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How to Pass the NCE and CPCE Counseling Exams


The NCE and CPCE are common exams that most counseling trainees will encounter at some point in their academic career. Both exams are administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). The CPCE, or the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination, is typically used as an exit exam for most accredited counseling programs throughout the United States. The National Counselor Examination (NCE) is required for licensure in most U.S. states and it is also a requirement to become a National Certified Counselor, or NCC. Both of these exams are multiple choice, the CPCE has 160 questions while the NCE has 200 total questions. Both measure the following content areas:

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

Counselor training programs provide coursework that is relevant to each of the areas mentioned above.

As a recent graduate in the field of Mental Health Counseling, I can relate to the feeling of dread when you realize that the CPCE and NCE exams are fast approaching! Despite how much time and energy you've put into your coursework for each class, it's a bit intimidating to know that they have chosen several hundred questions that span ALL of the information you have learned throughout your training as a counselor. It's hard not to go into panic mode, especially when you consider how much you are paying just to take the exams! Although you can take the NCE more than once, you more than likely won't want to shell out the money to take it twice!

I was fortunate to pass both my CPCE and NCE exams on the first try, but I can assure you, it was by no means easy. You need to study. It's that simple. You can't go into the exam hoping that you'll remember what you learned in your first counseling course over a year ago, it's not realistic. So, start studying as soon as possible. Here are a few tips that helped me...

  • Begin studying or reviewing at least two months prior to taking the exams
  • Save all of your textbooks and class materials from each class and use them as a study guide
  • Set aside at least two hours each week dedicated to studying for your exams
  • Put together a study group with other members of your cohort so that you can help hold each other accountable
  • Take as many practice tests as possible! They will help you become more familiar with the types of questions that will be asked.
  • Invest in a good study guide (see below)

Top 3 Study Guides for CPCE/NCE

My top pick for a CPCE/NCE study guide is Howard Rosenthal's Encyclopedia of Counseling Package. It provides a complete review of information for all eight areas covered on both the CPCE and NCE Exams. What I love about this study guide is that it isn't just a book, it comes with an 18-CD audio set so you can utilize any commute time! I had a half-hour commute to and from my internship, so this came in handy for me! I would definitely recommend investing in this study guide if you want to feel prepared and confident going into your CPCE and NCE exams!

The next study guide that I would recommend is Mastering the National Counselor Exam and the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination by Erford, Hays, and Crockett. This guide was actually required by my counseling program and was recommended by program faculty. It's definitely comprehensive. It comes with practice exams and provides a chapter on each of the eight areas contained on the exams. However, it is only a textbook so it's a bit limited compared to the Encyclopedia of Counseling Package mentioned above. The practice exams were really helpful though, so it's worth the investment!

My last recommendation for a helpful NCE/CPCE study guide is the Study Guide for National Counselor Examination and CPCE by Helwig. I will note that this is the most expensive option, but also has helpful features that make it worth the value. This guide is comprehensive and covers all eight areas contained on each exam. It also contains practice tests along with study tips and test-taking techniques to help you ace the exam. My favorite feature of this study guide was that it includes information about cut-off scores on the exams and incorporates the ACA Code of Ethics into the study guide. I also liked that it came in spiral-bound form, making it easier to read in comparison to typical textbooks.

Other Helpful Hints...

If you happen to be more of a hands-on or mixed-media type of learner, try getting more creative with your studying. Quizlet has some excellent options available and you can utilize study materials uploaded by other users which is convenient. You can play study games and utilize electronic flashcards. They even have an app that you can download and utilize when you're on the go and just want to spend a few minutes brushing up on the material!

If you're into apps, try searching for other NCE study apps. There are more than a handful of apps available for studying for the NCE and CPCE. Some of them aren't worth the time it takes to download, but there are a few really good ones that will allow you to take practice tests from your Smartphone, which is handy for those late nights when you can't get to sleep! I recommend the NCE / CPCE Counselor Exam Prep App by Upward Mobility, it was the best one that I came across while studying for my exams.

If you're a fan of Youtube, utilize that to your advantage! There are tons of videos that will review information that is relevant to each of the eight target areas covered on the exams. I would play Youtube videos about counseling ethics, theories, etc. while I was getting ready each morning. It was a good way to double-task and utilize my time wisely!

Good luck on your exams and your journey to become a professional counselor!


Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 25, 2016:

Informative and well-advised on this unique topic.