It's true! I passed all three sections of the NCIDQ exam on my first try, 1 week before the due date of my first baby last Spring!
This is a guest post by Qpractice graduate Sarah Campernel
It's all been such a blur since then, and I've barely had time to digest how proud I am of myself. And I am thankful to Qpractice for providing a study framework that was not only manageable but flexible to my specific needs. I did it all in nine weeks, so it's not too late for you to get started! Here's how I did it:
Procrastination No More!
After graduating with my Masters in 2007, I chose a less conventional path for my career as an interior designer. I took a job teaching part time at a local college right after graduation. This left my professional practice experience at about 2/3 time. I worked for an innovative small architectural firm where I was the only interior designer. So I didn't have many resources to help me prep for the exam.
Fast forward seven years (wow!) and I found myself teaching full time and running my own small design firm on the side. We had moved around a lot since 2009, tying to figure out where we wanted to settle down. Once we figured that out, my Husband and I were ready to start a family.
I'm really good at procrastinating. Especially when it comes to large commitments like having a baby or taking the NCIDQ exam. As a woman in her mid-thirties, I figured it was about time to take the plunge and procrastinate no more!
All or Nothing (Let's Do This)
I guess I've always been an “all or nothing” kind of girl when I'm faced with a challenge. All hands on deck! Make it happen! Failure is not an option! (feel free to insert your cliché motivational phrase here:)
I felt that I had to register for all three sections of the exams at once. If I had to commit to this challenge three times instead of once, I would lose steam and probably take another several years to do it. Plus, I knew that finding time to study after the baby was here was not going to happen….for a very long time!
I realize that this strategy may not work for everyone, and even freaks out a lot you. It is slightly ludicrous, but again, it was the best way to motivate myself. If you can relate even a little to where I'm coming from, and are willing to commit, you can do this too!
Qpractice to the Rescue
So, I had only a limited idea of how to go about studying for the exam. I did have the advice of only one colleague at work that had passed the exam several years earlier. I thought that I would just sign up for one of those 3 day intensive workshops to help with the practicum prep, and I could just study for the multiple choice on my own.
Boy was I wrong!
I later found out that I needed someone to help me understand not only the content of the exam but HOW the content was delivered. More importantly, HOW to chose the best answer or solution as quickly and accurately as possible. I'm so lucky I found Qpractice!
I don't remember how I found Qpractice, but I do remember that I instantly knew it was the best choice for me. I loved how there was a study schedule provided for me, but I was able to tailor it to my lifestyle and schedule. I found myself getting excited to start studying now that I knew I had an amazing system of support.
Make a calendar. If you're going to study for all three sections at once you're going to have to be extremely organized. The best advice I can give you is to look over the study guides and schedule that Qpractice gives you for each exam section. Then combine them into a master schedule that works for your specific lifestyle and learning style.
For example, I wanted to make sure that I completed the reading and practice tests for the IDFX and IDPX prior to studying for the PRAC. That's just how MY brain works. I needed to know that I had a strong foundation of knowledge before having to apply it to the practicum. So I took the study guides from Qpractice and created a hand-written version that I kept in my study folder.
I wrote everything out in pencil so that there was flexibility. Keep in mind that I was working a full time job as an educator, had a large side project, and was planning for a baby all while studying. So I had to really plan out when I was going to work on what. Writing it in pencil allowed me to re-arrange things as needed without feeling like I messed by having to look at crossed out items. I always felt in control and on top of things which boosted my confidence and kept me going.
Invest in the appropriate materials. You should also buy all of the supplies you will need right away.
I bought these:
- Interior Design Reference Manual
- 3 NCIDQ Practicum PDP drawing sets
- ASID drafting templates
- Grid paper – here's a printable version from Qpractice to start
- Here's one you can buy
- Roll of trace paper
- Mechanical pencils
- Rectangular erasers with clean edges for precision erasing Drafting tape
- Architects scale
- 24” x 36” Mat board/illustration board – or you can use a portable drafting board*
- Sticky notes
- 2 calculators (in case one died)
- Timer/clock (must be silent)
- Flash cards
- Red sharpies (to redline)
- Ear plugs (important for PRAC)
- Sticky tabs to organize the textbook chapters
I kept everything organized in a pencil case and made sure to set my desk up every time I practiced the same way I was planning to at the actual exam.
Definitely practice drawing for the Practicum using the exact same tools that you will be bringing to the exam.
I used a piece of matte board with grid paper taped to it so that I could use the grid lines as a way to quickly navigate the drawings to scale. I also found the sticky note method of space planning to be an amazing tool to help me organize the programming requirements.
Qpractice Tip: The Portable drafting board 24” x 36” – must fit within your assigned space, so get this size. Qpractice likes the style with a handle, you can use with the parallel bar OR you can also remove the bar and use a T-square if it helps you line up your drawings faster – I did this:)
*make sure to bring along a large garbage bag in case it rains on exam day (especially if you don’t have a case or bag for your drafting board)
How I Studied: The Schedule
Qpractice Note: This reflects our schedule for fall 2015; Sarah adjusted hers to fit her life. We break the NCIDQ Exam Complete into structured lessons with useful assignments and quizzes, to make it easy for designers to fit this into a busy schedule, have time to catch up or take a week off, and fit everything in before exam day.
Weeks 1 – 4
I read the entire Interior Design Reference Manual before I started studying for the practicum, and used lots and lots of flashcards.
1. Restroom drawing lesson and assignment with videos and quiz
- Learn how to be a “whiz” at men's restroom design and accessible toilet compartments
- Live Office Hours – What you need to know for Practicum test day
2. Egress drawing lesson and assignment with videos and quiz
- Learn how to divide your spaces fast in 7 steps, including how to calculate exits, occupancy load, furthest common path of travel, and distance to stairs
- Live Office Hours – Restroom drawing review
3. Space Planning drawing lesson and assignment with videos and quiz
- Learn space planning tips and tricks including the sticky note method, and how to plan using the plumbing trench
- Live Office Hours – Egress drawing review
4. Catch up or take the week off 🙂
- Do your 1st full day mock exam
I took an all day practicum practice exam, using NCIDQ drawings PDP 2013-2
Weeks 5 – 8
5. Lighting Design drawing lesson and assignment with videos and quiz
- We'll shed light on the lighting design problem, so you can quickly plan and calculate within your wattage budget
- You'll learn the what's under the umbrella of design theory guiding design concepts
- Live Office Hours – Space Planning drawing review
6. Life Safety drawing lesson and assignment with videos and quiz
- You'll learn how life safety begins with your design for the Practicum, IDFX and IDPX
- How Programming is like detective work
- Live Office Hours – Egress drawing review, and IDFX + IDPX Strategy Session
7. Systems Integration drawing lesson and assignment with videos and quiz
- You'll learn how to resolve the conflicts and complete the systems integration problem in 5 steps
- Understand the nuts and bolts of Building Systems and Construction
- Live Office Hours – Life Safety drawing review
8. Millwork drawing lesson and assignment with videos and quiz
Weeks 9 – 11
9. Take the week off or catch up on the Practicum 🙂
- Navigate your way through Accessible and Sustainable Design
10. Take a walk through presentation and construction documents
- Live Office Hours – Millwork drawing review, IDFX + IDPX
- Take a full day Practicum full day mock exam on Sunday
11. Keep on course and learn about project management
I made sure I took time to chill out, and reflect on how far I'd come since starting to study. Have confidence and remain calm! I sat for the PRAC exam on April 5th.
12. Find balance in contract administration
- Take a full length IDFX or IDPX Practice Test
- IDFX + IDPX Office Hours
Take the week off 🙂 or review and take an IDFX + IDPX Practice Test
I took many, many practice tests. I used both Qpractice online practice tests, and those by PPI.
- Join the IDFX + IDPX Live Chat
IDFX + IDPX Exams!
I took both the IDFX and IDPX on April 17th.
How I Studied: The Details
Interior Design Reference Manual
I organized the Interior Design Reference Manual with tabs according to whether the chapters pertained to information for IDFX, IDPX or PRAC.
Then I broke down which chapters to read together according to the sequence of modules in Qpractice, and added these as tasks to my calendar. I took notes, highlighted text, and made flash cards for important information.
Multiple Choice Practice Tests
After reading each module, I immediately took the Qpractice online multiple choice practice tests. I kept track of the questions I missed and made sure to go back through the book to re-read those sections. I continued reading and taking practice tests until I finished the book. I also took the practice tests in the Ballast books, given to me by a colleague who had taken and passed the exam.
I bought 3 full-size NCIDQ drawing sets to practice from and also had the 2010 Ballast book with practicum problems and solutions.
While, these Ballast drawings were outdated, but I found them helpful as a starting point and quick dry-run to orient me to what the Practicum was all about. The solutions were in the back, so I was able to immediately compare my solutions to the recommended ones.
I practiced the drawings in the order recommended by Qpractice. I totally BOMBED the space planning exercise the first time around. I didn't even get through half of it in the four hour time limit. Yikes.
Like me, you will want to peak at the solutions ahead of time but PLEASE don't do it! I restrained myself, and am so glad I did. I was able to get an honest perspective on my abilities.
The system that worked for me was this:
Drawing set #1:
I used the Ballast drawing set for this. I printed the problems, and used trace paper over them. I took my best shot at them. I also made sure to give myself enough time afterwards to fully understand the solutions and made notes on what I needed to work on.
Drawing set #2:
This was the first of the full-sized drawings I got from NCIDQ. I timed myself for each section. I took several sections in one day to mimic the exam (ex: space planning & lighting together, then egress, life safety, restrooms, and systems together).
I would redline my work afterwards, while watching videos and asking questions in the LinkedIn study group.
Drawing set #3:
I proceeded in the same way as Drawing set #2, but with a different drawing set.
Drawing set #4:
I used this set as a full day practice experience. I set everything up at my desk to mimic the actual exam. I reviewed my solutions and made flash cards for anything I still had trouble with.
As I mentioned above, these are fantastic! I love how you can set your own pace and use them when you need to. First, I went through them all before completing drawing set #2 to make notes about which videos pertained to the actual drawings that I had.
But I didn't actually watch them before I completed the drawings. Instead, I completed a drawing, and then went to the video that used that drawing as an example, and then redlined my work with it.
Study Group & Office Hours:
These tools were an amazing resource. It was so nice to have real live people to talk to about your studying experience and drawing solutions. It was so motivational to hear from others who had passed the exams, and it helped to build confidence when I knew the answer to other people's questions!
Taking (and Passing!) the Exams
Up First, PRAC
I took the Practicum first. Some of the best advice I got was to stay in a hotel the night before, and enjoy an evening of relaxation (easier said than done, right?)
Here's how it worked for me: I reviewed my notes for an hour or so, and spent some time in the study group. I made sure to stop studying early, and left time to decompress and EAT! (I was eight months pregnant, after all). A good night's sleep will do wonders, so make sure you spend a little more money to stay at a place that has comfy beds!
Another bit of advice is to be sure to either map out or drive to the testing site the night before so that you are confident in the morning about where you are going, where you are parking, etc.
Looking back, if I did it again, I'd also bring my lunch with me. You get an hour break or so for lunch, but getting in my car and driving around to find food stressed me out a little. Definitely take a walk, get fresh air, and re-hydrate!
I definitely got a lot of attention while taking the exams. I was HUGE! I got extra time to set up for the PRAC and a special seat by the door in case I had to use the bathroom often. They even let me have access to my water without having to leave the room (as long as I stood by the door) which is normally not allowed. If you have any special requests due to health issues, NCIDQ is receptive (just request this ahead of time).
Next Up, IDFX & IDPX
I'm not sure if you noticed or not, but I not only took the IDFX and IDPX in the same season, but I took them on the same DAY! Again, all or nothing! I was a little worried that I would have my baby early, so I registered to take them on the first day.
Looking back, I'm so glad that I got it done in one day – all of the information was fresh in my mind, and I was so looking forward to celebrating when the day was over!
It was a LONG day, but since I was able to take the exams at a testing center 5 minutes from my home, I was able to recharge a bit for a lunch break after the IDFX before diving back in for the IDPX.
My Baby and the Post-Exam Blur
After the exams, I had a good feeling about the PRAC. I had finished everything in time, and could only think of a few minor details that I might have missed. The IDFX and IDPX were a different story! I had NO clue how I did. I'm not good with standardized testing and there are no opportunities to know how you are doing as you go, so I left feeling kind of unsure.
Soon it was time to welcome our baby into the world. I almost immediately forgot about the whole studying and test taking experience. Because of this, I can't remember how long it took to get the results, but I remember getting them earlier than I expected. I actually saw that I passed on line before receiving my results in the mail.
Hooray! I'm a Certified Designer (and a Mom!)
My daughter was born about a week late and 2 weeks after I took the IDFX and IDPX exams. Talk about a life changing Spring!
I was so happy when I found out I passed all three sections! Like jumping up and down, screaming at the top of my lungs happy. I feel so proud of myself and I owe a giant thank you to my dog and Husband who supported my long days of studying and practicing all Winter. I also want to thank my daughter, who graciously took the exams with me and patiently waited for this whole process to be finished before entering the world.
All in all, working with Lisa and the rest of the Qpractice family was one of the best investments I could have made for my career as an interior designer and educator. I like to set my own pace and be in control of my schedule. Qpractice allowed me to do this while providing me with the guidance I needed to pass the exams. The content, study groups, and flexibility gave me the confidence and accountability I needed to succeed.
You too can pass the NCIDQ exam (in one try!) as long as you are dedicated, organized, and willing to use all of the resources provided to you by Qpractice.
We are here to help you, and remember, if I can do it, YOU CAN DO IT!