What is the NCE?

What is the National Counselor Exam (NCE)?

 The NBCC describes the NCE as follows: "The National Counselor Examintion (NCE) measures an examinee's knowledge and understanding of theoretical and skill- based tenets necessary to pracetice safely and compentenly as an entry-level counselor." The exam is scheduled for 3 hours and 45 minutes. 


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.

You can get a feel for exam questions with our Sample Exam. You can register for free.

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What is the cutoff score for the NCE? How are the results reported?

As discussed previously, the NCE test comprises 200 multiple choice questions (MCQs), of which 160 are scored and 40 are unscored. Both scored and unscored items are of the same structure, and they appear in jumbled order in the examination. You will have 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete the test. Every administration of the exam offers a different form of the test and the passing score varies with each administration. After you’ve taken the exam, you’ll receive a score report from the NBCC. 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.


What are the content domains on the exam?

Six domains of knowledge are covered on the NCE. The domains and the topics they cover include:

  • Professional Practice and Ethics: This section encompasses counselors’ knowledge, skills, and abilities related to maintaining proper administrative and clinical protocols.
  • Intake, Assessment, and Diagnosis: This section encompasses counselors’ knowledge, skills, and abilities to effectively conduct client intake, assessment, and diagnosis.
  • Areas of Clinical Focus: This section encompasses counselors’ knowledge and skills related to areas of clients’ concern(s).
  • Treatment Planning: This section encompasses counselors’ knowledge, skills, and abilities to develop an effective course of treatment.
  • Counseling Skills and Interventions: This section encompasses counselors’ knowledge, skills, and abilities to conduct effective counseling.
  • Core Counseling Attributes: This section encompasses behaviors, traits, and dispositions of effective counselors.


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 June 2019 and will impact the March 2020 examination and subsequent exams.  The questions from the six domains listed above will address at least one of these five categories. In other words, the six 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 six 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 3 hours and 45 minutes 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.


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 Volumes
  • Color-Coded Flashcards
  • Online Flash Cards
  • DSM-5: Fast-Flip Reference Cards
  • Workshop Summary Didigital Audio Library
  • Theories of Psychotherapy Chart
  • NCE Resource Guide
  • One-on-One Coaching with an Exam Expert

You can learn more about your study options by downloading a starter kit.

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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.


I still have questions. What should I do?

Please contact us at (800) 472-1931 with any questions. A customer service representative or educational consultant will be available to help you.

Get help determining your timeline and speak with an educational coordinator. You can make an appointment online and schedule a meeting on your time.

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