Medical team with a patient

How to Pass the NCMA Certification Exam

Advance Your Career as a Medical Assistant by Earning NCMA Certification

Medical team with a patient

Throughout the field of healthcare, the role of the Medical Assistant (MA) continues to expand and include more complex administrative and clinical duties. For this reason, most employers now prefer to hire MAs who have earned certification. But which MA certification is most relevant and helpful to your career objectives? What’s involved in earning the various certifications? How often must you recertify, and how much does it cost to become certified?

This article is part of a series describing the specific advantages of six widely recognized and highly regarded MA certifications. For an overview of all six certifications, click here to read our guide on the best Medical Assistant certifications to advance your healthcare career.

(Click here to view our comprehensive guide on how to become a Medical Assistant)

Each article in this series discusses the specific competencies covered by one of the MA certifications, details about the certification exam, and the value of that certification to your MA career. This article provides all the information you need on the National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) certification.

Why Earn a Medical Assistant Certification?

Medical assistants (MAs) are technically allowed to practice without a state license or certification, however, 89% of today’s employers either require or strongly prefer MAs with at least one certification. MAs who perform specific duties, or who work in specialized fields, may be required to have specific training and certification in their area of specialty. In 2012, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also ruled that only credentialed MAs are allowed to enter laboratory, radiology, and medical orders into their computerized system.

Even if not required, certification shows that you have met specific, industry-recognized standards for competence as a medical assistant. It also assures your employer that you are prepared to begin work in a medical assisting position or take that role to the next level of performance. As a result, certification can offer opportunities for greater responsibility, more career options, and higher income.

What is the National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) Exam?

The National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) test is offered by the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT). The NCMA reflects the critical medical assistant (MA) job competencies identified by a national job analysis study. The NCCT believes people can learn in a variety of ways, so they offer multiple routes of eligibility for certification testing. Students and graduates of NCCT authorized schools, working professionals, and military-trained professionals may all qualify to take the NCMA exam.

About the National Center for Competency Testing

The National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) is an independent credentialing organization that has tested healthcare professionals and instructors throughout the United States since 1989, with public safety in mind. NCCT provides multiple qualifying paths for certification in allied health roles.

Why Choose NCMA Certification?

The NCMA certification validates your knowledge in the full range of medical assistant duties. Professionals who earn the NCMA certification have the necessary knowledge and skills to safely perform clinical procedures related to the following:

  • pharmacology (including injections)
  • vital signs and other patient examination tasks
  • venipuncture and micro-sampling
  • point of care and other diagnostic testing
  • electrocardiography
  • administrative procedures for medical office management.

Founded in 1989, the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) is a well-established certifying organization. As of 2020, there are 90,335 medical assistants holding the NCMA certification, making it the second most-held MA certification, after the CCMA certification at 132,421.

Unlike other MA certifications that only accept education from a CAAHEP/ABHES accredited medical assisting program, you can qualify to sit for the NCMA exam through military education, work experience, or by completing a program from an NCCT-authorized school.

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Key Advantages of NCMA Certification

  • Highly recognized MA credential
  • Second most-widely held MA certification
  • Validates knowledge of key areas
  • Confirms important MA skills
  • Ensures current knowledge and skills
  • Low $90 exam fee. $135 if taken 6 months after graduation. (Compare to CMA ($125/$250), RMA ($120), CCMA ($155))
  • Recertification completed online
  • Eligibility option through 2 years of work experience
  • Study resources available online
  • Practice exam available online (free)
  • NCMA Interactive Review, including practice exam available online ($49.99)

How Many Questions are on the NCMA Exam?

The NCMA exam requires an in-depth understanding of the human body, the administration and clinical delivery of medical assisting, and patient interaction. The exam consists of 165 questions (150 scored and 15 unscored). Candidates are allowed three (3) hours to complete the examination.

What is on the NCMA Exam?

The National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) certification exam is intended to certify that a candidate has the knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform the duties of a Medical Assistant. A full list of the content covered is available at the NCCT website.

Here is a breakdown of the questions you’ll have to answer when taking the NCMA exam:

Content Category Number of Questions Percentage of Exam
Pharmacology 21 14%
Clinical Medical Procedures 28 19%
Phlebotomy 21 14%
ECG and Other Diagnostic Tests 18 12%
General Office Procedures 21 14%
Medical Office Management 25 17%
Law and Ethics 16 10%
TOTAL 150 100%

How is the NCMA Exam Scored?

The computerized NCMA certification exam consists of 165 questions (150 scored test questions and 15 unscored pre-test questions). Participants are allowed three (3) hours to complete the examination. You will need to answer 105 (70%) of the scored questions correctly in order to pass.

NCMA Exam Statistics

Below are the NCMA Certification Exam statistics for 2020:

  • Exams Administered: 7,019 NCMA Certification Exams were administered in 2020.
  • Exam Pass Rate: 60%
  • Total NCMAs (NCCT) as 2020: 90,335

What are the Prerequisites for the NCMA Exam?

You must meet one of the following routes to be qualified to take the NCMA certification exam:

  • Current Student. Applicant must be a current student in a medical assistant program from an NCCT (authorized) school.
  • Graduate. Applicant must be a graduate of a NCCT (authorized) school, within the past five years.
  • Experience. Applicant must have two years of verifiable full-time experience as a medical assistant practitioner within the past five years.
  • Military. Applicant must have completed medical assistant training or its equivalent during U.S. Military service within the past five years.

How to Register for the NCMA Exam

The NCMA exam is administered by the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT). You can register for the exam at the NCCT website. In order for the NCCT to process your application in a timely manner, you will need to submit your application and all required documentation 14 days before your anticipated test date.

How Much Does it Cost to Take the NCMA?

The fee to take the NCMA exam is $90. In addition, NCMA certification must be maintained annually in two ways:

  1. Annual recertification fee: $77 per year
  2. 1-Year CE requirements: Every year, certificants must earn 19 contact hours (CH) of continuing education (CE)

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How Many Times Can You Take the NCMA Exam?

You can take the NCMA exam up to 4 times. If you don’t pass the NCMA exam on your first or second attempt, you may retest after 30 days. After a third test failure, you must wait one year for a fourth and final attempt. The retesting fee for the NCMA is the same as the first test $90 ($135 for graduate testing after 6 months of graduation)

How Do I Study for the NCMA Exam?

The NCMA questions reflect the results of a national job analysis study that determined critical job competencies for medical assistants. The exam requires a great deal of knowledge about medical office administration and the clinical delivery of medical assisting. However, if you study hard and know the material, you should pass the test on your first attempt. Here are some helpful study tips:

  1. Know the Exam Topics

    A complete outline of the NCMA certification exam is available on the NCCT website. This comprehensive list covers all the topics that could appear on the exam. Review this list and look up or review any the topics you are not sure of.

  1. Schedule Study Times

    Schedule set times each week to study for the NCMA exam. Remove all distractions during these periods. Start studying as soon as possible to avoid last minute cramming and give yourself more time to review areas you are not confident about.

  1. Take an NCMA Interactive Review

    NCCT provides an interactive review on their website that includes a practice exam. The cost of the review is $49.99. Accessible online, this interactive review lets you study when and where you want.

  1. Take a Free NCMA Practice Test

    Several third-party sources offer free practice tests online for the NCMA. These are a great way to test your knowledge and discover areas that need more study.

NCMA Sample Exam

To judge for yourself the difficulty of the exam, here are a few sample questions from the NCCT practice exam. Most questions on the exam will be standard multiple-choice, but a few will take a different format (e.g. multiple select, hotspot, drag and drop, etc.).

Answers are provided 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

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Begin Your Journey by Earning an MA Diploma

Founded in 1979, Eagle Gate College has provided thousands of graduates with the knowledge and skills they need to pursue a rewarding career in nursing and healthcare. With a curriculum continually updated to meet the needs of healthcare, well equipped labs, and hands-on training from experienced healthcare professionals, we prepare graduates to make a positive impact starting with their first day on the job. Our robust Medical Assisting program combines virtual instruction, hands-on lab exercises, and supervised externship and can be completed in as little as 9 months. Eagle Gate College, in conjunction with Provo College, offers a premier healthcare education at five campus locations in Utah and Idaho.



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