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What Is the NCCT NCMA Exam & How Do You Prepare Students for It?

June 11th, 2021 | 11 min. read

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The NCCT National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) exam measures an individual’s knowledge and skills needed to work as a medical assistant in a medical-practice setting.

Those who pass the exam earn a certification to start their careers as medical assistants.

But with a number of medical assistant certifications available today, how do you know the NCMA exam is right for you and your students?

To help you decide, this page will answer the three most common questions about the NCCT NCMA exam:

  • What topics are on the NCCT NCMA exam?
  • What is the certification process?
  • How do you prepare your students for the exam?

To start, let’s discuss the NCCT since they provide the certification.

What Is the NCCT?


The National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) is an accredited certification provider that helps people start their careers in the healthcare field.

Specifically, the NCCT provides eight certification options to help health science students become workforce ready.

  • Medical Assistant (NCMA)
  • Medical Office Assistant (NCMOA)
  • ECG Technician (NCET)
  • Phlebotomy Technician (NCPT)
  • Tech in Surgery - Certified (TS-C)
  • Insurance and Coding Specialist (NCICS)
  • Patient Care Technician (NCPCT)
  • Certified Postsecondary Instructor (CPI)

Out of those certifications, the NCMA exam is the most popular because of the number of career opportunities available for medical assistants!

Part 1: What Topics Are on the NCCT NCMA Exam?

The NCCT NCMA exam consists of 125 scored questions and 25 unscored pretest questions that the NCCT uses to gather data. Students have three hours to complete the exam.

These questions are organized into four content categories, which each make up a certain percentage of the exam:

  1. Pharmacology and General Medical Knowledge
  2. Clinical Medical Procedures
  3. Medical Administrative Duties
  4. Law and Ethics

The categories contain detailed concepts and skills that students must know to be considered competent as a medical assistant.

1. Pharmacology and General Medical Knowledge

The Pharmacology and General Medical Knowledge category consists of 18 questions. It assesses students overall preparation in basic medical terminology and techniques, and includes:

  • Applying basic knowledge of anatomy and physiology
  • Recognizing common drug classifications and medications by their generic and brand names
  • Performing basic medication-related calculations
  • Recognizing common signs and symptoms of medical conditions

Demonstrating general knowledge of basic medical and pharmacological principles ensures learners are ready for work in a medical office environment.

2. Clinical Medical Procedures

The Clinical Medical Procedures category is made up of 72 questions across four subcategories.

Each subcategory is focused on a different aspect of clinical medical assisting skills:

  1. Infection, Exposure Control, and Safety
  2. Patient Intake and Care
  3. Phlebotomy
  4. ECG

The Infection, Exposure Control, and Safety subcategory includes 15 questions related to maintaining a sterile work environment. These assess skills including:

The Patient Intake and Care subcategory has 32 questions pertaining to the proper care of patients by a medical assistant. This includes:

The Phlebotomy subcategory includes 15 questions that assess a students' knowledge of proper phlebotomy techniques. Students are tested on items including:

  • Implementing precautions for patient prior to collection
  • Selecting appropriate venipuncture or capillary puncture equipment for the test ordered and type/age of patient
  • Following the correct order of draw for blood collection
  • Performing venipuncture and capillary punctures
  • Handling laboratory specimens per protocol

Finally, the ECG subcategory features 10 questions related to electrocardiograms (ECGs). Learners are expected to:

Developing the skills found on this section of the certification will ensure students are able to complete and with important medical procedures often designated to medical assistants. 

3. Medical Administrative Duties

The Medical Administrative Duties category has 15 questions related to running a medical office, storing data, and collecting payments.

These include skills such as:

  • Set up and manage appointments using scheduling techniques
  • Manage medical office electronic data using computers and other devices
  • Collecting payment, copayment, coinsurance, or deductible owed
  • Using International Classification of Diseases (ICD) codes to bill for services
  • Manage prior authorizations and pre-certifications (e.g. prepare, obtain, verify)

In physicians’ offices and outpatient clinics, medical assistants may be tasked with both clinical and administrative duties.

By being well-versed in these procedures and communicating in the workplace, a medical assistant will be ready to fulfill administrative tasks!

4. Law and Ethics

The Law and Ethics category includes 20 questions about the legal responsibilities a medical assistant must follow.

These include:

  • Recognizing legal responsibilities and scope of practice for a medical assistant
  • Maintaining patient confidentiality and complying with disclosure laws
  • Follow legal and regularity requirements pertaining to medical records
  • Adhering to the Patient’s Bill of Rights

These regulations are essential for every medical assistant to follow. Otherwise, they risk legal repercussions and/or job termination.

Overall, every category on the NCCT NCMA exam  ensures students are prepared to competently work as a medical assistant.

For the full details on what your students should expect, you can review the NCCT’s NCMA Detailed Test Plan.

Part 2: What Is the NCCT Medical Assistant Certification Process?

In addition to knowing what’s on the exam, it’s also important to know the NCCT NCMA certification process.

This includes understanding four areas:

  • Eligibility requirements
  • The application process
  • What to expect on exam day
  • How to obtain exam results

These details give you a comprehensive view of whether the NCCT NCMA exam is right for you and your students.

NCCT NCMA Eligibility Requirements

As with most industry certifications, the NCCT NCMA exam has strict eligibility requirements a candidate must meet prior to applying to take the exam.

The NCCT splits these eligibility requirements into “routes,” which are different circumstances that allow someone to apply to take the exam.

There are four routes a candidate can pursue:

Route 1A: A current student in a medical assistant program from an NCCT-authorized school, including CTE high school programs

Route 1B: A graduate from an NCCT-authorized medical assistant program within the past five years

Route 2: An individual with two years of full-time employment as a medical assistant within the past five years

Route 3: An individual who has completed medical assistant training (or equivalent) during US military service within the past five years

If an individual fits any one of these routes, they are permitted to apply for the exam!

The NCCT NCMA Certification Application Process

To begin the application process, a candidate must first register as a user on the NCCT’s website.

Once registered, a candidate goes through a step-by-step process to apply to take the NCCT NCMA exam.

During this process, NCCT requires documentation to prove that the candidate is truly eligible. The only exception to this documentation request is for candidates who fall under Route 1A, who are current students.

In addition to the paperwork, a candidate must pay a $119 fee to submit their application.

After the application has been processed and approved, NCCT schedules the test!

What Students Can Expect on Exam Day

The NCCT NCMA exam is available both as a computer-based and paper-based assessment.

However, no matter how the exam is administered, it must be delivered at an NCCT-authorized testing site.

If there is no testing site in your area, you can apply to have your school become a testing site!

Once a candidate arrives at the testing site, they are required to follow the regulations and code of conduct provided in the NCCT Candidate Handbook. Failure to comply could lead to their exam becoming invalidated or even disciplinary action.

If a candidate follows the regulations, taking the NCCT NCMA exam should be smooth sailing if they have properly prepared for the test!

How to Obtain Exam Results

After a candidate has completed the NCCT NCMA exam, they will be notified of either a passing or failing score.

Paper-based exam results are mailed to the candidate two to four weeks after exam day.

Computer-based exam results are provided immediately after the test has been completed.

If a candidate has passed, they will receive their certification to work as a certified medical assistant!

Note: High school students who take the exam prior to graduation will receive their official certification after they present NCCT with proof that they have graduated.

The NCCT says that NCMA recipients are typically employed in medical practices like physician offices and outpatient clinics.

So now that you know the ins-and-outs of the NCCT NCMA certification, there’s one last question to answer: How do you prepare your students?

Part 3: How Do You Prepare Your Students for the NCCT NCMA Certification Exam?

You have a variety of options available to prepare medical assisting students for the NCCT NCMA exam.

But it can be tough to decide the best way to get them ready.

Many teachers head straight for the NCCT’s test prep materials, which help students study and practice for the exam.

However, test prep materials won’t help you meet your course standards or teach your daily lessons!

Because of this, we find teachers and students have the most success by taking a two-step approach to NCMA exam prep:

  1. Teach your medical assisting curriculum
  2. Incorporate test prep materials as a supplement

Since your students will need to know more than just what’s on the test for a successful career, this approach ensures they’re ready for exam day and beyond!

So how do you start with a strong foundational medical assisting curriculum?

Teachers typically choose among three options:

  • Homemade curriculum
  • Medical assisting textbooks
  • Digital curriculum systems

Homemade Medical Assisting Curriculum

If you choose to build your medical assisting curriculum from scratch, you have total control over every piece of it.

That means you can specifically develop lessons to hit all of your course standards and the NCCT NCMA test plan.

It can also be a cheaper option compared to buying a ready-made curriculum.

However, building a curriculum yourself requires your nights and weekends in a never-ending cycle of creating resources, finding ways to differentiate, and grading student work.

On top of that, if your standards or the NCCT NCMA exam change, you’ll have to rewrite everything again!

That’s why most medical assisting instructors choose to go with one of the other options for their curriculum.

Medical Assisting Textbooks

Medical assisting textbooks are the most common type of instructional materials used to create a curriculum.

Textbooks help students learn and review concepts in a way they are accustomed to learning.

They also provide a lot of flexibility to fit your preferred teaching styles.

Unfortunately, it’s tough to find a book that hits all of your standards and aligns with the NCCT NCMA test plan.

On top of that, textbooks quickly become outdated as the role of medical assistants change in the industry.

That means you’ll need to purchase new textbooks on a regular basis or risk teaching incorrect information!

Because of this, hundreds of medical assisting instructors have made the switch from textbooks to digital curriculum.

Digital Curriculum for Medical Assisting Courses

A digital curriculum system is a great option for any teacher focused on the NCCT NCMA exam.

That’s because it’s specifically designed to both help you teach classes and prepare your students for certifications.

Specifically, the HealthCenter21 digital curriculum from iCEV comes packed with everything you need to take students from zero to certified.

That includes lesson plans, class activities, interactive scenarios, skills checklists, assessments, and more.

Best of all the online system means your curriculum will stay up-to-date as standards and certification requirements change!

Here’s one medical assistant instructor’s experience with using digital curriculum to prepare their students:

“The things students aren’t able to touch, feel, and see in person, like anatomy and physiology, are hard topics to learn through just a lecture and textbook. HealthCenter21 provides that content in a much more comprehensive way. It really improves student achievement!

Carol Otjens

Grossmont Health Occupations Center, CA

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