Surgical Technologist monitoring equipment

How to Pass the CST Exam

Advance Your Surgical Technologist Career by Earning CST Certification

Surgical Technologist monitoring equipment

Certified Surgical Technologists (CSTs) play an important role in the healthcare system, providing patients the care and support they need when they require surgery. CSTs support surgeons by assisting with patients before, during, and after their surgery and performing other ancillary duties.

Obtaining certification—via the CST exam—is a critical step for surgical technologists since it validates that they’ve completed the necessary training, education, and hands-on experience necessary to perform their job to standard. This CST study guide provides the details you need to know about the CST exam, including how to study for the exam, what the exam looks like, and tips on how to pass the CST exam.

Not all entry-level jobs in the medical field are equal when it comes to pay and job outlook. Surgical Technologists rank in our list of the best entry-level medical jobs. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, most certified surgical technologists work in full-time, salaried positions, with the national average yearly salary* being about $54,000. Surgical technologists in the top 10 percent of earners can make over $76,000 per year.

(This study guide focuses on how to pass the CST exam. To learn more about training for this career, read How to Become a Surgical Technologist.)

What is the CST Exam and How Do I Study for It?

The CST exam, short for Certified Surgical Technologist exam, is administered by The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). The exam covers the knowledge and skills necessary for entry-level Surgical Technologists to perform all required tasks in various settings and geographical locations. The exam is designed by NBSTSA committee members in order to assess the skills that comprise the core body of knowledge for surgical technologists as well as surgical first assistants.

Keep reading this study guide for CST tips that will help you study for the exam, learn what the actual test looks like, and find out how to register for the test.

What is on the CST Exam?

As you might expect, the test is designed to include questions that test a candidate’s knowledge of surgery-related medical care. But you may be wondering which topics are covered, and how much of the test is focused on each topic category.

The test consists of three sections of questions in the following areas of focus:

  • Perioperative Care (approx. 91 items), which includes preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative procedures.
  • Ancillary Duties (approx. 26 items), which include administrative, personnel, and equipment items.
  • Basic Science (approx. 33 items), which includes anatomy/physiology, microbiology, and surgical pharmacology.

For the complete list of content covered in these categories, click here.

How Do I Study for the CST Exam?

It’s true. There are a lot of questions on this exam that cover a wide range of topics, terms, and procedures important for Surgical Technologists to understand. That’s why it’s important to create a study plan—and understand how to pass the CST exam.

Following are several ways you can prepare for taking the exam, including some specific tips on passing the CST. Taking part in some or all of these types of CST test prep will give you the best chance to pass the exam.

  1. Review your candidate handbook. The handbook contains the content area outline, recommended reference list, and sample questions. Make yourself a CST study plan to review all of the resources in this guide over several weeks, including those below.
  2. Read through the Examination Content Area Outline. All the areas listed may appear on the examination. They suggest that you mark those areas with which you are unfamiliar, study those areas, or possibly attend a class or seminar. The CST exam is a broad knowledge-based examination that does not test in only one specific subject area or surgical specialty.
  3. Rank yourself using the CST Study Evaluation. This helps you know what kind of topics you should focus on as your prepare for the exam by ranking your level of competency. This self-evaluation can help you identify the areas most important for you to focus on.
  4. Study from the reference textbook list. These lists contain the texts used to develop the questions found on the exam. Use these references to review and refresh your knowledge, particularly in the areas you identified as unfamiliar when you reviewed the Examination Content Area Outline. You should make sure to use the most recent edition of each text.
  5. Join a study group with others. Study together with one or more colleagues preparing to take the CST exam. Create flashcards, share insights, and quiz each other on topics from the study materials. Studying with others can help you better master the information.

Hands of a surgeon holding surgical equipment

  1. Take the CST Practice Examinations. Available through the NBSTSA, these online simulations are based on the actual examination. Candidates will receive an analysis of individual questions and performance. There are two different versions (Form A and Form B) so if you have already taken one, there is another one available.
  2. Use a mobile study app. Several mobile study apps are available through the Apple or Android stores (the NBSTSA has a new app in development that will soon be available as well). You can study some of the same questions on the practice examinations right on your phone).

How Many Questions Are on the CST Exam?

Many candidates wonder how many questions are on the CST exam. So, exactly how long is the CST exam? There are 175 questions on the test, 150 of which are scored and 25 of which are being tested for future examinations and do not count for or against the individual taking the test.

CST Practice Exam

The following CST sample questions provided by the NBSTSA are representative of those which appear on the CST examination. For each question, candidates are asked to choose the single best answer.

1. To revascularize the heart muscle, a graft may be anastomosed between which of the following vessels?

  • A. Aorta and coronary artery
  • B. Aorta and superior vena cava
  • C. Carotid artery and pulmonary vein
  • D. Pulmonary artery and coronary artery

2. When performing a urinary bladder catheterization it is ESSENTIAL that the circulator:

  • A. Shave the pubis
  • B. Keep the catheter tip sterile
  • C. Inflate the balloon in the urethra
  • D. Use the largest catheter available

3. Traction sutures are used on common duct explorations to:

  • A. Ligate the duct
  • B. Close the duct
  • C. Hold the duct open
  • D. Keep the stones in

4. In which of the following prostatic approaches is a resectoscope used?

  • A. Perineal
  • B. Suprapubic
  • C. Retropubic
  • D. Transurethral

5. Heaney clamps are used MOST frequently on a:

  • A. Hysterectomy
  • B. Lobectomy
  • C. Cystectomy
  • D. Gastrectomy

What Score Do You Need to Pass the CST Test?

NBSTSA’s CST exam requirements state that candidates must correctly answer at least 102 of the 150 scored questions to pass the CST examination. As long as you take your study and preparation seriously, you will most likely be prepared and not find the questions to be exceedingly difficult.

In 2020 (the most recent data year available), the CST pass rate for those taking the test for the first time was 74.8%. The recredentialing pass rate was 93.8%.

African-American student writing in a notebook

How Do I Register for the CST Exam?

Due to CST requirements, examinations are by appointment only. Therefore, you must register before taking the test. It is strongly recommended that you schedule your exam soon after you finish your studying activities to increase your chances of doing your best on the exam and getting the time and date you want. CST test dates, especially Saturdays, can fill up quickly.

You can register online or by phone to take the examination at a testing agency location near you:

  • To schedule online, go to and select “Candidates.”
  • To schedule by phone, call PSI/AMP at 833-256-1425, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. CST, Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday, or 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

If your exam is not scheduled for a specific date or time, the testing center can tell you which days and times are open for testing. However, most of the centers are available 6 days a week, twice a day.

Before your test date, the NBSTSA suggests that you double-check the location of the test center and how long it will take you to get there (you can enter the location into your mapping app on your phone). You should also look up parking areas for the test center and the actual location of the test room. If needed, you can call the test center facility to get directions.

You will need your identification for admission to the test when you arrive. You may want to make sure you have your ID the night before to avoid any surprises on the day of the test.

How Much Does It Cost to Take the CST Exam?

For those who have never been certified, the CST exam fee is $190 for AST Members or $290 for non-members price. For those seeking renewal, the CST cost is $399 for AST/ASA members and $499 for non-members.

How Many Times Can You Take the CST Exam?

The CST prep suggestions discussed in this study guide will give you some proven strategies on passing the CST the first time. But there are no guarantees. Sometimes, candidates don’t pass their first time around. The good news is that you can take the test again.

There is no waiting period if you need to retake the test, so you can reapply immediately. But note that candidates can only test three times during each calendar year. Again, follow the best CST test strategies discussed in this article, including completing a thorough CST review of the study content and retaking the practice exams before retaking the test.

The Surgical Technology Program at Brookline College

If you are just learning about this career, or exploring your career options, take a few minutes to read about the Surgical Technologist program at Brookline College. Our program prepares aspiring healthcare professionals to work with doctors and surgeons as they perform critical life-saving procedures within the operating room. Our program also prepares students to sit for and pass the CST exam.


Practice Exam Answers: 1-A, 2-B, 3-C, 4-D, 5-A