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College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination (CPCE)

NCE/CPCE Study Tips
Study Guides


The CPCE exam is a 160 question multiple choice NCE Info exam administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). The UNI Counseling Programs utilizes the CPCE for the multiple choice portion of the comprehensive examination. In addition, the exam will contain two essay questions related to the specific area of study (school or mental health).

For more information on the CPCE, please visit the official site:

Like the National Counselor Exam (NCE), the CPCE covers eight majors topics or areas:

  • Human Growth and Development
  • Helping Relations
  • Social and Cultural Foundations
  • Group Work
  • Career and Lifestyle Development
  • Appraisal, Research and Program Evaluation
  • Professional Orientation and Ethics.

The CPCE contains 20 questions in each of the eight sections. Three questions in each area are field test questions, so you will only be graded on 17 of the questions. A perfect score on the CPCE would be 136, however your score will depend on the national average at the time of the exam.

NCE/CPCE Study Tips

The following extremely useful tips are from Counselor Exam Prep.

  1. In preparing to study for the exam, do a pretest, if possible, which covers the same content material which will be on the exam. Score it and determine what your areas of strength and weakness are to help you develop a plan of attack for studying.
  2. Study the different areas on the exam being fully aware that on the NCE some content areas have a lot more questions on the exam than other content areas. For example, for the area called Helping Relationships (theories and techniques) there are 36 questions but only 11 questions in the Social and Cultural Foundations content area. On the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination (CPCE) which many graduate students take, however, all eight content areas are examined equally, i.e., there are 20 questions in each content area.
  3. If you have been out of school for a few years, I would establish a two-month study program. Each week I would study a different content area being aware that some weeks more hours will be necessary because you may not be as familiar with the material and/or there may be many more questions on the exam from that area. Or, you could study the first two content areas, Human Growth and Development and Social and Cultural Foundations, which have few questions, in one week and use two weeks for Helping Relationships which has the most questions on the exam.
  4. Starting with the second week of study, you need to go back and review the material you studied the first week so you don't lose it. Each subsequent week, you need to keep reviewing material studied earlier. This re-review should be fairly rapid although you may want to add a few new concepts to that content area you had not studied before. Of course, if you have scheduled yourself for the exam and you have less than two months before you write, you will need to adjust your study schedule accordingly.
  5. For most of your study hours, try to use quality daytime hours when you are rested and alert. Schedule study hours on your cell phone or in your day timer. Your late night study hours, after the house is finally quiet, may be less effective because of your fatigue.
  6. Don't overwhelm yourself with tons of materials to study that you have gathered from all over including study guides, textbooks, course notes, etc. Many counselors gather so much potential material to study, they become frustrated, angry and immobilized. One common response I receive from counselors who complete my workshop is that they now know what to study, what the "lay of the land is." Their anxiety is reduced because they have a much clearer picture of what to do and how to get there. We use my Study Guide for the National Counselor Exam as our resource for the workshop and they have this one 350-page book from which to study. Furthermore, my Study Guide is very user-friendly. All the content material is double-spaced and outline formatted. It does not look or read like a textbook.
  7. The NCE has 200 questions and you are scored for 160; 40 are developmental/experimental and not scored for you. There are many forms of the NCE and typically the cutoff for passing the exam is in the 90s (97, 91, 99, etc.) - out of 160 questions. One hundred questions correct out of 160 is 62.5%. Never has the cutoff for the NCE been higher than 65% correct out of 160 so it is a very passable exam, with your preparation. For licensure, some states convert the NCE cutoff to a 75% or similar number before they will call it a PASS. No one will ever ask you what score you received (except for a colleague perhaps) so there is no particular extrinsic value in scoring very high (although you may have intrinsic reasons to do so). You only need to score high enough to PASS.
  8. For those of you taking the national comprehensive exam (CPCE), your passing cutoff score is determined by your university program. The national office from where the exam comes (National Board for Certified Counselors) does not set the cutoff score. Of the 160 questions on this exam (20 in each of the eight content areas), 24 questions are developmental/experimental and not scored for you. Your highest possible total correct is 136 questions.
  9. Many of you taking the NCE will take it on a computer. The computer program does allow you to go back and review items, or answer those you purposely skipped the first time through the exam. You will be given "scratch" paper. Also, when you are finished with the exam, you can press the 'score' button and find out how you did. The vast majority of you will leave with a very bright smile!

Study Guides

The CPCE and the NCE are both comprehensive examinations which cover information from eight areas central to the counseling profession. Many companies publish complete NCE study guides which work equally well for the CPCE. The following study guides are recommended by the UNI faculty for preparing for these exams.Encyclopedia

Encyclopedia of Counseling, Third Edition

By Howard Rosenthal

In the third edition of Howard Rosenthal's best-selling test preparation guide for the National Counselor Examination (NCE), students get more help than ever with an expanded section on marriage and family counseling, new material on web counseling, and updated material throughout. This resource now includes over 1,050 tutorial questions/answers and a new "Final Review and Last Minute Super Review Boot Camp" section. This guide is an ideal review tool for state licensing, the NCC credential, and preparation for written and oral boards. And because the new Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination (CPCE), draws from the same subject areas, the Encyclopedia is a perfect study guide for the CPCE as well. Written in a unique question/answer format, with a quick reference index, this is also an essential student reference volume for use in any counseling, social work, or human services course.


The Counselor's Companion: What Every Beginning Counselor Needs to Know

Edited by Jocelyn Gregoire, Christin Jungers

CompanionStudents and recent graduates of counseling and human services programs will consider The Counselor's Companion an indispensible tool to enhance professional practice, knowledge, and skill.

The text is a reference-style resource that provides new counselors with a way to bridge the gap between what they learned in the classroom and the challenges they will meet in their practice. Beginning counselors will find concise answers to common questions that will likely arise in the course of their professional development and a reliable reference 'companion' as they embark on their careers in the profession.

This volume features contributions from counselor educators and professionals in the field, guided largely by the core-curriculum of the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Program (CACREP). Information is presented in brief form, making the main points of each section concise, clear, visible, and easily accessible. Readers are also introduced to cutting-edge areas of research.