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Health Science | Medical Assisting | NCCT NCMA

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

June 11th, 2021 | 16 min. read

Bri Stauffer

Bri Stauffer

For nearly 10 years, Bri has focused on creating content to address the questions and concerns educators have about teaching classes, preparing students for certifications, and making the most of the iCEV curriculum system.

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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 150 scored questions and 15 pretest questions that the NCCT uses to gather data.

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

  1. Pharmacology
  2. Medical Procedures
  3. Phlebotomy
  4. ECG and Other Diagnostic Tests
  5. General Office Procedures
  6. Medical Office General Management
  7. Office Financial Management, Billing, and Insurance
  8. Law and Ethics


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

1. Pharmacology

The Pharmacology category includes 13 questions about medication-related skills a medical assistant may perform.

These include the ability to:

  • Perform basic medication related calculations
  • Document medication administration errors
  • Identify commonly used medications by generic brand names
  • Demonstrate safe medication preparation, administration, and documentation
  • Administer medication orally, subcutaneously, intramuscularly, intradermally, and by inhalation

With this foundational information and skillset, medical assistants can effectively and safely administer medicine to patients.

2. Medical Procedures

The Medical Procedures category is broken down into two subcategories, each focused on a different type of process:

  1. Infection, Exposure Control, and Safety
  2. Patient Care

The Infection, Exposure Control, and Safety subcategory has 13 questions related to the daily safety practices a medical assistant is expected to follow.

These include:

  • Following CDC Standard Precautions and transmission precautions
  • Complying with OSHA standards for healthcare workers
  • Performing general medical asepsis and surgical asepsis
  • Using personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Responding to emergency situations
  • Transferring patients using correct body mechanics

These skills are crucial for maintaining a clean and safe environment for both patients and healthcare workers on a daily basis.

The Patient Care subcategory includes 19 questions focused on clinical duties of a medical assistant, including the ability to:

  • Perform adult and pediatric height, weight, and BMI measurements
  • Obtain patient vital signs
  • Take a patient history
  • Position a patient for an exam or procedure
  • Perform vision screening tests
  • Assist with wound care and/or dressing changes
  • Perform suture and staple removal
  • Provide basic patient instruction/education
  • Assist with minor surgical procedures
  • Perform first aid, BLS, and rapid response procedures

Medical assistants perform these clinical skills every day, and they’re crucial to execute properly!

3. Phlebotomy

The Phlebotomy category includes 20 questions about phlebotomy processes and procedures.

These include the ability to:

  • Adhere to standards for patient introduction, identification, and order verification
  • Prepare the patient and selected site for blood collection
  • Follow the correct order of draw for blood samples
  • Perform venipuncture on patients of all ages
  • Perform capillary punctures by fingerstick
  • Handle laboratory specimens per protocol
  • Process specimens for the lab appropriately

Though some healthcare facilities employ phlebotomy technicians to perform these tasks, medical assistants still need to know these skills for their careers.

In addition, medical assistants with phlebotomy skills can present a more well-rounded skill set to employers!

4. ECG and Other Diagnostic Tests

The ECG and Other Diagnostic Tests category is segmented into three subcategories:

  1. Other Diagnostic Tests
  2. ECG Placement, Techniques, Recording, and Interpretation
  3. ECG Troubleshooting and Maintenance

The Other Diagnostic Tests subcategory includes seven questions about diagnostic tests a medical assistant may perform as needed.

These skills include:

  • Performing CLIA waived point of care testing (POCT)
  • Performing chain of custody collections
  • Collecting specimen cultures
  • Processing specimen collections accurately
  • Performing and recording quality control procedures and results

The ECG Placement, Techniques, Recording, and Interpretation subcategory has nine questions focused on electrocardiography (ECG) procedures.

This includes skills like:

  • Preparing and positioning the patient for ECG testing
  • Placing electrodes on the patient appropriately
  • Explaining the ECG procedure to patients
  • Capturing and recording ECG tracings
  • Monitoring patient vital signs and tolerance during testing
  • Transmitting the report to the patient’s medical record or chart

The ECG Troubleshooting and Maintenance subcategory includes seven questions related to working with and maintaining electrocardiograph machines, including:

  • Identifying recording errors
  • Identifying causes of artifacts
  • Correcting artifacts and recording errors
  • Checking battery charge and paper supply
  • Cleaning and storing the ECG machine after use

In many healthcare facilities, dedicated ECG technicians will perform these duties.

However, medical assistants may assist with the procedures on occasion, so they need to be familiar with these skills!

5. General Office Procedures

The General Office Procedures category is made up of four subcategories, each focused on a different aspect of administrative skills:

  1. Communication
  2. Medical Office Computer Applications
  3. Scheduling
  4. Medical Records

The Communication subcategory includes nine questions pertaining communicating with patients and colleagues.

Specifically, students must be able to:

  • Communicate effectively verbally and in writing
  • Direct patients and visitors to the appropriate team member or location
  • Answer, evaluate, and direct incoming calls
  • Describe the policies and procedures of the practice to patients
  • Process medical office mail and correspondence
  • Manage patient informational materials

The Medical Office Computer Applications subcategory has seven questions about using computers to access and maintain medical information.

This includes skills such as:

  • Maintaining the integrity and confidentiality of computer-stored information
  • Using standard office and medical office software
  • Performing basic operator level troubleshooting
  • Managing medical office data using multiple types of devices

The Scheduling subcategory includes nine questions related to managing patient appointments, like:

  • Setting up appointments using standard scheduling techniques
  • Maintaining daily appointment schedules with team members
  • Generating daily encounter forms for patients
  • Managing the patient reminder system

The Medical Records subcategory is made up of 14 questions about working with patient records.

These skills include:

  • Entering patient information into the medical record
  • Maintaining confidentiality of medical records through HIPAA compliance
  • Filing records appropriately
  • Managing patient charts by using both paper and electronic methods
  • Responding to requests for medical records
  • Preparing charts for audits and external reviews

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

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

6. Medical Office General Management

The Medical Office General Management category includes eight questions related to general office procedures that don’t involve patient interaction, including:

  • Opening and closing the medical office for the day
  • Complying with accreditation and licensure requirements
  • Following the guidelines in the medical office safety manual
  • Maintaining Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)
  • Complying with OSHA and CLIA guidelines and regulations

As with the previous category, medical assistants may be required to fulfill office management duties to help keep the healthcare facility running smoothly.

7. Office Financial Management, Billing, and Insurance

The Office Financial Management, Billing, and Insurance category has seven questions pertaining to processing payments for medical services.

These include skills such as:

  • Collecting payment, copayment, coinsurance, or deductible owed
  • Posting patient payments to financial records
  • Using International Classification of Diseases (ICD) codes to bill for services
  • Complying with fraud and abuse regulations related to insurance and billing

Though larger healthcare facilities employ billing and coding specialists, in some cases a medical assistant may also need to take on these duties.

8. Law and Ethics

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

These include:

  • Recognizing legal responsibilities and scope of practice for a medical assistant
  • Following the protocol on terminating patient care
  • Complying with disclosure laws
  • 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 fee to submit their application. This fee ranges from $90-$135, depending on the route a candidate pursues.

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 system 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

Are you ready to prepare your students for the NCCT NCMA exam and their future careers?

Click below to get started with your free trial of HealthCenter21!


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