International Coach Federation (ICF) updated some of their credentialing requirements. There were at least two significant changes: the number of client coaching hours required to become a PCC level coach decreased from 750 to 500, and applicants must pass a multiple-choice exam that demonstrates solid knowledge of the ICF Core Competencies and Code of Ethics.
The Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA): Setting Yourself Up for Success
After years of trying to unlearn my „good student” tendencies, it only took a single opportunity to bring them back up again.
Most of my coach colleagues probably are aware that in the past few years, the International Coach Federation (ICF) updated some of their credentialing requirements. There were at least two significant changes: the number of client coaching hours required to become a PCC level coach decreased from 750 to 500, and applicants must pass a multiple-choice exam that demonstrates solid knowledge of the ICF Core Competencies and Code of Ethics.
Maybe this is good news to you, as it was to me. These changes meant I could move from my ACC status to PCC sooner than I had thought. So I scrambled to get my records in order and, to my delight, my accumulated coaching hours exceeded even the previously required 750. So there was no excuse to delay going for the next certification level.
Except, of course, The Test.
The „good student” side of me was triggered, so I scoured the web for clues and guides as to how to best prepare. There was little to be found that didn’t simply repeat the information on the ICF website. I discovered one video/conference callthat shared the experiences of two coaches who had passed, and I found comfort in their insights. Taking a prep course (there are a few out there) felt like overkill.
So after experiencing a bit of hesitation cancelled out by an overwhelming desire to check it off my list, I blocked off time on a Saturday afternoon and took the online exam. And thank goodness for instant results! I had the immediate satisfaction of knowing I passed and could get on with my weekend. (The only bummer: not knowing which specific questions I missed and what the correct answer was. As a friend and mentor told me afterwards, it’s about assessing, not learning. Too bad… what a missed opportunity!)
All things are ready, if our mind be so.
― William Shakespeare, Henry V
In the spirit of being in solidarity with all of my fellow „good student” colleagues out there, here are some tips to help you have a positive experience with the CKA (hint: these tips generally apply to any licensing or certification exam your profession calls for):
Trust your experience. If you’ve had a steady stream of clients with whom you feel you’ve done good coaching work, then you’re ready. This is especially true if you’ve paired consistent coaching with consistent learning. Participating in conferences, local ICF chapter events, teleclasses and webinars, or taking à la carte courses on specific skills all contribute to your body of knowledge and preparedness for the exam.
Refresh your memory. Even with steady work and learning, you might decide it would be useful (especially if it’s been a while since your training) to go back and review books and reading materials to refresh yourself on the core language and principles of coaching. The two documents that helped me the most were theCode of Ethics and the Core Competency Comparison Table. You can have those documents printed out and with you during the exam, and you may end up referring to them a handful of times.
Get back to basics. Over the years, you’ve probably taken liberties with some of the core competencies as you’ve developed your own style, adapted to your clients’ needs, and grown more confident in your skill set. The assessment, however, is looking for how well you know theory, not necessarily what you’ve experienced in practice. Keep in mind that while there may appear to be a degree of subjectivity to some of the questions, it’s more advisable to go „by the book” when choosing your answer.
Take advantage of the exam format. You have a full three hours to complete the exam. Plan to use it, and don’t feel you need to be an overachiever and finish in record time. Resist the idea that you’ll block off three hours but hope it only takes two. Since it’s online and available 24/7, commit to a time when you’re at your best energy and focus. Eat something nourishing beforehand and do whatever you can to feel rested and relaxed.
Remove all distractions. On your computer, have only the exam tab open; close every other browser window, messaging app, email, or VOIP program. Turn off or silence your phone, and put it out of sight. Take the exam in your office, a library, or other quiet, private space. Kids, pets, spouses, texts, and the refrigerator are all distractions you can do without for three hours.
Read each question and its answers at least twice. This tip came from the aforementioned video/conference call. One of the coaches mentioned that English was a second language for her, so she found herself taking extra time to read and reread each question to be sure she fully understood its meaning. What’s funny is that if you have any level of test anxiety, feel pressure, or feel distracted, even your native tongue can read like a foreign language! Use the time they give you; dividing 180 minutes by 155 questions leaves you with about 1 minute, 16 seconds for each question. Some questions will take you 15 seconds (they’re short and there’s a clear answer), others will take you a full minute or two. There’s no reason to rush. For the longer or more nuanced questions, it helped me to read the question four times while completing the sentence with each of the answers in turn. Experiment to find the rhythm that works best for you.
It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that
I stay with problems longer.
― Albert Einstein
When in doubt, „mark for review.” You can go back and forth between the questions, and the test has a great feature that makes it easy. I’d already started to make a „revisit” list on a piece of paper when I noticed a very subtle „Mark for Review” check box in the upper right of the screen above the question. When you check that box, it flags the question on the Summary page (which is a button next to „End Test” that’s on every question page). The Summary page shows you the entire list of questions in order on one screen, including the question number, the first few words of the question, if it’s been answered or skipped, and if you’ve flagged it for review. Handy! Out of 155 questions, I probably flagged about 20. There were a healthy number of questions that had two choices that were clearly incorrect, and two choices that you could probably make an argument were correct. I didn’t flag every one that I wasn’t 100% sure about; if I’d done that, I’d have started to lose confidence and fallen into the trap of constantly second-guessing myself. I only flagged the questions that truly stumped me. Consider for yourself how much you want to mark for review. Remember: it doesn’t take much for the spiral of self-doubt to kick in! And that’s why it’s important to…
Keep things in perspective. Out of 155 questions, you have to correctly answer 70%, or 109 questions, in order to receive a passing score. That means you can miss 46 of the questions! Just as the goal isn’t to finish the fastest, it’s not to make the highest score. It’s to pass. Of course you want to do the best you can and feel proud of your score. Those who are committed to the profession enough to go the extra mile to be credentialed already have a strong high-achiever streak at work. Take comfort in that. Acknowledge yourself for that. Then relax, trust yourself, and do your best.
Good luck! You’ll be great!
Make the most of yourself,
for that is all there is for you.
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
What’s been your experience? Whether it’s with the CKA or another assessment or exam, what advance preparation did you do? What helped you during the actual exam? What advice do you have for others? Please share in the comments!
Beth L. Buelow is the author of THE INTROVERT ENTREPRENEUR (Tarcher Perigee/Penguin Random House), which was named one of the 100 Best Business Books of 2015 by Inc.com. She’s also a certified coach, corporate trainer, and professional speaker. Since founding her coaching company, The Introvert Entrepreneur, along with her popular podcast of the same name, Beth has established herself as a go-to expert for introvert entrepreneurs around the world.
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