While preparing for the NCIDQ Practicum Exam, you'll come across many factors that can either work for or against you. Not surprisingly, it's the strategies you use before and during that can make a difference.
Because there will be plenty of rough spots (it happens!) during all the weeks leading up to the exam, so expect these to come up:
Studying will get boring.
Facebook and Instagram will suddenly seem way more interesting.
You will find plenty of reasons to procrastinate.
It's important to be aware of these, and have a strategy to help you get back on track when you start to get bored, or you find yourself getting sucked into activities that are just time wasters.
Plan an “intervention” with your partner or a friend, take a short walk or break. It's good to have a system that will pull you back to your NCIDQ Exam prep fast! You’ll be glad you did it.
Qpractice has found what works – Interior Designers who pass NCIDQ Practicum Exam with flying colors tend to be people who develop a game plan. And stick to it.
Here are 17 tips for the NCIDQ Practicum that you can use:
What's your mindset?
1. Learn to love the process, not just the end result.
Start thinking of the NCIDQ Exam as an opportunity to forever change your mindset about what it takes to become successful. Not just as an interior designer, but in all areas of life. Success comes to those who stick to it.
2. It takes repetition to build skill and familiarity with the new question types.
There are specific strategies you’ll need to master to take this exam – and learning them takes time and repetition.
With proper practice time, you’ll understand the types of problems you’ll face on the exam, so you can work quickly and finish in the time allotted.
There are three case studies in this exam, and once you finish each case study, you can’t go back. As you’re working through each one, you’ll need to flag everything you’re unsure about, then go back at the end of each case study to decide if you’ll return to the things you flagged.
Many of the people who don’t finish the exam don’t end up passing it – so it’s critical that you understand how the process works before test day.
3. Understand the solution, don't try to memorize it.
The best answer that works for one item (question) on one case study won't necessarily work for another. Try to understand the “why” behind what you're seeing.
Remember, the best answer must satisfy BOTH the question/instructions, program requirements, and the NCIDQ building codes. Sometimes it seems there's more than one right answer, but only one answer is best. Program requirements and instructions will vary, so learn to pick out the most important stuff fast.
4. Use your work experience the right way.
Even if you have a lot of experience as a designer or architect, it doesn’t mean you’ll pass the exam with flying colors.
Some people who take the exam underestimate how difficult it’s going to be, and they rely on their years of experience as designers and/or architects. They assume they don’t need to study. Many of these people fail.
You can’t walk into the exam assuming you already know the “right” way to solve the problems – you need to know and understand the codes the exam uses, and what the test designers want you to do.
Use your work experience to relate to what you’re learning and reviewing, and don’t assume you already know all the answers. You’ll learn a lot from the people in your study group if you keep an open mind and consistently stay in “learner’s mindset” mode.
5. No cramming
The best way to prepare for the new computer-based NCIDQ Practicum is to do multiple rounds of pre-testing.
You’ll need time to complete the pre-tests and review what you've missed. And that's not counting any research or review of past Practicums or Answer Vaults.
Qpractice recommends doing a timed practice test toward the end of your study season. You can’t possibly cram all of this into the last few days before the exam. Not only is cramming ineffective, it also makes you feel frazzled. If you’re stressed on test day, you’ll be less likely to read carefully and follow the directions.
Qpractice won’t always be able to help you if you try to jam everything in at the last minute. Our team is in the study group on nights and weekends, and we do our best to respond to your questions, but we also have many other members to help as well. We can't necessarily respond immediately. Your urgency is not our emergency.
6. No distractions
Decide if you’re the kind of person who likes to work with distractions. You might work really well in a busy coffee shop – and if so, feel free to study in one if it works for you.
If not, set up space at home or work where it's quiet and you can fully concentrate. That means no TV, no phone notifications, no kids barging in. Even if you can only arrange this for just a few hours at a time, get a babysitter and some support from your family – you'll be setting a good example at the same time.
If you're easily distracted by noise and what others are doing around you, try earplugs for the exam.
The important thing is to figure out in advance what kind of environment helps you concentrate – so you’ll be prepared on exam day.
We also recommend replacing your daily Facebook or Instagram habit with time in the Qpractice study group. You can indulge your social media habit, have fun, and learn something at the same time.
7. No cheating
There are plenty of tools, tips, tricks, and shortcuts you can use to help you save time – but please don’t cheat.
Don't try to take anything into the testing center that you shouldn't, don't try to look up something on your break, and don't share exam questions.
Cheating never wins.
You’ll feel better about your accomplishment when you pass if you know you’ve earned it. Plus you'll be accountable to upholding the NCIDQ Certification Appellation Code of Ethics.
So, how far ahead should I start, and how should I study?
7. Plan ahead, then follow the plan
It's going to take a considerable amount of time to get everything done, so don't put it off or you'll just wind up stressed out. Even an hour here and there adds up.
I personally found it easiest to break up my study sessions into smaller chunks every week, instead of trying to work on all of it at once. This gave me some time for my brain to rest and for anything I learned to “sink in” before I moved on.
Follow the plan. Qpractice has organized everything you need to do by exam day. Use your calendar and the Qpractice Study Schedule to help you figure out when and how much time you'll have to spend on each study topic before you'll need to move on.
8. Block out chunks of time
It’s easier for many designers to work in shorter study sessions (an hour or two at a time) instead of spending an entire long weekend studying. For example, you can review flashcards or check into the study group during short chunks of time in the morning, over lunch – even while you’re waiting in line.
You can watch an Answer Vault or lesson video in 20 minutes (some are much shorter), and take a quiz in just 5 minutes. You can also listen to lessons and even have your textbook read to you while you’re commuting, doing dishes, walking the dogs, or doing laundry.
Take plenty of breaks if you schedule longer study sessions. Get outside and take a walk, or to go to lunch.
Schedule office hours and blocks of no more than a few hours at a time on weekends.
And most important — put these appointments with yourself on your calendar. If it's not scheduled, it won't get done.
9. Join our study group
Once you go through your first pre-test, you're going to have questions – a lot of them. It really helps to get together with a regular group, to ask questions and share strategies and tips. And don't forget to ask designers who've already taken the exam what they've learned.
At Qpractice, we do this in our private study group and during our live office hours and chats. You can find designers to chat with and even designers in your area to study with.
Here’s some of the glowing feedback we’ve gotten from group members:
What are the best practices for the Practicum Exam?
10. Read and thoroughly understand the question
Many people make the mistake of rushing through the exam without taking the time to thoroughly read and understand the questions.
The NCIDQ is open globally now, which means you might not be taking the test in your native language. If that’s the case for you, slow down. Make sure you understand what the test creators are asking before you answer.
11. Read and understand the program requirements
If you get used to reading the program for each case study, you’ll start to find that many are pretty similar. Learn to skim and pick up key points fast. Also, learn to understand the difference between the program requirements and code requirements.
But not everything is explicitly spelled out. You’ll need to know where to quickly find the correct information, should you need to refer back to it.
We see members make mistakes with this all the time. That’s why it’s good to practice and review as many case studies as possible, so you’ll understand what to do in almost any situation.
12. Memorize the NCIDQ Building Codes ahead of time
Learn the NCIDQ building codes so that you don't waste time looking stuff up on exam day – applying these correctly should be automatic by then. Qpractice has building code quizzes to help you with this.
Codes and standards are just about the only thing we’ll tell you to memorize for the exam. But you really do need to know these, so you don’t have to waste time on exam day looking them up.
There will be some differences between some of these and the codes you use in your job, so be aware of the differences. You will have a copy to refer to on exam day, but if you don’t know already know them, you’ll waste time and are likely to make mistakes.
If you decide not to memorize something, but you think you might need it on exam day, then you need to know how to find it quickly. But the more you memorize, the more time you’ll save.
13. Practice both residential and commercial case studies
You’ll have to work with both on exam day, regardless of your work experience.
When I took the exam, I was a hospitality designer and had loads of experience planning all kinds of public and guest spaces. But I hadn't worked in residential interiors for quite a few years.
If I hadn’t practiced with residential spaces, I’m not sure I would have passed.
You will need to be familiar with residential, small and large commercial scenarios for this exam:
- Small commercial ≈ 2400 sq. ft.
- Residential ≈ 2500 sq. ft.
- Large commercial ≈12,500 sq. ft.
14. Have a method to your madness
One of the things we teach in our Qpractice PRAC Workshop is developing a strategy of how you work through each case study, for speed and effectiveness.
Develop a system for how you’ll handle questions you can’t answer quickly, what resources you’ll use on screen, or if you want to take notes by hand or use a hand calculator (offered at many testing centers).
What do I need to know about exam day?
15. Familiarize yourself with Prometric check-in policies.
Testing centers are strict about what you are (and are not) allowed to bring in with you, so make sure you review the exam policies in advance.
For example, you aren’t allowed to bring water with you into the testing center, so make sure you plan for that. The only jewelry you can wear in is your wedding band.
Have your approved photo ID ready, and handle any name changes well ahead of time.
16. Know the location of your testing center.
Don’t get lost on the way to your exam – it will stress you out and hurt your performance. Look up directions a few days before, and consider doing a test run to make sure you’re familiar with parking.
Also, if there's severe weather in your area, check ahead of time to be sure that potential power outages have not affected the testing center schedules.
17. Bring earplugs and/or glasses
If you get distracted by noises like other keyboards, paper rustling, air conditioning, or the nervous twitching of other test takers, get earplugs. Testing centers typically offer noise reducing headsets, but these don't usually fit well with glasses and can be uncomfortable.
Not all testing centers have the same resources, but you can always reach out to clarify this ahead of time.
Also consider bringing reading or computer glasses for the screen, to help you see any too-small graphics on test day.
We hope you'll find some of these tips will help reduce your stress. Just remember that there aren't any shortcuts to plain old diligence and commitment to study and practice.
Deciding what you do after the NCIDQ Exam is a better problem to have.