The NBSTSA CST Exam: A Detailed Guide for Aspiring Surgical Technologists


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Achieving certification through the NBSTSA’s Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) exam is a cornerstone for professionals in the field of surgical technology. This comprehensive guide aims to equip you with essential information and strategies to excel on the NBSTSA CST exam, ensuring that you not only pass but also stand out in your career.

Understanding the NBSTSA CST Exam

The CST exam is administered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) to assess the competence of graduates from accredited surgical technology programs. The certification is widely recognized across the healthcare industry, signifying a professional’s ability to uphold high standards of practice in surgical settings.

Key Facts about the CST Exam:

  • Exam Structure: The CST exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions, with 175 scored questions and 25 unscored pretest questions.
  • Duration: The exam lasts for four hours.
  • Testing Areas: The exam is conducted at numerous designated testing centers throughout the country.
  • Content Breakdown:
    • Preoperative Preparation (20-25%)
    • Intraoperative Procedures (30-40%)
    • Postoperative Procedures (10-15%)
    • Administrative and Personnel (10-15%)
    • Equipment Sterilization and Maintenance (20-25%)

Importance of the CST Certification

Career Advancement:

  • Professional Credibility: Certification demonstrates your commitment to the highest professional standards.
  • Employment Opportunities: Many healthcare facilities require CST certification for surgical technologist positions.
  • Salary Benefits: Certified Surgical Technologists often earn higher salaries than their non-certified counterparts.

Educational Growth:

  • Continuing Education: CST certification requires continuing education, which encourages lifelong learning and professional development.

Preparing for the CST Exam: Strategies and Tips

Comprehensive Study Approach:

  1. Study Materials: Utilize official NBSTSA study guides and materials tailored specifically for the CST exam. These resources provide in-depth coverage of all exam topics.
  2. Mock Exams: Regularly take practice tests to familiarize yourself with the exam’s format and question style. This practice also helps in identifying areas where further study is needed.
  3. Review Sessions: Participate in review courses or workshops. These are often offered by educational institutions or professional organizations and are designed to cover the core areas of the CST exam.

Practical Preparation:

  1. Hands-On Experience: Gain as much practical experience as possible, whether through your educational program or through volunteer opportunities, to enhance your understanding of surgical procedures and equipment handling.
  2. Time Management: Develop strong time management skills during your study sessions and practice these skills by timing yourself on practice exams.
  3. Stress Management: Implement stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, regular physical exercise, or engaging in hobbies to maintain mental clarity and focus.


What is the NBSTSA CST Exam?

The NBSTSA CST Exam is a certification test administered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) for surgical technologists. The exam assesses the competence of individuals who have completed an accredited training program in surgical technology, ensuring they have the necessary skills and knowledge to perform effectively in various perioperative settings.

Who is eligible to take the CST Exam?

Eligibility for the CST Exam requires completion of an accredited surgical technology program. Candidates also qualify if they are scheduled to graduate from such a program within the next thirty days from their test date. Trained military personnel and individuals needing recertification after previously passing the exam may also apply.

How do I register for the CST Exam?

You can register for the CST Exam online through the NBSTSA website. You will need to create an account, complete the application form, and submit the required documentation along with the exam fee. Once approved, your application will allow you to receive an authorization to test, enabling you to schedule your exam at a designated testing center.

What topics are covered on the CST Exam?

The CST Exam covers a broad range of topics essential for surgical technologists. These include:

  • Preoperative Preparation: Ensuring that all surgical equipment and supplies are ready but also sterile.
  • Intraoperative Procedures: Assisting surgeons during operations by handling instruments, maintaining sterile fields, and performing counts of sponges and tools.
  • Postoperative Procedures: Assisting in wound dressing and patient transfer, and ensuring the operating room is ready for the next surgery.
  • Administrative and Personnel: Understanding hospital and surgical center protocols, patient rights, and legal issues.
  • Equipment Sterilization and Maintenance: Proper cleaning, sterilizing, and storing of surgical tools and equipment.

What is the format of the CST Exam?

The CST Exam comprises 200 multiple-choice questions as a computer-based test, scoring 175 and designating 25 as unscored pretest questions. The exam gives candidates four hours for completion

How can I best prepare for the CST Exam?

Effective preparation for the CST Exam includes a combination of reviewing educational materials, engaging in hands-on practice, and taking practice tests. Furthermore, studying with comprehensive review books, participating in study groups, and attending review workshops can also be beneficial. It’s important to focus on areas where you feel less confident and to familiarize yourself with the exam format and question styles.

What are the benefits of passing the CST Exam?

Passing the CST Exam provides several professional advantages, including increased job opportunities, potential for higher salary, and enhanced credibility in the field. Employees often require certification in the healthcare industry. The CST exam is recognized nationally.

Remember, the key to conquering the CST exam is thorough preparation, practical experience, and a calm, composed mindset on exam day. Moreover, achieving CST certification will open up new professional avenues and contribute significantly to your growth and success in the healthcare industry.