|Boost Your NCMHCE Test-Taking Success With These Strategies|
Boost Your NCMHCE Test-Taking Success With These Strategies
So you have to take the NCMHCE (National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Exam). We say “have to” because no one we know has taken it for fun. Usually people take it because they want a license to practice their vocation, they have to take it to keep their job, or because they know getting their license will open new professional doors.
The Exam Is Not About Your Personal Worth
It’s not about your expertise as a counselor either. It is an examination on a particular body of knowledge, written by a group of people with a particular perspective. You are being tested on how well you can bring your knowledge and experience to this exam. Try to keep your personal issues out of the process. Just learn the material and answer in a way you believe is correct.
All of these reasons are valid, and even if one of them resonates with you, you can still pass the exam. It’s like you’re a sailor being tested on riding a bicycle. All you have to do is take some lessons in bike-riding, use whatever appropriate skills you’ve learned sailing, practice-practice-practice, pass the exam, and go back to sailing.
Understanding the Structure of the Exam and What It Tests
Over the years, PTI (the Psychotherapists Training Institute) has trained hundreds of potential licensees to pass the NCMHCE. What we’ve discovered and learned from our students is that those who pass the test are generally those who are successful at integrating their education, experience, and knowledge with an understanding of and comfort with the structure of the exam.
Skills: The exam assesses two general types of skills—Information Gathering (IG) and Decision Making (DM). You must ace both of these skill sets to pass the exam. For example, an IG section would require you to identify what information you would need to determine a diagnosis or create a treatment plan. A DM example is when you identify a diagnosis or choose an appropriate referral for the client at termination.
Underlying these two skills are your knowledge base in the content areas and your expertise in case development. The exam consists of 10 “simulations,” with several sections giving a cumulative score in both. If you bomb on one simulation, you can still make up points with the ones that follow.
Content: The content areas identified by NBCC include: Counseling Theories, Special Treatment Issues, Substance Abuse, Psychopharmacology, Outcomes, Career Development, and Fundamentals such as growth and development. When scores are reported, the content areas are collapsed into these three aggregates: Assessment, Diagnosis and Treatment Planning, and Professional Practice.
A good understanding of case development is important since you do some things at the beginning of a case that differ from a successful termination and maintenance of a successful treatment experience.
To make this exam even more of a challenge, every choice you make is scored—positive or negative. This is very different from True/False or multiple choice exams, in which you receive points for correct selections and are not penalized for incorrect selections.
Given this structure, you must be very strategic with your choices because a correct selection that gives you a positive score and an incorrect choice that gives a negative score can cancel each other out. For example, if you choose the same number of correct answers and incorrect answers, you can end up with a score of zero.
We’ve had many new counselors contact us because they’ve taken the exam and failed. Often what we find is that they have an excellent knowledge and experience base, but were unfamiliar with the exam structure and chose too many answers, and the wrong ones reduced their score.
Some Suggestions for Studying
We recommend studying with others so you can hear different approaches to case development. The study process we’ve found to be helpful is:
This group study process, along with instructions for virtual study groups, is free online in the PTI Newsletter.
To enhance your retention of material, skim the material for the central points and highlight them; put them in your MindMap or outline them. Re-read the material and add a new level to your MindMap. But don’t get bogged down recording all the details! If you want to review for more detail, then make flashcards.
Try making memory chains—for each word or concept, create an inner graphic picture of it. The more bizarre the image, the easier it will be to remember the image and the concept.
To become familiar with the exam structure, we highly recommend NBCC’s NCMHCE study guide and PTI’s ExamAce to help you understand the exam’s approach. We also strongly recommend that students read the NBCC Ethical Guidelines so they know the value structure that underlies the entire exam.
Give Yourself the Best Chance for Success
Finally, we have found that the greatest obstacle to successfully passing the exam is your ability to access your wisdom. Your exam anxiety is your worst enemy. When you sit for your exam, if you are clear about your skills, understand the structure of the exam, and do not get into an argument with the way the exam is unfolding (the exam always wins), you are in the best possible position for success.
And if you don’t pass, don’t give up! Persevere—look at your scores, identify your weaknesses, study and practice, and take the exam until you pass!
Dr. Bullard’s teaching and psychotherapy career spans 30+ years. She believes counseling is teaching new life skills and ways of being in the world. Her philosophy is that her job is to work herself out of a job. Helping develop PTI, co-authoring its textbook, and teaching the PTI workshop encompass that philosophy.
Linda Lawless, LMFT, LMHC, licensed 30 years, is an author, consultant, psychotherapist, and trainer. Her mission is to help professionals create practices that are as good for them as they are for their clients. Through PTI she helps qualified clinicians pass their exams so they can move into professional success.
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