Preparing for the National Counselor Examination (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) requires a strategic and personalized study plan. Both exams assess your knowledge and skills as a counseling professional, and passing them is essential for licensure. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you develop an effective study and practice schedule tailored to your needs.

Step 1: Understand the Exam Format and Content


The NCE consists of 200 multiple-choice questions covering eight core content areas and five work behaviors.

Key areas include human growth and development, social and cultural diversity, counseling and helping relationships, and more.


The NCMHCE is a simulation-based exam with eleven case studies..

It focuses on assessment, clinical focus, diagnosis, treatment planning, skills and interventions, and core counseling attributes.

Step 2: Assess Your Current Knowledge and Skills

Before diving into your study plan, evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. Use practice exams, self-assessment tools, and review feedback from previous coursework or professional experience. Helpful tools for assessment can include practice exams or simulations, like those offered by AATBS, study guides, or study volumes.

Step 3: Set Clear, Achievable Goals

Define what you want to accomplish with your study schedule. Set SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Examples of goals you might set for yourself:


Read and take notes for a section of a study volume each week.

Complete a full-length practice exam every week.

Dedicate two hours daily to study and practice.

Step 4: Create a Detailed Study Schedule

Develop a study calendar that breaks down your preparation into manageable chunks. Consider your daily routine, work schedule, and other commitments.

Step 5: Incorporate Various Study Methods

Use a mix of study techniques to enhance retention and understanding. Different methods cater to different learning styles and keep your study sessions engaging.

Effective Study Methods:

Active Reading: Highlight key points, take notes, and summarize chapters.

Flashcards: Great for memorizing definitions and concepts.

Group Study: Discuss topics with peers for diverse perspectives.

Practice Questions: Regularly test your knowledge with practice questions and exams.

Simulations: For NCMHCE, practice with clinical simulations to hone your diagnostic and treatment planning skills.

Step 6: Regularly Review and Adjust Your Plan

Periodically assess your progress and adjust your study plan as needed. If you find certain areas are particularly challenging, allocate more time to them. Likewise, if you’re excelling in a specific area, you can reduce the time spent on it.

Identify if you are passing the practice exams or simulations without recognizing the questions.  This is often a good indicator of exam readiness.

Step 7: Stay Motivated and Take Care of Yourself

Studying for these exams can be intense, so it's essential to stay motivated and maintain your well-being.

Tips for Staying Motivated:

Set Milestones: Celebrate small victories along the way.

Stay Positive: Maintain a positive mindset and remind yourself of your end goal.

Self-Care: Ensure you're getting enough sleep, eating healthily, and taking breaks to relax and recharge.

Step 8: Utilize Resources and Support

Make use of available resources and seek support from mentors, peers, or study groups.


Study Guides and Textbooks: Comprehensive materials covering all exam topics.

Online Workshops: Interactive learning with expert instructors.

Study Groups: Local groups or online groups like the Triad Community. 

Creating an effective study and practice schedule for the NCE and NCMHCE requires a thoughtful, personalized approach. By understanding the exam content, setting clear goals, developing a detailed schedule, and using a variety of study methods, you can enhance your preparation and increase your chances of success. Remember to stay motivated, take care of yourself, and utilize all available resources. Good luck!