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ICF 101: The Credentialing Exam Part I

Let CLCI be your study guide!

ICF logo that stands for the International Coaching Federation

CLCI Live convenes again to cover ICF related topics. This time around, it’s to tackle something that can certainly stress many out: Exams. Or more specifically, the ICF Credentialing Exam. What is it? How does it relate to the old Coach knowledge Assessment (CKA)? Why should anyone want to take it? What can they expect if they do?

The ICF Credentialing Exam is a critical piece of earning your ACC, PCC, or MCC credential. The 81 question exam covers multiple choice scenarios that will push the coach's knowledge of the core competencies and ethics to their limits.

CLCI Live brings on guests Brandi Keiser (ACC), Beverly Wright (ACC) and Monselete Bowden (ACC) to talk about their experiences with the ICF exam. Join Daniel Olexa (PCC), Jerome LeDuff (MCPC), Anthony Lopez (MCPC), Jen Long (MCPC), Brooke Adair Walters (ACC), Lisa Finck (PCC), and our three guests as they dispel fears and uncertainties about the ICF Credentialing Exam and offer tips for those who hope to take it.

The Credentialing Exam, Why Should I Care?

You might be wondering what the point of the ICF Credentialing Exam is in your situation. Maybe you already have certification. Perhaps you previously passed the CKA (Coach Knowledge Assessment). And besides, exams? They’re stressful. Most of us are glad to avoid them.

The ICF offers three credentials: Associate Certified Coach (ACC), Professional Certified Coach (PCC), and Master Certified Coach (MCC). The ICF Credentialing Exam is the important and final step on anyone’s journey to attaining ICF credentials.

But maybe you still aren’t convinced. It’s still an exam. It’ll mean studying. It’ll mean rigid test taking and possibly failing. Are any of the ICF’s credentials really worth that much?

Here’s something to chew on. The ICF conducts global consumer awareness studies. Their 2022 study found that “85% of coaching clients say it’s important or very important that their coach holds a certification or credential.” That’s right. Your clientele. Your business. It all ties together into credibility and certification.

Maybe you’re already certified through CLCI, but certification only shows that you have education. Being an ICF credentialed coach shows you have education + professional experience. And that experience could be the difference between a client that converts and a lost sale.

What Can I Expect From the Exam?

A person taking an open book exam
Gone are the days of open book exams

So let’s say you’ve decided on taking the exam. What should you expect? Here’s a simplified snapshot of what’s ahead.

Through ICF’s partnership with Pearson VUE, participants can take the exam online or in person. Either way, the exam will be rather regimented and orderly. Taking the test remotely means being watched by a proctor that you can’t see in return. The computer you will be taking the test on will be checked to make sure cookies are enabled and programs like Dropbox or ad blockers are disabled.

Your first try will be included in your application fee and you can technically take the exam as many times as needed. However, while a second try is available right after the first, the next attempt is required to be spaced a few months away. Each retake also will cost $105 USD, so it’s not something that can be approached as if you can sit and retake it on the same day as many times as it takes to get lucky. Participants have to be committed to preparing and aiming to pass!

What about language accessibility? While the exam is delivered in English, it is available with a variety of language aids including simplified Chinese, Spanish, Arabic and more. As ICF is an international outreach, many countries across the world can take the credentialing exam and it is important that it can be understood in the language one is most familiar with.

You may be wondering about grading by now. Think of it like a driver’s license test. You’re allowed a certain number of questions wrong before you fall below a passing grade. The exam is graded on a scale with a range from 200 to 600 points. A passing score is 460.

Participants have three hours to take the exam. This divides up into approximately 67 seconds per answer- and each question will have two answers that you will need to choose. What about those questions though?

Scenarios, Situations, and Samples

There are 81 questions in total. The ICF explains that the exam covers four ‘domains’. These are: Foundation, Co-Creating the Relationship, Communicating Effectively, and Cultivating Learning and Growth. However, the style of questioning is not going to be that of word-for-word memorization of ethics and core competencies. Rather, it will be about mentally applying the code of ethics and core competencies in these domains as they are revealed in real-world scenarios.

The scenarios presented will tie back into general knowledge of the competencies and ethics, as well as drawing on your own experience in the coaching world. Each question will be one of these scenarios! Go in prepared to rack your brain for the best and worst choices a coach can make when in a situation like those offered.

You may have noticed something there- ‘best and worst’. What does that mean?

Well, the ICF Credentialing Exam has an interesting way of approaching how to test applicants. Not only will a participant need to recognize what the best course of action for a coach in those scenarios is, they must also be able to apply the values of coaching to decide what the worst option is.

Let’s go over a sample question.

The ICF provides 8 sample questions, which are, in general, shorter than those that can be expected on the exam. One is as follows:

A client comes to a session appearing stressed. When the coach asks what the client wants to talk about, the client frantically lists a major event they are planning at work, a large family gathering they are organizing, and caring for their aging parents. What should the coach do?

What would come after reading the scenario are the choices. A participant is meant to pick two answers: first, the best action, then the worst. For the example above, here are the four options:

  1. Ask the client if they need to take a moment before starting the coaching sessions, since they seem stressed.

  2. Ask the client to share more about their aging parents.

  3. Acknowledge that the client has shared three significant challenges that they are facing, and ask the client which one they would like to explore first.

  4. Ask the client to begin with the major event they are planning at work, since they mentioned it first.

What’s the best? What’s the worst? To answer, fall back on professional experience as well as knowledge from studying the values of the ICF. Which is the most arbitrary? Which is leading? Which matches the core competencies best? These are the types of applications that one can expect from the ICF Credentialing Exam.

Preparing and Going For It!

So, 67 seconds per answer, 3 hours altogether. Sound like something that you’re ready to get 100% on?

Of course you are! One thing that is important to remember with any exam is to not over study and don't get too stressed.

Consider some of the study tips that are recommended for better retention and understanding of a topic. A neuroscience Ph.D. offers these seven tips, which include breaking studying into chunks, not cramming, and coupling facts with concepts (which is just what this exam will expect you to do!).

Specific to the ICF exam, the option of ‘flagging’ questions can be a double-edged sword. One strategy would be to answer every question as it comes, rather than flagging uncertainties and moving on in order to return and answer them later. By doing this, you will be less likely to run out of time. Then, you can go back to the flagged questions-which you answered!- and then mull over the scenario and its answers again.

When it comes down to it, try to approach the exam in a way that minimizes stress. Don’t over study, and don’t walk in without any studying at all. Try to conceptualize the core competencies and code of ethics. Get plenty of sleep. And aim right for that ACC, PCC, or MCC that you’re fighting for.


Thank you,

Brandi Keiser (ACC), Beverly Wright (ACC) and Monselete Bowden (ACC) for joining us as well as Daniel Olexa (PCC), Jerome LeDuff (MCPC), Anthony Lopez (MCPC), Jen Long (MCPC), Brooke Adair Walters (ACC), Lisa Finck (PCC)!

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Anna Frost
Anna Frost
2023년 5월 11일

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