Surgical Technician Exam Tips

In order to become a Certified Surgical Technician, one must successfully complete a certification exam. Students may sit for the exam at one of two agencies that offer certification: the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) and the National Center for Competency Testing.  Not just anyone can sign up to take the Surgical Technician Exam, however.

One must first complete an appropriate training program from an accredited school. The school must have accreditation either from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs or from the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools. Students should keep this in mind when choosing a school to prepare for the Surgical Technician Exam.

Details of the Surgical Technician Exam

If a Certified Surgical Technologist student wishes to succeed on the Surgical Technician Exam, preparation is in order. Here are some basic facts about the exam itself:

  • Members of the Association of Surgical Technologists, or AST, will pay a total fee of $190 including processing fees. Non-AST members will pay $290.
  • The exam contains 200 questions. 175 of those are scored, while 25 random questions are used solely for statistical purposes. There is no way to know which questions are scored and which are not.
  • In order to pass the Surgical Technician Exam, students must correctly answer a minimum of 119 of the scored questions.
  • All of the questions are in multiple-choice format with four answer options. There is no practical application (hands-on) sections of the Surgical Technician Exam. All questions are written.
  • Certified Surgical Technologists are allowed 4 hours to complete the Surgical Technician Exam.
  • An 8 member committee including 5 currently practicing Certified Surgical Technologists, 2 surgical technology teachers, and 1 practicing, board-certified surgeon are responsible for assessing and scoring all CST Surgical Technician Exams.

Surgical Technician Exam Questions

The NBSTSA website offers Certified Surgical Technologists an opportunity to take a practice exam online that is in the same format as the actual exam. There is a $40 fee to take the practice Surgical Technician Exam. This will give students the opportunity to assess their readiness as well as prepare them for the format and types of questions they might expect. Here are some examples:

  1. Which cells of the body secrete Pepsinogen?
    1. Squamous cells
    2. Chief cells
    3. Parietal cells
    4. Beta cells
  2. Following cataract surgery, which laser should be used to vaporize a section of the residual lens capsule?
    1. Excimer
    2. YAG
    3. CO2
    4. Argon
  3. Compression of which never causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
    1. Ulnar
    2. Median
    3. Hypoglossal
    4. Radial
  4. For what purpose would one select atropine as a preoperative drug?
    1. Drowsiness
    2. Drying of secretions
    3. Pain relief
    4. Decreased anxiety
  5. The Latin term “hernia” means:
    1. Opening
    2. Rupture
    3. Closure
    4. Defect

The correct answer to all of the above questions is B. Of course, the actual Surgical Technician Exam will contain much more variety, but these questions are excellent examples of the types of questions one must successfully answer in order to become a Certified Surgical Technologist.

Are You Ready To Take Your Surgical Technician Exam?

There are many things you need to do before taking your Surgical Technicians Exam. This is not a test you can simply sign up for and take. Most places require that you do enroll in some sort of study, whether it’s a degree program offered by a university or a community college. There may also be a vocational school in your area.


Most programs generally take from 9 months to 2 years. One thing you should make sure of is that the program you enroll in is accredited. This means that the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) has approved the program. The only way to get certified is to have attended an accredited program. Having an accredited degree will give you more leverage in the work field. You will be highly qualified to find a job. Most employers will be looking to hire certified technicians.


Once you have graduated from an accredited program, you need to take a surgical technician exam. The exam is administered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). The exam is a multiple choice exam. Once you pass the exam you are considered a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST).

Another center that offers an exam is the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT). Those who pass this exam are certified as a Tech in Surgery (TS-C). The difference in certification is just which center the test was taken. They are both national centers for certification. Your certification needs to be updated every 4 years.


As with every test you take, the key is being prepared. If you have studied hard and take your studies seriously, you should do fine on the exam. Make sure you take good notes during your course of study. Remember to check back frequently to your notes to keep ideas fresh. There is a lot to learn, so staying on top of it is necessary. Always have a quiet place to study. Stay organized and be prepared. Sometimes it helps to work with a group. Others may have ideas or questions that you have been wondering about also. The most important thing is to have confidence in yourself and know that you can do this!


Once you are a certified CST, you can further your career and become a First Assistant or Surgical Assistant. There are so many possibilities as this field is expected to grow.