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How to study for the National Counselor Exam

Studying for the NCE

It's essential to find what study method works best for you. Studying for the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) can seem like an impossible task. The National Board of Counselor's recommends a minimum of three months of daily studying to give yourself the best chance of success. Understanding the test content and format, the test options, and setting study habits and methods will be the best way to prepare for the exam.

What is the Test Format for the NCE

The first step to preparing for the exam is to 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. However, while there are 200 questions on the exam, 40 of these questions are not scored. These 40 questions are being tested for future exams. Meaning, the maximum possible score on the NCE 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.

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National Counselor Exam Content

The 200 questions on the NCE will draw from 13 subjects. Eight of these subjects (sometimes called 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 subjects are based on 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

What are your Testing Options for the NCE?

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.

EZ Test Prep offers one of the easiest to access and less expensive forms of study in the market. With the ability to subscribe to a monthly subscription to cram or a lifetime subscription to study at your own pace, the NCE Study App allows you to reinforce the material in the same format you will see it on the exam.

Understanding Studying Behaviors

Chances are that at this point in your academic career you have a pretty good idea about what works and doesn't work for you. However, reinforcing good study habits is always a great idea. Here are some study tips we recommend to help in your exam prep.

  • 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.


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