that the NCCT vouches for you and your skills. Think of it like a letter of reference from a highly respected employer, one who confirms that you:

  • Know the job’s terminology
  • Understand the job requirements
  • Can perform all expected duties

Although the CMA and RMA exams are better known nationally (though the NCMA is still recognized in all states), the NCMA focuses slightly more on working directly with patients. If that’s something you hope to do as a Medical Assistant, the NCMA may have additional value for you.

What is on the NCMA Certification Exam?

Students taking the NCMA will be graded on eight topics:

  1. Under Pharmacology, the exam includes:
    • Medication calculations
    • Record keeping
    • Safe medicine preparation
    • Medicine administration
  1. Under Medical Procedures, the exam includes:
    • Infection and exposure
    • Taking vitals
    • First aid
    • Patient instruction and education
    • Minor surgical procedures
    • Suture and staple removal
    • Dressing wounds
  1. Under Phlebotomy, the exam includes:
    • Standards and practices
    • Patient prep
    • Drawing blood
    • Finger pricks
    • Processing
  1. Under Diagnostic Tests, the exam includes:
    • ECGs
    • Troubleshooting
    • Diagnostic practices
    • Specimen collection
    • Patient monitoring
    • Record keeping
  1. Under Office Procedures, the exam includes:
    • Communication
    • Medical software and record keeping
    • Appointment scheduling
  1. Under Office Management, the exam includes:
    • Security
    • Legal requirements
    • General safety
  1. Under Billing and Insurance, the exam includes:
    • Payment collection
    • Financial records
    • Billing codes
  1. Under Law and Ethics, the exam includes:
    • Legal responsibilities
    • Patient Bill of Rights

NCMA Exam Requirements

What Are the Prerequisites for the NCMA Exam?

The NCMA is unique in that it doesn’t require applicants to have graduated from a Medical Assisting program (although that is one route they can take). Requirements for the NCMA include the following:

  • Graduation from an approved Medical Assisting program. This program must be approved by the US Department of Education, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, or the NCCT board of directors.
  • OR graduation from a formal medical training service in the US military.
  • OR candidates with five years of experience as a Medical Assistant.

The NCCT also allows current students to take the NCMA exam before graduating from a Medical Assisting program. However, proof of graduation must be submitted before the certificate will be released.

How Do I Register for the NCMA Exam?

The first step in registering for the NCMA certification exam is to visit the National Center for Competency Testing by clicking here.

You’ll first be asked to confirm prerequisites and eligibility. The website details what experience and/or education is required for each route. Once you’ve chosen (and confirmed) your route of eligibility, you’ll be able to formally apply.

NCMA Exam Fee

How Much Does the NCMA Exam Cost?

Registration for the NCMA exam costs $119.

To pay the NCMA exam fee, you will need to create an account on the NCCT website. There, you’ll also be asked to upload documentation confirming your eligibility.

It typically takes up to one or two weeks to receive a response to your certification application. Once approved, you’ll receive an email from the NCCT with the next steps to schedule your exam at a local testing center.

How Do I Study for the NCMA Exam?

Whether you are applying for the NCMA as a recent graduate or as an uncertified Medical Assistant with relevant work experience, the material on the exam should be familiar to you. Passing the exam on the first try depends on refreshing your knowledge, making sure you know the official answers, and brushing up on topics you aren’t as confident about.

The following NCMA test-prep tips should help you prepare for the exam:

1. Know the Exam Topics:

Dig through the list of NCMA exam topics above (but remember—the list isn’t exhaustive). Use it as a reference to go back through your notes or work experience and familiarize yourself with the categories that will be on the test.

2. Identify Your Weak Points:

As you look through the exam contents, make a mark next to the topics you feel less confident about. Review everything, of course, but plan to spend extra time on the areas where you might feel a little shaky.

3. Schedule Study Times:

Just like scheduling classes during a college semester, be sure to schedule time each week to work on your NCMA exam preparation. Remove all distractions and make sure your family and friends respect your time and space when studying.

4. Spread It Out:

Decide ahead of time the topics you’d like to review during your study periods. This not only allows you to allocate more time to your weaker subjects, but it helps prevent procrastination and cramming at the last minute.

5. Take NCMA Practice Tests:

The NCCT allows test takers to practice with a full-length practice exam (available on their website here for $24.95). The practice exams closely mirror the content on the actual exams, and simulated timers and algorithms help give you the best idea of what to expect once you step into the exam room.

6. Learn Multiple Choice Strategies:

Multiple choice exams are as much about eliminating the wrong answers as identifying the correct ones. There’s a strategy to taking these tests, and the better you know the format, the better you’ll do. Check out this multiple choice strategy guide as a jumping-off point.

7. Take Care of Yourself:

Get plenty of rest, drink lots of water, and avoid stress as much as possible. Remember, no amount of worry will add a single point to your exam score. Take care of yourself to make sure you’re in the best mental shape possible before the big test.

8. Talk to People Who Have Taken the NCMA Exam:

What tips do they have? What stood out to them most? What do they regret most? Sit down with someone who’s taken the exam to get a personal breakdown of what to expect.

9. Use the Bathroom:

Use the bathroom before beginning the exam. You’d be surprised how many people forget to do this.

How Hard Is the NCMA Certification Exam?

The NCMA certification exam is 165 questions given over the course of three hours (you don’t have to use the entire three hours, of course).

According to the NCCT website, the pass rate for the NCMA is 60%. This doesn’t mean the exam is incredibly difficult, but it does mean that no one should expect to breeze through without studying. Put in the time to adequately prepare and you can land in that 60% on the first try.

How Many Times Can You Take the NCMA Exam?

Candidates who do not pass the exam on their first and second attempts may retest after 30 days.

After a third test failure, candidates must wait one year for a fourth and final attempt. The time between unsuccessful test challenges was established by the Board to ensure candidates had sufficient time for additional preparation.

You can learn more about this process here.

How Do I Renew my NCMA Certification?

Recertification with the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) is required annually and includes just two steps.

  1. Log in to your Recertification/CE Dashboard to pay your recertification fee ($77).
  2. And complete the required CE (14CH of CE annually).

Maintaining your NCMA certification is an important part of keeping your career options open. You never know when life might require a move or circumstances might change, so stay prepared by keeping your certification active.

NCMA Sample Quiz

To judge for yourself the difficulty of the exam, here are a few sample questions from the NCCT practice exam.

(Please find the answers at the bottom of this article).

  1. Which of the following is a federal regulation that requires health care professionals to protect the privacy and confidentiality of patients’ health information?
    • a) CMS
    • b) OSHA
    • c) HIPAA
    • d) CLIA
  2. A microorganism that rarely causes disease is called a ________.
    • a) Flora
    • b) Pathogen
    • c) Spore
    • d) Non-Pathogen
  3. Hydrocortisone is a drug used to suppress_________.
    • a) Inflammation
    • b) Appetite
    • c) Excretion of urine
    • d) Swelling
  4. Body language, body posture, space, and distance are all examples of _______.
    • a) Written communication
    • b) All answers are correct
    • c) Verbal communication
    • d) Non-Verbal communication
  5. How should a 24-hour urine specimen be stored during collection?
    • a) Refrigerator
    • b) In a freezer
    • c) At body temp
    • d) At room temp
  6. The physician has ordered 50 mg of Demerol to be given to a patient. The concentration on hand is 100mg/ml. How many cc’s of Demerol will be injected?
    • a) 0 cc
    • b) 5 cc
    • c) 25 cc
    • d) 5 cc
  7. An office appointment calendar or book must record not only the name of the patient and the start time of the appointment but also indicate the __________.
    • a) Relationship to the patient
    • b) Social Security number of the patient
    • c) Insurance provider’s contact information
    • d) Duration of the appointment
  8. On an ECG machine, the sensitivity switch controls the ________.
    • a) B or C
    • b) Start
    • c) Gain
    • d) Amplitude
  9. In the reception area of medical practice, the computer screen must never be ___________.
    • a) Viewed by medical personnel
    • b) Facing the filing cabinets
    • c) Able to be viewed by patients
    • d) Turned on
  10. A positive urine dipstick for albumin in the patient has ______ in his/her urine.
    • a) White blood cells
    • b) Proteins
    • c) Glucose
    • d) PH

Final Thoughts on the National Certified Medical Assistant Exam

A hospitalized patient with his family

Certification may not always be required to start a career as a Medical Assistant, but it can mean the difference between good work opportunities and great work opportunities. NCMA certification proves to your employers, your co-workers, and yourself that you are trained and ready to take on the responsibilities of a medical office.

Of course, learning doesn’t stop after the exam ends, so remember to keep an open mind, look for opportunities to learn, opportunities to teach others, and for new and better ways to serve your patients.

Good luck!



1) C 2) D 3) A 4) D 5) A 6) B 7) D 8) A 9) C 10) D