Long time – no see! I’ve been away for a bit because I’ve been focusing ALL of my energy on some very important things. And this past weekend it paid off. I PASSED the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Exam (NCMHCE)!!
For those of you who are not familiar, the NCMHCE is one of the exams nationally used to credential licensed counselors by the National Board for Certified Counselors. And although I’ve had my Associate License for a couple of years, this was one of the final hurdles to becoming fully licensed.
Some of you may be visiting here in preparation for the NCMHCE and looking for some tips and pointers. If that’s you, then stick around! If not, feel free to skip this post and check back in for the next.
So, let’s get down to it. This was my FIRST time taking the NCMHCE and to be honest, I really did NOT think I would pass the first time. However, I did take preparation studying for the test seriously. As such, I thought I would share with all of you what I thought was most helpful for me in studying and actually taking the exam.
- Study Guide – When you begin to plan for taking the NCMHCE, you may ask whether or not it will be “worth it” to purchase study materials. I asked myself this same question and even debated on not spending the extra money. However, I decided to purchase the Arthur Brende study guide and was so glad I did! This study guide was very clear in breaking down exactly what to expect from the test and what to focus on the most. I really liked that the study guide also included the disorders and the information related to each disorder for Differential Diagnosis and recommended treatment interventions. SUPER helpful. And if you have any doubts, this study guide also allows you to return it with full money back if you fail the exam.
- Practice Scenarios – Practicing the scenarios was by far one of the most beneficial preparation strategies. The Arthur Brende study guide I purchased also included 12 scenarios you could take online which mimicked very closely to what the actual exam would be like. The first few scenarios I took I actually did pretty terrible on. It was not until I had taken about 4 or 5 that I began to get the hang of it and learned what they were looking for.
That said, one tip I have here is – less might be more. When selecting items under each scenario question, focus on selecting the ones that make the most sense for the scenario. For example, if a client is presenting with symptoms that sound like PTSD, then it makes sense that you might ask about past traumas, nightmares, etc. If you select about half of the answers available and most of them have been positive answers, it may be best to stop there before risking selecting additional answers which may cause you to lose points.
My last tip on scenarios is to space these out. My study guide included 12, but it was an additional $80 to purchase 12 more (whoa!). I practiced 2-3 when I first received the study guide, and them spaced them out to about 1 a week in the weeks leading up to the exam, leaving enough for me to take 1-2 a day in the week prior.
- Quizlet – Have you ever used Quizlet before? Quizlet is an online database where users submit their own study questions and materials for classes and exams. Register on Quizlet and you can perform a search for the NCMHCE and you will find various quizzes that have already been organized available to you (including some that I created).
Quizlet is great for when you have spare time and just want to be able to quiz yourself on terms, diagnosis, treatment methods, etc. for the exam. There is an app so that you can also quiz yourself on the go. I used this during my commute to work some days, when I found myself waiting for whatever reason, and during commercials while watching tv at home. Best of all – it’s free!
- Go With Your Gut – Another strategy I used both in the practice scenarios and the actual exam was to go with my gut. After reading the initial scenario, I would pause and take a few moments to jot down on a separate piece of scratch paper my initial reactions to the problem. What symptoms jumped out at me about the client? What questions would I ask this client next in real life? Do the presenting symptoms already point towards some potential diagnosis? If so, which ones?
This strategy allowed me to gain some mental clarity. Once I started reading from the answer bank, it was easy to become confused or to start second guessing myself with the answers that were presented. This strategy allowed me to narrow down my focus and then only choose answers that best represented my gut instinct to the questions.
- Take Breaks – There are no scheduled breaks in the exam. However, I had PLENTY of time for this exam and I gave myself a break half way through. The cases can have a tendency to start sounding like one another and you may become confused if you don’t give yourself a few moments to take a break.
In addition, if you’re the type of person that may need comfort items such as a drink, headache medicine, a snack or something similar, a break will allow you to go take care of your needs so you can better focus on the test. The Pearson testing facility allowed for individuals to raise their hand and request a break and allowed for individuals to keep items in a locker in the waiting area to retrieve if needed. You will NOT be allowed to retrieve things such as notes, study guides, cell phones or anything that might look like you’re trying to cheat!
- Extra Attention – The more practice scenarios I completed the more I realized there were definitely certain themes emerging regarding what to look for and expect in the exam. In reading the initial scenario, definitely focus on the symptoms and all components of the question. Does the question indicate the client is struggling socially? Then you would look for answers and remedies that target relief in that area.
I found it helpful to also focus on some of what I would describe as common disorders: Major Depression, Bipolar, PTSD and Substance Abuse. I’m not saying that any or all of these will appear on the exam, but there were several of the practice scenarios that included these diagnosis and they were also present in my exam.
Lastly, I found it helpful to focus on treatment interventions specific to the diagnosis. Again, it’s not necessary to remember everything about the intervention, but to be able to associate Dialectical Behavior Therapy with Eating Disorders may help you in answering the questions.
And that’s it! If you have any other questions or your own tips for successfully preparing for the exam, leave them in the comments below!