Content and Development
The National Counselor Examination (NCE) is a comprehensive exam designed to assess a candidate’s knowledge of the theoretical and skill-based tenets that are necessary for an entry-level counselor to safely practice. The scope of the NCE was informed by a thorough job analysis that was completed with the participation of over 16,000 credentialed counselors. The job analysis led to the delineation of six work behaviors, which are described below.
Six Defined Work Behaviors (Domains)
The table below reflects the item distribution among these six defined work behaviors (domains), which are further described below. A thorough delineation of each domain and subdomain is available in the NCE Content Outline and NCE Handbook.
Table 1.The weight for each domain
|Percent of Items
|Number of Scored Items
|Professional Practice and Ethics
|Intake, Assessment, and Diagnosis
|Areas of Clinical Focus
|Counseling Skills and Interventions
|Core Counseling Attributes
- Professional Practice and Ethics assesses counselors’ knowledge, skills, and abilities as they pertain to maintaining proper administrative and clinical protocols. This includes topics such as informed consent, client records, use of social media, and confidentiality.
- Intake, Assessment, and Diagnosis consists of items designed to assess a counselor’s knowledge, skills, and abilities to conduct client intake, assessment, and diagnosis. Items in this domain may reflect content such as performance of Mental Status Exams (MSEs), assessment for substance use, and evaluation of an individual’s level of mental health functioning.
- Areas of Clinical Focus integrates information regarding diagnoses and main presenting problems/client concerns that were identified in the job analysis as being the most prevalent in clinical work. For example, issues related to bullying, obsessive thoughts/behaviors, sleeping habits, etc. may be areas of focus on the examination.
- Treatment Planning is the domain of the exam that is built to assess a counselor’s knowledge, skills, and abilities as they relate to effectively treating clients. This domain houses items that may cover everything from a counselor’s ability to identify barriers to client goal attainment, discussing termination, follow-up after discharge, revisions of the treatment plan, or collaboration with other providers.
- Counseling Skills and Interventions encompasses items written to assess counselors’ knowledge, skills, and abilities to conduct effective counseling. This is a broad and comprehensive domain that covers topics such as establishment of a therapeutic alliance, providing crisis intervention, use of self-disclosure, exploring the influence of family, and identifying group themes.
- Core Counseling Attributes assesses the behavior, traits, and dispositions of effective counselors. This domain is measured with items that address topics such as genuineness, empathetic responding, positive regard, and respect for and acceptance of diversity.
The Eight CACREP Curriculum Educational Standards
The content of the NCE reflects each of the original eight Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) content areas and six empirically validated work behaviors that were deemed most pertinent for skilled counseling practice.
- 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
Multiple examination forms are published on an annual basis with different questions, but all forms are built based on these fixed specifications. Each NCE examination form consists of 200 questions, 160 of which are scored (see table above). The remaining 40 items are unscored field-test items. Field-test items are included on the examination to gather item statistics to evaluate their performance for use on future examinations.