From qualifying for the NCIDQ Exam, to buying supplies, studying, and all the highs and lows in between – here's Qpractice member Caroline's story of finally passing the Practicum.
It was a rocky road for me to even qualify for the NCIDQ, says Qpractice member Caroline Leemis. In order to even sit for the exam (or “write the exam” for our Canadian friends), you must have “qualified work experience.”
I was lucky enough to start my IDEP hours at the first possible date while working my internship in college, but graduating in 2009 without a job in the field left me hanging. Like many design students, I had a goal of getting my NCIDQ as soon as I was eligible, but the economy and things I couldn’t control slowed my “ideal plan” down.
Going the IDEP route to begin accumulating my hours was good and bad. Good in the sense that I could track my hours in all the areas and get well-rounded and complete work experiences, but bad because I had “maxed out” several task areas. I was having a lot of difficulty getting some of the areas such as lighting plans or programming hours because of my job duties.
After working for a couple of architecture firms, and being out of the field completely for a year, I ended up starting my own business in 2012. I was only 70% complete with my hours though if you looked at it from the IDEP perspective.
Luckily though, IDEP aside, I had enough work experience completed if I filled out the “short form” on experience. Working a specific number of hours under a licensed architect or designer, I was also able to count some of my self-employed work as well.
Once I was eligible to apply and approved for the exam, studying was a totally different monster to tackle.
I’m in an area where you can count NCIDQ-certified designers on one hand. My closest ASID or IIDA chapters are 2 hours away in either direction and there weren’t any STEP classes. So, I was pretty much on my own when it came to figuring out how to study for the exam.
Thankfully, I found the Qpractice study group and support from a couple of friends also taking the exam in other states – you need those friends on those days when you break down, overwhelmed, and are yelling “I can’t do this!!!”
It definitely took me a long time though to wrap my head around what I needed to study and how I needed to study. Some days you sit there staring at the mountain of information not knowing where to start and having mini panic attacks.
My original goal was to take all 3 sections in the spring. But it took some time to get in the groove with the Practicum studying and start to process that information. By the time I was feeling OK about that in early March, I hadn’t kept up with my multiple choice reading so I ended up rescheduling those sections for the fall.
I probably spent 15-25 hours per week studying. I really dug into it in late January, and was studying right up until a few days before the exam.
I’m lucky in that I can set my own schedule being self-employed, and could start to plan my study hours around the times I’m most productive. If you are working full-time outside of studying and don’t have many hours per week to spend, I’d definitely start studying much sooner.
I ended up taking 5 practice exams, and I don’t think I would have passed without all that practice. You’ll also have several days where you won’t have the brainpower to focus on drawing practice. To make the most use of the time though, but not mentally exhaust myself further, I’d do some “lighter” tasks like the following:
- Prep drawing supplies – put little circle stickers next to you most frequently used templates like the turning radius, door swings, etc
- Watch Qpractice Office Hours replays – there were several office hours Saturdays I was not in that studying mindset, so I’d watch part of the discussion but then end up re-watching the whole thing another day during the week. Qpractice also has short 15 minute videos of strategies and drawing reviews
- Make flashcards for Life Safety (door hardware info) and quiz yourself – Qpractice has a nifty hardware chart to help you understand your choices
- Make a list of the things you’re forgetting on each drawing
- Quiz yourself on NCIDQ codes and restroom schedule
- Print off 7 copies of the NCIDQ codes – one for each drawing – and highlight the relevant codes to that drawing to use as you’re doing practice exams
- Review Qpractice LinkedIn discussions and print or bookmark relevant discussions that you need help with
- Grade your practice drawings
- Watch the drawing review solutions videos/print the drawing solutions in the Qpractice modules matching practice exams you have and use those for some extra feedback as you’re grading yourself
- Prep your practice tests, prepare them with vellum if needed, and clean your workspace for your practice exam day
As I mentioned, I ended up completing 5 full practice exams. Especially if you’re not familiar with the exam to begin with, my suggestion would be to start with the easier ones first. I started with the Ballast (they have a good section within the booklet on “Practicum Tips”, too!), but keep in mind those are a little different from the actual exams.
Truthfully, I had to sneak a few peeks at the solutions on those because I didn’t know where to start on a few things. Don’t get too focused on the solutions though, and NCIDQ has good reasons why they don’t sell them anymore, but it is nice to see what the graders are looking for. Qpractice Office Hours breaks this down for each problem in detail.
You can also review the “NCIDQ Practicum Exam Guide” for more info on that as well. After I went through the Ballast one drawing at a time, I continued my practice from the oldest NCIDQ Practicum exams to the newest exams, ending with the exam from the previous fall. I definitely think you need to buy the most recent exams since they get a little tougher each time.
I would grade my drawings based on the solution booklets I had, self-grade them based on what I knew, and then watch Qpractice drawing strategy and solution videos multiple times if I needed to.
I also searched in the Qpractice LinkedIn group to see what other designers had to say about the same things that were tripping me up on certain drawings. You can find a lot of answers by digging through all the discussions that have taken place on there in the last year or so.
I paid for all my supplies and study materials on my own since I’m self-employed and don’t have an employer to pay for it. So that got to be a little painful. I probably spent close to $2,500 between NCIDQ fees, Qpractice, practice exams, ASID templates, supplies, etc, but it was all completely worth it.
Qpractice especially is worth every penny!!
A lot of the tools such as graph paper, a drafting board, and stickers for my templates (Qpractice tip – use a Sharpie) saved me so much time on exam day and made me 10x more efficient.
If the cost is a big struggle for you, I suggest taking good care of your practice exams and supplies so you can re-sell some of it when you’re done and get a little bit of that back. I used a lot of trace paper over my practice exams so I would be able to later resell the clean vellum.
Just the accomplishment of completing the actual exam is great. I was nervous when I finished it because there were a few unexpected curve balls, but completing it and thinking about how far you went to get to that point is amazing.
Good luck and remember that this Qpractice community is here to help you out!