How to Study for the NCE Exam


Studying for the NCE

Studying for the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) can seem like a daunting task. After all, if you want to be a certified or licensed counselor, an examination is required. Maybe you've looked up information on application and registration, but are still worried about studying. Some of the best things you can do to prepare are understand the test content and format, test prep options, and beneficial study habits.

Understanding the Test Format

The first step to preparing for the NCE is to really understand what this test is going to look like. The NCE consists of 200 multiple-choice questions, and you'll have 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete it. While there are 200 questions on the exam, 40 of these questions are being field-tested for future exams and are not scored. Therefore, the maximum possible score on the exam is 160.

The purpose of the NCE is to evaluate whether a candidate has the knowledge, experience, and mindset to provide safe and effective counseling services. This is what the 200 questions will be looking for. You are trying to show that you understand counseling as a profession, that you have empathy for different kinds of clients, and that you are competent in the goals, methods, and ethics of the profession.

Understanding the Test Content

The next step to studying for the NCE is to know what's going to be on the test. The 200 questions on the NCE will draw from 13 domains, or subjects. Eight of these domains are determined by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) to be essential areas of knowledge. These eight content areas are:

  • Human Growth and Development
  • Social and Cultural Diversity
  • Counseling and Helpful Relationships
  • Group Counseling and Group Work
  • Career Counseling
  • Assessment and Teaching
  • Research and Program Evaluation
  • Professional Counseling Orientation and Ethical Practice

The remaining five domains are based around the five workplace behaviors crucial to the profession. These five behavior areas are:

  • Fundamental Counseling Issues
  • Counseling Process
  • Diagnostic and Assessment Services
  • Professional Practice
  • Professional Development, Supervision, and Consultation

Understanding Test Prep Options

Now you know to focus your study on these 13 subjects. Luckily for you, this isn't necessarily something you have to tackle on your own. There are several test-prep courses and resources that you can consider to help guide your studying. The NBCC recommends utilizing at least some of these resources.

The NBCC's official preparation guide, Dr. Arthur's study guides, Dr. Howard Rosenthal's prep materials, and study packages from the Association for Advanced Training in the Behavioral Sciences (AATBS) are all generally popular options but are far from the only ones. It is worth noting that each of these resources has its own costs and fees to utilize, so that may factor into your decision. While there are realities to budgeting, sometimes you get what you pay for with test prep material, so it might be worth paying a little extra for the option that you think will best prepare you. has done some price and value comparison for you, available here: NCE Prep Product Comparison. Options profiled include some of those listed above and the NCE Exam: Study Guide & Practice course, which includes self-paced lessons, quizzes and a practice test.

Understanding Studying Behaviors

The last thing a candidate needs to learn about studying is simply how to go about it. Chances are that you've got an idea about what works and does not work for you by this point in your academic development. In case you've forgotten, however, here are some back-to-basics study tips:

  • Find a good study environment and minimize distractions to the greatest degree possible.
  • Try to remain calm and relaxed while studying, and practice relaxation techniques to use during the exam.
  • Talk to peers and other professionals about their experiences studying or taking the exam. While they can't tell you exactly what will be on the test, they can provide their insight and study tips.
  • Take care of yourself. While it's tempting to pull all-nighters, you don't want to mentally or physically exhaust yourself for the test. Pushing yourself too hard can also make you more susceptible to illness.
What is the NCE Exam?

The National Counselor Examination is a 200-question test given to prospective counselors for the purpose of earning National Certified Counselor recognition or state licensure.

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