What is the NCE?

NCE is a licensing exam that is required for counselor licensure in many states.

What is the NCE?

NCE is a licensing exam that is required for counselor licensure in many states.

What is the NCE?

NCE is a licensing exam that is required for counselor licensure in many states.


What is the NCE?

The National Counselor Examination (NCE) is a licensing exam that is required for counselor licensure in many states. This article will explore what you should know about this exam before taking it. The NBCC describes the NCE as follows: "The purpose of the NCE is to assess knowledge, skills, and abilities viewed as important for providing effective counseling services. The NCE is comprised of 200 multiple choice questions and is scheduled for a 4-hour period."

Visit the NBCC Website.

The AATBS NCE program provides a comprehensive review of each of these content areas, and practice exam questions that parallel the structure and content of the National Counselor Examination.

What is the Format of the National Counselor Examination (NCE)?

The NCE contains 200 multiple choice questions. Of these 200 questions, 40 are included for experimental purposes and are not "graded" or counted in a candidate’s total score. Therefore, the highest score a candidate can receive on the exam is 160. However, since you cannot differentiate questions included for experimental purposes from those that are graded, you should consider all questions to be of equal weight when you take the exam.

All exam questions provide four alternative answers and only one answer is scored as correct for each item. There is NO penalty for guessing. Therefore, you should mark an answer for EVERY question, even when you are uncertain about whether your response is correct.

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What is the Cutoff Score for the NCE?

As discussed before, 160 of the 200 questions count toward your total score. Every administration of the exam offers a different form of the test and the passing score varies with each administration. Recently, the minimum criterion scores required to pass have ranged from 90 to 102 (out of 160). This translates to getting 56% to 64% of the items correct. If you live in a state that sets its own cutoff score, rather than using the one established by the NBCC, the passing score may be different.

How are the Results Reported?

After you’ve taken the exam, you’ll receive a score report from the NBCC. The report will consist of 14 scores: 8 scores for each of the content areas, 5 scores for each of the work behavior areas, and your total score. Your total score will determine whether you pass.

What are the Content Domains on the Exam?

To prepare for the National Counselor Examination, you will need to know what to study. The NCE tests theoretical and skill-based knowledge from eight content areas emphasized by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), including: Professional Counseling Orientation and Ethical practice, Social and Cultural Diversity, Human Growth and Development, Career Development, Counseling and Helping Relationships, Group Counseling and Group work, Assessment and Testing, Research and Program Evaluation.

  • Human Growth & Development: Life span theories of individual and family development; personality, cognitive, and moral development; abnormal psychology and psychopathology; and learning theories.
  • Social & Cultural Diversity: Multicultural and pluralistic trends affecting society; characteristics and concerns of diverse groups; individual and societal attitudes and behavior based on age, race, religion, disabilities, sexual orientation, culture, ethnicity, gender, intellectual ability, economic status, and family patterns; family violence; and substance abuse.
  • Helping Relationships: Counseling and consultation theories affecting individuals and families; interviewing, assessment, and counseling skills; counselor, consultant, and client traits; and behaviors and other factors influencing the helping process.
  • Group Work: Principles of group dynamics, processes, and counseling; group leadership styles; methods for selecting group members and evaluating group effectiveness; and theories and methods of group counseling.
  • Career Development: Theories of career development; information systems; career counseling approaches; program planning; the impact of gender on career development; career planning and decision making; the relationship between work, leisure, and family; career counseling with specific populations; placement, follow-up, and evaluation; and assessment instruments relevant to career planning and decision making.
  • Assessment: Educational and vocational assessment; environmental and performance assessment; theories and techniques of assessment; principles of validity and reliability; psychometric statistics; interpretation of assessment data; and ethical and legal considerations in the use of assessment information.
  • Research & Program Evaluation: Life span theories of individual and family development; personality, cognitive, and moral development; abnormal psychology and psychopathology; and learning theories.
  • Professional Orientation & Ethics: Professional roles and functions; professional organizations (NBCC, ACA); history of the helping professions; legal and ethical standards; and professional preparation and credentialing.

What are the Five Work Behavior Areas?

The NCE attempts to reflect the actual work done by professional counselors. The NBCC conducted a study intended to establish specific "work behaviors" that should be addressed by the examination. Through the use of surveys, the NBCC classified counselors’ work behaviors into categories. The most recent classification occurred in 2001 and impacted the October 2001 examination and subsequent exams. The questions from the eight domains listed above will address at least one of these five categories. In other words, the eight domains provide the basis for the content of the questions and the five work behavior areas provide the basis for the context of the questions. For the purposes of studying for the exam, the eight content areas provide a more useful breakdown because the actual information (i.e., content) needed in order to answer a question correctly will likely come from an understanding from the content area. The context of the question (i.e., the work behavior area associated with the question) may vary, but the correct decision will likely depend more on content knowledge.

Each of the five categories and their associated work behaviors are listed as follows:

  • Fundamentals of Counseling: Utilize fundamental counseling theories; utilize fundamental counseling processes; provide individual counseling; provide family, child, and adolescent counseling; and counsel clients concerning substance use/abuse, sexual abuse, and physical abuse.
  • Assessment and Career Counseling: Provide career counseling; utilize computerized and print-based career counseling resources; help client develop decision-making skills; use interest inventories, achievement tests, aptitude tests, intelligence tests, and other assessment methods; help client understand test results; and evaluate client’s occupational and educational skills.
  • Group Counseling: Provide group counseling; evaluate group progress; assist in group development; manage group termination; inform clients about group counseling goals and procedures; observe group member’s behaviors; and use group- and leader-centered group counseling leadership techniques.
  • Programmatic and Clinical Intervention: Provide individual counseling; establish and evaluate client goals; assess psychosocial needs; observe clients; evaluate support systems; evaluate client dysfunctions; establish diagnoses; establish treatment plans; inform clients about roles of counselors and clients; inform clients about legal and ethical standards; evaluate referrals; utilize client data; and use specific counseling techniques.
  • Professional Practice Issues: Review ethical standards and legal statutes; conduct community outreach and community public relations; provide consultation services; supervise and evaluate counselor trainees and staff; read current literature; participate in continuing education; engage in counseling outcome and process research; engage in experimental and observational research; write for publication; provide multicultural training and education; and conduct training programs.

How will the exam be administered?

In some states, during the exam you will respond on an optically scanned answer sheet, blackening the appropriate answer space using a #2 pencil. In other states, your exam will be administered on a computer.

How much time do I have to complete the exam?

You will have 4 hours to complete the exam (this is true whether you are taking the exam for national certification or state credentialing).

When should I begin to review the practice exams in the study materials?

You should review the practice exams throughout the study process, from the beginning stages until just before the actual exam. The practice exams will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, refine your understanding of the topics, and enhance your test-taking skills. We strongly encourage participants to study all of the questions in the practice exams multiple times because they are the most exam-specific information in the study materials.

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How important is note-taking during my preparation?

Note-taking (e.g., flashcards, summary tables) can be a very important part of your study process. Because there is so much information to retain during your studies, you will need some strategy for synthesizing and organizing all the information.

How do I develop my test-taking skills?

The best way to develop your test-taking skills is to review as many practice questions as possible in our study materials. We provide a detailed explanation following each question, which will help you to learn from your mistakes. In addition, we provide specific test-taking strategies for analyzing the most difficult questions such as translating the wording into simpler language, eliminating poor choices, identifying trick questions, and so on.

What resources are available to help me pass the exam?

AATBS has been successfully preparing candidates for licensure for over 30 years. We have many tools to assist you in your preparation. They include:

  • Comprehensive Study Packages
  • Exam Prep Bundles
  • Live Online Workshops
  • Comprehensive Study Volumes
  • Color-Coded Flashcards
  • Online Flashcards
  • DSM-5: Fast-Flip Reference Cards
  • Theories of Psychotherapy Chart
  • One-on-One Coaching with an Exam Expert

Why is AATBS better than the competitors?

AATBS’s success rate on the NCE is due to the quality and variety of study resources that our staff of experts—researchers, writers, instructors, and consultants—have created to assist you in your preparation. This cannot be matched by any of our competitors, which means we can tailor an individualized study program to meet your particular needs.

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Other Frequently Asked Questions


The National Counselor Examination (NCE) measures an examinee’s knowledge and understanding of the core concepts and principles required for safe and effective counseling practices. The NCE can be challenging, but there are simple steps that can help you prepare.

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LPCC stands for licensed professional clinical counselor. LPCCs who have obtained licensure treat clients who are facing behavioral disorders. The National Counselor Exam (NCE) is one requirement for becoming a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC). To become a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC), you must first graduate from an accredited program or a program housed within a regionally accredited institution.

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There are many different types of mental health professionals. The terms "counselor" and "therapist" are often used interchangeably, which makes sense because there are many similarities. Counselors and therapists both treat a wide variety of conditions in many different settings.

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The median annual salary for counselors was $47,500 in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are many educational paths to becoming a counselor, all with varying time commitments. In order to become a licensed mental health counselor, you will need to obtain an undergraduate degree, as well as a master’s degree in Counseling or Counseling Psychology. Some mental health counselors also hold doctorate degrees.

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