National Counselor Exam

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Each year, in order to achieve national certification in counseling, many people take the National Counselor Exam (NCE). This exam is professionally recognized and highly respected among those in the field of counseling. In 1982 the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) was created in order to establish a national system for registration and certification of counselors. Shortly thereafter, the organization sought a way to standardize counseling examinations and instituted the NCE. Since its inception, the NBCC has expanded to credentialing counselors in over 40 countries, as the NCE exam allows counselors to gain credentials which demonstrate that they have met high standards. Since the 1980s, over 40,000 counselors have received national counselor certification.[1]


NCE Study Guide

This test is utilized for two basic purposes. It serves as a component for National Counselor Certification and it can also grant state counselor licensure (check with your individual state). This exam is primarily taken by recent graduates and working professionals who are seeking national certification. In October of 2012 over 2,680 tests were given, with 2,243 passing the test.[2]

Test Administration

NCE Flashcards

In order to sit for the test a person must fill out an application form and include a sealed college transcript that indicates conferral of a degree in counseling or a related field. More information regarding the application process can be found at It is offered twice a year, in April and October.[3] Fees that must be paid include $195 for the NCE, if taking it for national certification. If you are taking the test for a state licensure, the cost can vary by state and you should check with local officials. It is important to note that if your state utilizes the NCE, passage of the test does not automatically confer state licensure; local officials may require additional testing. On the exam day, the test will begin at 9am and is scheduled to last no more than four hours. The test is either computer based or written, this depends on where you take the exam. It consists of 200 multiple choice questions, 160 of which will be scored. 40 questions are used in helping determine their suitability for future exams. The test-taker will not know which 160 will count so approach each question with full effort. There is also no penalty for wrong answers, so educated guesses will not count against a test-takers final score.[4]

Test Format

Sections of the NCE Test
NCE Test Subject Areas # of Questions
Human Growth and Development 12
Social and Cultural Diversity 11
Helping Relationships 36
Group Work 16
Career Development 20
Assessment 20
Research and Program Evaluation 16
Professional Orientation and Ethical Practice 29
Total 160

Test Structure

The National Counselors Examination is made up of 160 questions, along with 40 pretest questions. All 200 items are multiple choice, and are made up of content from the following eight categories: Human Growth and Development; Social and Cultural Diversity; Helping Relationships; Group Work; Career Development; Assessment; Research and Program Evaluation; and Professional Orientation and Ethical Practice. These same questions will also be based off of five work behaviors: Fundamentals of Counseling; Assessment and Career Counseling; Group Counseling; Programmatic and Clinical Intervention; and Professional Practice Issues. Test takers are allowed four hours to complete the exam.

Test Environment

The NCE Exam typically begins at 9:00 AM, and lasts four hours. Candidates will receive the test, and record their answers on a separate answer sheet.

Test Content

  • Sample National Counselor Exam Questions:
  1. Research that compares findings across many studies is known as:
    A. Quasi-experiment
    B. Survey method
    C. Meta-analysis
    D. Comparative research
  2. Four broad stages of development in the first three years of life are identified in Object Relations Theory. Which of these represents the correct chronological order of these four stages?
    A. Fusion with mother; Symbiosis with mother; Separation/Individuation; Constancy of self and object
    B. Symbiosis with mother; Fusion with mother; Separation/Individuation; Constancy of self and object
    C. Constancy of self and object; Separation/Individuation; Symbiosis with mother; Fusion with mother
    D. Separation/Individuation; Constancy of self and object; Symbiosis with mother; Fusion with mother
  3. What are some signs to look for in assessing the risk of suicide in a client?
    A. A lifting of depression due to the relief of having made a decision
    B. An unnatural sense of gaiety as all responsibilities are discarded
    C. Frequent explosions of hostility or rage directed at other people
    D. Establishment of a definite plan and having the means available
  4. As of the 21st century, the number of certified and licensed counselors in the U.S. is close to:
    A. 10,000
    B. 100,000
    C. 1,000,000
    D. None of these
  5. Kathleen is not excessively troubled, but she is quite shy. She is a member of a counseling group with a focus on minimizing aspects of shyness and preventing their occurrence in social situations. According to Caplan, this would be an example of:
    A. A primary group
    B. A secondary group
    C. A tertiary group
    D. None of these
  6. Irvin Yalom specified that the functions of a therapy group leader should include: emotional stimulation; caring; meaning attribution; and executive leadership. Zander Ponzo found support for these same factors, and he also identified other factors found in successful groups. The factors Ponzo identified include all EXCEPT:
    A. Participation
    B. Risk-taking
    C. Neutrality
    D. Conflict-confrontation

More free NCE practice test questions.


Per NBCC policy, the test is scored based on a modified Angoff method. This is where experts in the field of counseling go over the test and decide what score is acceptable for passing the exam. This approach is routinely used in other standardized tests. Results are mailed to examinees within two months following the exam.[5] The score report contains 3 important pieces of information. First, the number of correct responses for each of the 13 domains is reported, along with your total score. Second, the mean and standard deviation for that testing period are given. Third, the minimum score that an examinee needed to pass is clearly reported. If you total score exceeds the necessary minimum, then you have passed the exam. It should be noted that if you desire your scores to be sent to a third party, which could include an employer or school, there are additional fees. Applicants who do not pass the test are allowed to retake the exam a total of three times during a two-year period. You must fill out a new application form and pay the $195 test fee.[6] If a test-taker requires special accommodations, such as extra time or a reader, permission must be made in writing when you apply for the test.

Answers to Sample Questions

1:C; 2:A; 3:D; 4:B; 5:B; 6:C;


  1. ^ National Board for Certified Counselors History 27 February 2014
  2. ^ National Board for Certified Counselors Test Results 16 March 2014
  3. ^ Eastern Kentucky University 27 February 2014
  4. ^ Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania 27 February 2014
  5. ^ New Haven University 27 February 2014
  6. ^ National Board for Certified Counselors Scoring 27 February 2014