There are two important things you should remember when preparing for the NCIDQ Exam.
It is a test of minimum entry-level competency. Don’t over-think the questions or be distracted by how something is done in your office. There are no “trick” questions on the exam. The public is only protected when an interior designer is able to adequately demonstrate his or her competence. That is the purpose of the NCIDQ Exam. It is 100% health, safety and welfare. No tricks or hidden agendas.
It is not a test like you took in college. Collegiate exams test your recall of facts. Credentialing exams test your application of those facts. The NCIDQ exam tests the application of facts as they relate to the public health, safety and welfare. It is a practice-based test, so a well-rounded experience in a diversity of practice areas will provide the best preparation.
Resources for Preparation
NCIDQ has several tools to assist you in your preparation. Outside companies have also developed study tools. Because we write the examination, we do not review or endorse any other company’s exam prep resources. Outside test prep providers are not involved in any way with the development or scoring of the exam.
The NCIDQ resources will tell you what is on the test, but they will not “teach” you what you need to know. Many people want us to tell them what they need to know to pass the exam, and we can only reiterate that this is not like exams you took in school, and our purpose in delivering it is not the same. We are assessing your competence to practice in a way that protects the public.
We have outlined the content of the exam on our web site, so you can see exactly what will be tested.
In addition, here are more ways you can prepare for the exam. Click on these links to jump to that section on the page below.
NCIDQ sells multiple-choice practice tests that you can take online. Only the quizzes are online; the exam is still a paper-and-pencil, “bubble”-type scannable answer sheet.
Each practice tests consists of 75 multiple-choice questions reflecting the same percentage of questions in each content area that appear on the actual exam. During the practice test, you can choose a response or mark a question to return to it later. You can even pause the test and complete it at a later time. At the end of the practice test, you receive a score report that provides your results broken out by the content areas of that section. These results help you determine your strengths and weaknesses.
As mentioned above, the quizzes will only tell you the right answer. We will not explain why answer A is right and answer B is wrong. That swerves over into the “teaching” area, and that is not our mission.
After each exam administration, NCIDQ prints the Section 3 exam and sells it to candidates to use for practice. This is the best way to demystify the practicum exam since it is exactly what was previously administered. Many people practice with several different ones.
The benefit of using the Practice Design Problem (PDP) is that you can get a feel for the timing and the pace of the actual exam. We recommend that you take a day and simulate the actual exam experience. Start at the exam start time and end at the same time. Don’t answer your phone; if you get up from the table, count that time against your test time. At the end of each time slot, benchmark your progress. If you are still working on the first exercise when you come to the end of time for Part A, that’s an indication that you won’t finish in the actual exam. Give yourself an hour break for lunch and then work on Parts B and C. That way, you’ll get a feel for what it’s like on the actual exam day.
Here are some recommendations as you work with the PDP:
- Note how much time it took to review the instructions to candidates as well as each exercise’s project description and code requirements.
- Note how long it took you to review the codes. (Hint: review them in advance on our web site.)
- Note how long it took you to complete each exercise.
- Evaluate your overall time management. Which exercise took the most time? The least? Did you run out of time? If so, then take the allotted time and divide it proportionally by the time it took you to complete each task. Based on that first run-through, create a time schedule for each exercise. Then tackle a second PDP (on another day!) using your time schedule as a frame of reference. On examination day, have your time schedule in mind as you begin. Make notes to yourself as to what time you should complete each task to stay on schedule.
Once you have completed the exam, review the solutions that we sell for each exam. (Click here to see a sample page.) Read the graders’ comments and apply those criteria to your solution to see how you did and where you may need additional study and practice.
Be sure to read how the exams are scored. You do not have to pass every exercise to pass the exam.The focus of the grading is the overall impression of the solution and whether you have demonstrated your ability to protect the users of the space to the satisfaction of the graders.
This document is essentially the blueprint our exam writers use when they write test questions. While much of this document is an overview of the technical analysis we performed in order to validate the exam, some people find that seeing what sorts of tasks are defined in today’s practice helps them focus their preparation efforts.
The most useful parts to you to use for preparation will be Appendix K and Appendix M. You can best use this information by first reading through all of the task areas for each section and highlighting the areas that are less familiar to you. Those will be the ones you want to spend the most time reviewing, reading and studying.
You may want to create a color-coded system – one color for the areas you know the least, a second color for the areas that you have some familiarity with and a third color for the areas with which you are most comfortable. This list can then become your outline for studying examination content.
The reference list on our web site includes many books, standards and documents. You do not need to buy every item on this list. Many of them are probably in your firm’s library anyway. These references are intended to be a comprehensive, but not exhaustive, list. You also may find other materials, or have favorite resources, that do not appear on the bibliography.
Select books and sources that will cover your weaker areas. Remember, every question on the examination is verified by appearing in at least one published source. Therefore, NCIDQ’s reference list is one of the best sources for examination content material.
There is a common misconception that the Interior Design Reference Manual by David A. Ballast is the only text needed for preparing for the NCIDQ Examination. This is not true, and the Ballast book is not referenced by NCIDQ question-writers when they are preparing questions for the examinations.
Many candidates form a study group with interior designers in their region who are preparing to take the test. Study groups should be used in a certain way to be effective and not frustrating. Being able to share knowledge and learn from someone else’s experience can be a great way to prepare for the exam. Your group could even “grade” each other’s practicum exams. The following guidelines may help you use study groups more effectively.
- Size matters. As few as two people can be effective, although 3-6 people can make it easier if someone drops out or can’t make the meeting.
- Use technology to connect with others if there are not exam candidates in your area. Aside from the obvious social media resources, there are online tools that allow you to share documents, use virtual drawing boards and even save transcripts of your meeting.
- Choose a meeting place that is free from distractions and allows for plenty of room to spread out if you need it.
- Establish some basic rules from the start. Determine how often you will meet, where you will meet and how long each session will last. Decide if you want to appoint one person a note-taker for the session or if you want to all make your own notes. If one person takes notes, make sure there is a deadline for circulating those notes to all participants. Rotate jobs of facilitator, timekeeper, note-taker, etc.
- Everyone should agree to come prepared for each meeting, having done “homework” to share with the group. Homework could be a report on a section or exercise or an explanation of something on the content list. Each person should agree that he/she will “teach” that topic to the group; use the group’s diversity of experience so that everyone benefits.
- Plan the group’s time effectively. Limit the chit-chat or off-topic conversations during the formal meeting time. You want to be able to cover all the agreed-upon material within the planned time.
- It is always wise to evaluate the effectiveness of the session. How could the time be better used? What could make the next session better? What will be covered in the next meeting?
- Since you’ve worked hard, you may want to enjoy a little social time with your study group afterward. The thought of a reward is always a great motivator.
It may take a few sessions for your study group to find its rhythm. Give it a fair chance to succeed; study groups can increase learning and make the preparation process more interesting. If you find that a group isn’t right for you, then drop it to concentrate on what works best for your style and needs.
Flash cards may remind you of the way you learned multiplication tables in elementary school. As old fashioned as they may seem, flash cards allow you to take advantage of short blocks of time because you can take them wherever you go. Many of NCIDQ’s successful examination candidates mention the value of good flash cards.
Prepare a set of cards by choosing the most important facts or concepts from each chapter or resource you read. Put things in your own words instead of using jargon words (unless a specific definition is required.) As you learn concepts and definitions, put those cards aside and concentrate on the new or more difficult information. Then take out the “old cards” that contain information you know pretty well to refresh your memory.
Make use of applications that allow you to create Web-based and mobile-based study flash cards. You may find that others have already done much of the work for you on sites like quizlet.com or other do-it-yourself flashcard sites.
Managing the time you have for studying is a critical component of success. How much time you should spend preparing depends on the quality and diversity of your experience. If you have worked in a furniture showroom for three years, you may want to spend additional time preparing for some of the hands-on skills you will need to demonstrate. If you have worked as an interior designer for 10 years, you may want to review the level of material that is tested.
Many people tell us they spend between three and six months preparing for the exam. Some tell us they forsake a social life for many weeks prior.
After reviewing the various content areas of the examination, determine your strengths and weaknesses. Focus the majority of your time on your weak areas, allowing some time to briefly review the content you feel more knowledgeable about.
Select a study method that will work for you – study groups, flash cards – or a combination of methods. The goal is to create a program to which you will adhere.
Needless to say, discipline is essential for success. One strategy is to dedicate two nights/afternoons per week the first few months and then gradually decrease your studying time as you get closer to the test date. Once the examination is a week or less away, stop studying and allow yourself time to rest and rejuvenate. It simply is not possible to cram for an examination that is based upon professional experience.
Thoroughly read the Registration Guide on the NCIDQ web site so that you know exactly what supplies you will need, what time to show up, etc. That will minimize the stress for you.