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.
- Things will suddenly get interesting on Facebook.
- 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 the hubby 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’d 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's 30 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.
Few of us hand draft everyday or solve design problems like those on the NCIDQ Practicum Exam just by sketching. We're used to taking our time and using tools like Revit and AutoCAD to do some of the thinking for us.
Suddenly, solving easy problems – even ones we've done before – seems overwhelming and impossible.
Especially when it takes all day to finish the space planning problem the first time around. Don't freak out, just realize that you'll get sooo much faster with practice.
Start with something small, like an accessible restroom. Draw it over and over and over again, in all sorts of different configurations. Draw until you can do it in just a few minutes, backwards, upside down, and in your sleep. Then move onto another piece of the puzzle. Pretty soon you'll be able to fit them all together in no time.
3. Understand the solution, don't try to memorize it.
The solution you see that works for one drawing won't necessarily work for another. Try to understand the why behind what you're seeing.
Remember you have to create a solution that meets BOTH the program requirements and the NCIDQ building codes. The program instructions will change from drawing to drawing – learn to pick out the important stuff fast.
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.
4. Use your work experience the right way.
Every season when people turn in drawings for review, I see weird layouts that could not possibly exist in the real world, and I'm pretty sure that's not the type of work these designers do.
Don't forget common sense – use the same standards that you use every day. It helps to use a reference like either Interior Graphic Standards or Time Saver Standards while you're practicing, and you'll be able to use it at work afterwards.
5. No cramming
Just don't. There are 7 drawings you need to master to draw correctly and quickly. At the minimum, you'll need to do each of these drawings about 3 times.
Plus time for grading yourself and reviewing what you've missed. And that's not counting any research or review. This can run anywhere from about 24-40 hours or more.
Plus Qpractice recommends doing one or two trial run full day practice tests: Add another 16 hours.
6. No distractions
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.
Replace your daily Facebook or Instagram habit with time in the Qpractice study group instead. 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 try to sneak anything into the exam center that's not on this list (see page 6).
Yes, you can put a small Sharpie dot on your template to mark the 60″ turning circle, or use different colors to mark the correct side of your scale.
No, you can't write or draw anything ahead of time and try to hide it in your sticky notes.
8. No procrastination
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.
So, how far ahead should I start, and how should I study?
9. Plan ahead
I personally found it easiest to focus on one or two drawings a 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 to the next drawing.
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 drawing before you'll need to move on.
10. Block out chunks of time
It's easier for many designers to work on most drawings for an hour or two at a time, instead of spending an entire long weekend on studying. Put these appointments with yourself on your calendar – if it's not scheduled, it won't get done.
Here's how one Qpractice member planned out her study schedule.
11. Find your perfect place
Set up a regular work area that's about the same size you'll have on exam day – 30”D x 48”W.
I practiced while standing at the kitchen counter, so having a portable drafting board I could carry away afterwards was essential.
I used a small Artbin toolbox so I could prop open the lid, and have everything I needed right at hand to create tight “prep area”. After practicing for awhile, I learned which tools I used over and over, and what things I didn’t need. If you don’t use it, weed it out.
12. Find a study group
Once you go through a few practice drawings, you're going to have questions – a lot of them. It really helps to have a regular group to get together with 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. Want a sneak peek? Join our open study group for free.
What tools and supplies do I really need?
Make sure you read through the list in the Practicum Exam Guide so you understand what you can and can't take to the exam center. Then put together your basic drawing kit. While you're practicing, you'll find out what works best for you.
13. Portable drawing board
Qpractice recommends taking your own drawing surface, even if your testing center has drawing tables. This will save you from having to draw on a potentially rough or pitted surface.
I used a drafting board and took off the parallel bar, because I found it much faster to line up drawings using a T-square.
If you take your own board you can use the parallel bar. But be aware they'll remove all parallel bars or drafting arms on the tables at the testing center, so you'll need your own T-square.
14. 1/4″ scale graph paper
If you get really good with practicing using graph paper as an underlay, you won’t even need a scale.
Use the grid to help you block out spaces and count the squares to figure out the square footage of spaces that aren’t rectangular.
15. NCIDQ Exam PDP's
Qpractice recommends practicing with at least 2 sets of drawings. Get 1 set with a residential space plan, and one with a commercial space plan. To use these more than once, practice with trace paper on top and save your vellum for one of your final practice exams.
16. Sticky notes
I had to practice with sticky notes quite a few times before I got the hang of it, but they can save a tremendous amount of time. You block out your spaces directly on the vellum with different sizes and colors of sticky notes, then peel away as you draw. You won't have to plan out your solution once on trace and then redraw it a second time on the vellum.
How much time will this save?
On exam day I was able to review and finish both space planning and lighting at least a half hour early. This was great because I had to walk from the far end of a convention center to the other side of a hotel to get something for lunch.
17. Drafting dots
While regular drafting tape or even painter's tape will work, I prefer drafting dots because T-squares and drafting bars slide over them easier. Their shape prevents the straight edge from catching on the tape and pulling up your carefully aligned drawing.
So many Qpractice members have used and love these ASID drawing templates that we now have them available right on our website.
They have shapes for every piece of furniture you’ll need. Plus they have the correct-sized grab bars positioned to help you align them in the corner. They also include a triangle and built in scale.
19. Mechanical pencil
You need some sort of pencil with a standard number 2 lead, but a cheap mechanical pencil works just as well as a fancy lead holder. You won't have to worry about using a separate lead pointer and getting graphite everywhere. Most retractable pencils from the office supply store also include an eraser.
Practice, and you'll rarely have to use it.
20. Watch, timer or silent alarm
After you get the basics down, you'll want to track your time on each drawing to see your progress and learn where you can improve. I bought a cheap watch, but many designers prefer a stand up countdown timer or travel clock.
21. Simple function calculator
You'll need to do quick calculations for dimensioning and square footage, so take a simple calculator. It can't have any type of programmable functions or storage, so simpler is better. Get a solar powered version so you don't have to worry about the battery.
If you get distracted by noises like paper rustling, air conditioning, or the nervous twitching of other test takers, get earplugs.
I wear contacts on a daily basis, and spend hours in front of the computer. When practicing for the exam, I found myself squinting too much while trying to read through layers of trace paper, especially at 1/8″ scale.
Save yourself the forehead lines, and get an inexpensive pair of reading glasses just for drafting.
What do I need to know about exam day?
23. Read the Practicum Exam Guide
This is terrific resource that walks you through exactly what to expect on exam day. It also has examples of every single drawing, and lists out the most common mistakes for each of them. You can even use the examples as a extra set of practice drawings.
24. Book a hotel
While the exact exam locations aren’t published until a few weeks ahead of time, you’ll usually know if you can take the Practicum Exam in your city or if it will be out of town.
If your testing location is more than a short drive away, get a hotel, so you don’t have to get up super early in the morning to travel.
I’ve know people who’ve taken the exam locally and did this to just get away from distraction and so they could relax ahead of time. Bonus points if it has a spa:)
25. Plan your travel route to the testing center ahead of time
If you're taking the exam locally and plan to drive, make a trip to the to the exam center ahead of time. Try to go on the same day at the same time, so you'll have a good idea of travel time and traffic. Be sure to know where you'll park and how far you'll have to carry heavier items like a portable drawing board. If it's a hike, valet parking is well worth it.
What are the best practices for the Practicum Exam?
26. Read and thoroughly understand the program requirements
If you get used to reading the program for each drawing, you’ll start to find that many are pretty similar. The key is to understand the difference between the program requirements and code requirements. But not everything is explicitly spelled out. You’ll need to know where and how to apply the building codes to draw a passing solution.
That’s why it’s good to be exposed to and practice with as many drawings as possible so that you’ll understand what to do in almost any situation. The Qpractice drawing library has over 50 drawing solutions videos with downloads you can learn from.
27. Memorize the NCIDQ Building Codes ahead of time
This is 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 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.
28. Practice both residential and commercial problems
You never know which you’ll get on exam day, so it’s best to practice with both.
I was a hospitality designer when I took the exam 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.
I got a residential space plan on exam day. If I hadn’t practiced this, I’m not sure I would have passed.
29. Have a method to your madness
One of the things we teach in Qpractice is developing a system of how you work through each drawing, in which order. We teach you to work through them in a specific step-by-step order to save you time and minimize mistakes.
Approach your drawings the same way every time. You’ll refine your system and learn what works best for you with practice.
By exam day you’ll have a structure you can fall back on so that you can whip through each drawing on autopilot.
30. Finish every drawing
If you get stuck, move on to something else for a bit so your mind can get unstuck.
But whatever you do, finish as much of every drawing as possible. Just finish it, even if something’s not quite working or you don’t have time to label everything exactly.
An incomplete drawing is almost always a failing drawing, while a passing drawing can still have mistakes. Just do your best, don’t get hung up on it and move on.
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.
Now, what you do after the NCIDQ Exam is a better problem to have 🙂