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Students who complete an accredited surgical technology program are eligible to sit for the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) exam administered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). According to the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, employers prefer or require certification. Have the CST credential shows that you can be trusted to maintain sterile and orderly conditions before, during and after operations on patients of all ages. Many study guides with tips and practice exam questions are available for free or purchase to help you pass the challenging CST exam.
Know What to Expect
Preparing for the CST exam is not something you can do at the last minute. Review your anatomy lecture notes and medical terminology, and know the meaning of terms like revascularize, catheterization, ligate and prostatic approaches. You will need to correctly answer 102 out of 175 possible questions to pass and qualify for certification. Start by familiarizing yourself with the Examination Content Area Outline on the NBSTSA website to get an idea of the type of questions that may be on the test; concentrate your study on the material that is the least familiar to you.
- Perioperative care: Preparing instrumentation, procuring equipment, explaining informed consent forms and opening sterile gauze, for instance.
- Ancillary duties: Using computer technology, following hospital protocol, interpersonal communication and ethics, for instance.
- Basic science: Anatomy, microbiology, pharmacology, and physiology of body systems as related to surgical procedures.
Review the CST Candidate Handbook
A free online CST exam candidate handbook can be accessed from the NBSTSA website. You will find a certification exam reference list in the handbook that identifies the textbooks used to develop questions for the CST exam. A few sample CST exam questions are included as well. For instance, one of the practice questions asks whether Heaney clamps are most often used during which of the following procedures: a) hysterectomy (correct answer); b) cystectomy; c) lobectomy; or d) gastrectomy.
Use AST Student Guide References
The website of the Association of Surgical Technologists (AST) offers study guide references that include key facts to remember, along with the textbook source of that information, if explanation is needed. These guides contain hundreds of facts that can appear as questions on the CST exam. For instance, the study guide notes that low-level disinfectants kill most types of bacteria and some viruses, but not spores. Such facts would be important to recall if you are asked an exam question related to the effectiveness of low-level disinfectants.
Contact Your Instructors
Reach out by phone or email your instructors to ask about recommended study guides for taking certification exams such as the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) test administered by NBSTSA. Schools and instructors want their students to achieve passing scores on certification exams, so don’t feel as if you’re bothering them with your questions. Also consult with teachers to be sure that the study guides or online flashcards you’re considering are reputable and consistent with your school’s policy on the use of online study aids. Caution must be exercised when searching online study guides because some may contain actual test questions, which constitutes cheating and grounds for disciplinary suspension.
Study Guides, Flashcards and Apps
Many published CST study guides and surgical technology textbooks can be purchased online or borrowed through a library loan. Recent graduates of the program who passed their certification exam may be open to lending or selling you their study materials. Look for resources written by experts in the field and endorsed by professional organizations.
Online practice tests are available on the NBSTSA website that can provide feedback on your performance. You can buy NBSTSA flashcards and download the NBSTSA app that has over 300 sample CST exam questions. NBSTSA also encourages students to form study groups.
- Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science: Surgical Technologist
- Association of Surgical Technologists: Study Guide References
- The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting: Exam Preparation
- The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting: Candidate Handbook
- Inside Higher Education: Learning Tool or Cheating Aid?
- If you plan on taking the NCCT certification test, there is a paper review book to help you prepare. It is available on the NCCT web site for $24.95.
Dr. Mary Dowd brings vast hands-on experience to her writing endeavors. Along with general knowledge of human resources, she has specialized training in affirmative action, investigations and equal opportunity. While working as a dean of students, she advised college students on emerging career trends and job seeking strategies. As director of equal opportunity, she led efforts to diversify the workforce and the student body.