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ICF 101: The Credentialing Exam Part II

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

Sample Questions & Breaking The Mystery Down

A large question mark that is lit up on the inside by lights,

Welcome to Part II of our Credential Exam series where we take a closer look at some scenarios and questions you may encounter!

As we know from Part I, the ICF Credentialing Exam consists of scenario questions that coaches are asked to identify the best and worst course of action for. To help coaches prepare, the ICF provides 8 sample questions with 4 multiple choice answers each and shares the correct responses. But why are those answers what they are? What makes one path better than another? What makes one reaction worse than the rest?

Join Jen Long (MCLC), Jerome LeDuff (MCPC), Lisa Finck (PCC) and Daniel Olexa (PCC) as they break down each of the 8 sample questions and the potential why's behind the answers.

The Credentialing Exam: Hints, Keywords, and Red Flags

calendar with red flags marked on dates
Flagging questions is an essential strategy for the exam

One way to approach the scenario questions is to see them as being in one of two categories: ‘the what’ questions and ‘the who’ questions. The former are focused more on the problems being brought up by the client in a session that they would like to work on. The latter are more focused on the client as a person themselves, and step into the ethical practices of a life coach.

The ICF Credentialing Exam offers scenario questions with multiple choice answers. However, here’s where it may differ from multiple choice quizzes you are used to: you pick two answers. The best course of action, and the worst course of action.

In all the scenarios that will be offered, the better answers out of the options will be those that address “the who’s” emotion. What is the client’s behavior? Are they distressed? More excited than usual? The best answers are those that remember to view the client as a person. When you look at the options, find those that have the coach being present with the client -fully in the moment- and respectful of them. Look for those answers where the coach pauses and acknowledges something the client has said or done. Look also for those where the coach asks permission, rather than making assumptions.

What about the worst options? Those will be the opposite. Look for answers where the coach is fully focused on the problem and are stuck on "the what" and being in ‘problem-solving mode’. They may offer suggestions, telling the client what to do and giving them ideas. And assumptions are a big giveaway that an answer may be the ‘worst’ choice.

Also consider a scale. On one side is full transparency as a coach that includes disclosing possible conflicts of interest, understanding when you are triggered, referring clients to other professionals if need be, and being respectful and open with the client all the while so that they know where you are coming from. On the other side is full opacity, hiding information or not disclosing conflicts of interest. There will be answers in the multiple choice that fall in between these two ends. But the best option and worst option will likely be those furthest to one side and the other.

Let’s test these hints out on the ICF’s sample questions.

What Makes A Good (And Terrible) Answer

All the questions can be found here on the ICF's website but we will refer to them in this blog as well.

Question 1

Example question 1 of the ICF Credential Exam

The 1st question delves into a possible conflict of interest. The ICF supplies the best answer as D and the worst as A, while B and C fall in the middle and would be ‘incorrect’ answers to pick for either. Let’s break the best and worst down.

D is “Share their role as an investor in a competing business and acknowledge the possibility of a conflict of interest with the client.” What can we note about the wording of this option? Acknowledge, for one. This option is to be fully transparent with the client.

A, the worst, is in contrast: “Not say anything. Try to keep their role as an investor in a competing business separate from their role as a coach.” So many assumptions are being made in secret by this coach. They are assuming that they can keep their roles separate. This is not only the fully opaque choice, it also is not aligned with the ICF Code of Ethics.

Question 2

Example question 2 of the ICF Credential Exam

The 2nd question describes a situation wherein a coach is frustrated that the action plan from a previous session was not gone through with. The correct answer to this question is: “Take a breath and acknowledge that the client is responsible for their own choice of whether to follow through with their stated plans or not.” The worst is: “Praise the client for meeting the project deadlines, but ask why the client failed to support their team members’ development.”

What can we note about either? The best answer is the one that most recognizes the client is autonomous. The coach there is trying to let it go, but they do not suppress their irritation altogether. They “Take a breath and acknowledge”, before leaving it behind. In contrast, the worst choice not only does not let go of the plans from before, it also begins with another keyword: “praise”. This word can be wrapped up in a red flag for the exam.

Question 3

Example question 3 of the ICF Credential Exam

The 3rd question deals with a frantic client who has disclosed three reasons they are so stressed.

On the ‘best’ side, we have “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.” There is the word: acknowledge. Starting with that shows the coach being present with the client, recognizing their emotions, but not stepping into a role as a therapist.

In contrast, the ‘worst’ option is “Ask the client to begin with the major event they are planning at work, since they mentioned it first.” This has ignored the emotion in the room entirely. It is giving the client a suggestion, taking the reins from them. Adding on top of all that, the direction chosen here for the client by the coach is based entirely on an arbitrary assumption that the client will want to talk most about whatever they mentioned first.

Question 4

Example question 4 of the ICF Credential Exam

The 4th question involves a quiet client who does not often verbally discuss their personal state, but who has brought in a detailed journal intended for the coach. The options here range from asking the client to summarize the contents of the journal aloud to asking them to share new awareness that journaling brought them. Here, the best choice is to “Acknowledge the reflection work the client has done, and ask the client if they feel comfortable exploring some of the emotions they described in their journal.” Why? It acknowledges the work that the client has put in. It acknowledges how they have been valuing these sessions, despite how out of their comfort zone it is. The next key phrasing to see is that the coach here makes sure that the client is comfortable going into the emotions they had written about. It does not straight away tell them to start diving into those emotions.

The worst of the options earns that ranking because it does the opposite. Look at “Ask the client to identify some steps they can take to overcome the anxieties they wrote about.” Does this acknowledge how the client has been working to increase the value they get out of sessions? Does it acknowledge their comfort zone and how they have already stepped out of it? This is a fully ‘problem-solving mode’ answer and that can be the hint to identifying it as the worst.

Question 5

Example question 5 of the ICF Credential Exam

Question 5 deals with a client who becomes emotional and discloses how hard they are taking upcoming retirement. Here, we can see some keywords in our multiple choice options: pause and acknowledge.

The best answer is “Pause, then acknowledge the emotional impacts the transition seems to be having on the client, and ask if they would like to spend some time with those feelings.” This has the coach taking a breath, acknowledging the emotions of the client, and then asking permission.

Here’s where our tips can get tricky. What does the worst option begin with? “Pause for a moment, then ask the client to identify the remaining plans they would like to focus on today.” Pausing. But note that there is no acknowledgment of the client’s emotion afterward. In fact, their emotional state is steamrolled as the coach completely ignores it and moves into that ‘problem-solving mode’.

Question 6

Example question 6 of the ICF Credential Exam

The 6th question regards a client who is the caretaker of aging parents and their children alike. It involves two emotional states: first, one of excitement from the client about upcoming changes that new job opportunities might offer them (like traveling), and two, one of quiet upset after the coach asks the client about the needs of those they are caring for.

We can see the pattern of pause, acknowledge, ask permission once more in our correct answer: “Pause for a moment, then share with the client that they noticed a change in the client’s energy. Ask if the client would like to explore what they are feeling in this moment.”

The worst choice is that which is completely cold. “Repeat the question to the client to give them another opportunity to respond to the coach’s inquiry.” may be phrased as the coach giving the client ‘another opportunity’, but re-asking the question that caused the client upset to start with is cold. On top of that, this option completely ignores the energy shift to start with.

Question 7

Example question 7 of the ICF Credential Exam

The 7th question regards a client who is trying to write a book and has come in discouraged about writer’s block in the last three chapters they have to go. They are a marathon runner and the question is sure to tell us that they use metaphors of marathon running often in their sessions when they describe the challenges and progress made in their writing experience.

That is a hint in and of itself. The correct answer is the only one that indulges in metaphor. While the answer does ask the client to explore the past, it is not to stay there but rather to pull experiences to the present.

While the remaining three answers don’t have metaphors, one gets to be worse than the others: “Remind the client that they have achieved extremely challenging goals in the past and can meet this big goal, too.” This sounds nice, but is it the coach’s job to be nice? To be a cheerleader? This answer does not address the struggle that the client has brought up at all.

Question 8

Example question 8 of the ICF Credential Exam

Finally, question 8 regards a client who has been self-critical in the past, but is proud and happy in the session here because of the improvements they have made over the year that they have had this coach.

For this very last practice, note the words acknowledge and invite. In the best answer, we see both: “Acknowledge the client’s growth in confidence over the past year, and invite the client to share how they plan to celebrate their selection for the leadership development program.” This is fully present with the client and inviting is in the same vein as asking permission.

The worst answer not only suggests something to the client, but is also blatantly transactional. It is: “Suggest to the client that they extend their coaching engagement to work toward a new goal of being promoted to a leadership role.” Pushing for more business for you the coach is not going to be the proper answer for any of these scenarios.

Demystified Yet?

We hope this analysis of the right and wrong answers sheds some light on the ICF sample scenarios. Remember that at the root of these all, the answers relate back to the core competencies, the code of ethics, and the responsibilities of a coach.

Pause a moment to breathe and acknowledge. Ready for more practice?


Thank you,

Jen Long (MCLC), Jerome LeDuff (MCPC), Lisa Finck (PCC) and Daniel Olexa (PCC)!

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The article provides helpful suggestions on how to approach scenario questions in the ICF Credentialing Exam. Focusing on the "person of the client" rather than just the "issue" and finding ways to understand, acknowledge and respect them are key to selecting the best answers. These tips are invaluable for those preparing for this iq test free certification exam.


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Foster West
Foster West
May 15, 2023

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