What to Know About the NCCT TS-C Certification & Exam

A Tech in Surgery (TS-C) is someone who has gotten a certification from the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) by completing a training program and passing the TS-C exam. 

While not all states or healthcare facilities require surgical techs to be certified, earning a certification makes you a more competitive job applicant and helps you advance your career. 

This guide goes over what’s on the TS-C exam, the requirements to take it, what you have to do to get your TS-C certification from the NCCT, and more.

Overview of the NCCT & TS-C Certification

The NCCT is the National Center for Competency Testing. The NCCT offers certification exams for medical assistants, phlebotomists, ECG technicians, surgical techs, and more. 

Professional organizations, regulatory agencies, and healthcare providers around the nation recognize the NCCT and the credentialing it offers. Many states and healthcare organizations require surgical technicians to earn their certification and register with the state. 

Even if you live in a state that does not require certification, it is still worth working towards your surgical tech certificate. Most employers prefer to hire certified surgical technicians, and having a certification may allow you to ask for a higher starting salary. 

TS-Cs most often work in hospitals but can also work in outpatient centers, physician and dentist offices, and even administrative positions. 

Surgical technicians spend their days sterilizing equipment, organizing operating rooms, assisting the surgeon, and ensuring that everyone in the operating room maintains sterile conditions.

TS-C candidates must complete an approved surgical technologist training course or have at least three years of experience working as a surgical tech before applying to take the exam. After passing the exam, TS-Cs have to renew their certification annually. 

How to Become Eligible to Take the TS-C Exam

There are four pathways to becoming eligible to take the TS-C exam. The NCCT lists out five pathways, but routes number 2 and 3 on its eligibility page are essentially the same, so I combined them in Step 2 below.

  1. Apply as a current high school student in a Surgical Technology program from an NCCT-authorized school. This requires students to graduate with their high school diploma, complete the high school training program, and submit a Tech in Surgery TS-C (NCCT) Critical Skills Competency form. 
  2. Graduate from an NCCT-authorized school within the past five years. When choosing a training program, make sure that the school is NCCT-authorized. 
  3. Get three years of verifiable full-time experience as a surgical technologist within the past five years. Note may be difficult to get experience without first earning a certification and some states prohibit surgical techs from working without a certification. 
  4. Complete a Surgical Technology training or its equivalent during U.S. military service within the past five years. Candidates must be able to submit a SMART transcript or DD214 indicating completion of formal medical services training through the military.

More About the NCCT’s TS-C Exam

Most candidates are able to pass the TS-C exam on their first attempt. However, it does take some studying and preparation. Knowing what to expect will give you the best chance of passing the exam on your first try. 

What’s on the TS-C Exam & Requirements to Pass

The TS-C exam consists of 150 scored items and 25 unscored pretest items. 92% of the exam is 4-option multiple-choice items and 8% is alternative-type questions such as drag-and-drop and multi-select. 

Candidates are allowed four hours to complete the examination and are not allowed to bring in notes, calculators, or any other assistive tools to the examination. 

Topics covered in the TS-C exam include:

Main Topic Sub-Topics Included # Questions % of Exam
Perioperative Care and Preparation Basic Anatomy
Item Integrity & Sterility
Environmental Safety
Communication & Reporting
41 28%
Preoperative Care and Preparation Surgical Procedure & Set Up
Patient Safety
Sterile Technique
48 32%
Intraoperative Care and Preparation Preparation of Supplies
Surgeon Support
37 24%
End of Procedure Tasks and Postoperative Care End of Procedure Tasks
Postoperative Tasks
24 16%

Requirements to Pass the TS-C Exam

The TS-C exam is scored on a scale, meaning that each question is not assigned an equal value. More difficult questions are typically assigned a higher value than easier questions. 

 Candidates must score at least a 70 on the TS-C exam to earn their certification.  

How Much the TS-C Exam Costs

The CST exam costs $190 for members of the Association of Surgical Technologists (AST) and $290 for non-members. Technicians who certify through the NCCT have to pay an annual renewal fee of $77 and complete 14 continuing education credits. 

 AST membership costs $80 per year and includes a subscription to The Surgical Technologist, monthly e-newsletters, and AST social media sites. AST membership is not required.  

How to Prepare for the TS-C Exam

One of the most important things you can do to prepare for the TS-C exam is to choose a great training program. Look for programs with high graduation rates and exam passing rates. 

Our surgical tech program here at Stepful—which prepares you to take the TS-C exam—has an 85% pass rate, which is impressive compared to the national average of just 73%.

After you complete your training program, you can purchase additional study materials and take practice tests offered by the TS-C. You can also watch videos online, practice with flashcards, and re-read your notes from class. 

Most people need some time to study after completing their training course, but waiting for more than a few weeks may make it more difficult to retain what you learned in class. 

TS-C Exam Statistics

The TS-C exam has a 73% passing rate. About 639 candidates earn their TS-C certification each year. In 2022, there were 128,900 working surgical technologists, with a rolling average of 6,690 TS-C certificate holders in the United States.

Renewing Your NCCT TS-C Certification

TS-C certifications must be renewed each year. Surgical technologists must complete 14 continuing education hours and pay a $70 fee each year to maintain their certification. 

Surgical techs who allow their certification to lapse will have to retake their certification exam. If a certification has expired for longer than 5 years, candidates must repeat their entire training program. 

Most people with a TS-C certification benefit from joining the Association of Surgical Technologists. In addition to offering its members a discount on exam fees, the AST offers free courses to earn CE credits and a way to track and submit CE hours for recertification.

How to Become a Tech in Surgery (TS-C) Through the NCCT

Becoming a Tech in Surgery is a great way to advance your career and make yourself a more competitive job applicant. You can take a few different routes to become a TS-C through the NCCT: 

  1. Meet the eligibility requirements. As mentioned above, there are four pathways to becoming eligible to take the TS-C exam. You must meet at least one of these.
  2. Register for your exam. After completing your training program or getting experience, you’ll create an account through the NCCT and pay for your exam. Then, you’ll need to schedule your test at a testing center or with an online proctor. 
  3. Study for your test. Use your class notes, online videos, or NCCT resources to make sure you are prepared for your exam. Studying for a few hours a day for one to two weeks should give you enough time. 
  4. Take your exam. On the day of your exam, arrive early enough to use the restroom, find parking, and clear your mind before the test. Make sure you eat a good breakfast and do your best to get enough sleep the night before. 
  5. Get your results. You will receive a pass/fail score after you answer your final question and submit your exam. Official results will be sent to your NCCT account within a few weeks. 
  6. Apply for jobs. Using websites like Indeed and LinkedIn is an easy way to build a resume and start applying for jobs efficiently. 
  7. Start your career. Remember that things are always changing and progressing within healthcare. It is important to stay up to date on the latest techniques and technologies while you are working. 
  8. Maintain your certification. Each year, ensure that you complete your continuing education requirements and pay the required fees to maintain your TS-C certification. 

What is a Surgical Tech & What Do They Do?

Surgical techs typically work in the operating room of a hospital but can also work in physician’s offices, dental offices, outpatient centers, and more. They work as part of the healthcare team ensuring the safety of patients in need of everything from minor procedures to major operations. 

Clinical responsibilities of surgical technologists include: 

  • Set up rooms for surgery
  • Organize surgical tools and equipment
  • Maintain a sterile environment during surgery
  • Hand instruments to the physician or surgeon
  • Hold the patient and their body tissues in the correct position
  • Provide suction and other assistance to the surgeon
  • Clean and sterilize equipment
  • Count surgical tools before closing the patient
  • Take inventory and order new surgical supplies

Certified Surgical Tech Salaries & Job Outlook

Certified surgical technologists earn a good salary and have a good job outlook. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that surgical techs earn an average of $55,960 per year or $26.90 per hour. 

Earning a TS-C certification can improve your chances of landing a job and increase your salary. Certified surgical technologists can earn up to $40 per hour in some areas, and most organizations require their techs to be certified before working in the operating room. 

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