Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination (CPCE)


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The Study Guide for the National Counselor Examination and CPCE by Dr. Andrew Helwig is a valuable resource to prepare for the CPCE.

The Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination (CPCE) was developed and is administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). Over 300 graduate schools training counselors are now using this exam. The exam is typically used as an exit requirement to obtain a degree or as a tool to prepare students for the National Counselor Exam (NCE).

Same Content Areas

The CPCE is based on the same eight content areas as the NCE and many students study for both, the CPCE to get their degree and the NCE to use the results later for national certification. Since many states use the NCE for licensure, many students can also use the NCE results for that purpose later after they have graduated and accrued the required professional counseling hours under supervision.

Differences between CPCE and NCE

There are differences between the CPCE and the NCE. Although both examine the same eight content areas, questions on the CPCE are based on content most Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) graduate programs include in their curricula. CPCE questions, developed by consultants to NBCC, cover a variety of issues and concepts and tend to be more detail oriented. On the other hand, the NCE exam questions are developed by panels of national experts with less focus on CACREP content material and textbooks. NCE questions are more likely to be application oriented and based on practical experience.

Additional Differences

Additional differences between the CPCE and NCE revolve around the number of items on the exams and items per content area. The CPCE has 160 questions with 20 questions in each of the eight content areas. Three of the 20 questions for each area are developmental/experimental so the highest possible score on the exam (number correct) is 136. Each university graduate program that uses the CPCE sets its own cutoff score for passing. Some universities may supplement the CPCE with other written or oral exam requirements for their students.

The NCE has 200 questions and each of the eight areas has a different number of questions ranging from 36 on Helping Relationships to 11 on Social and Cultural Foundations. There are a total of 40 developmental/experimental questions on the exam so the highest possible score is 160. NBCC sets the cutoff (passing) score for each form of the NCE which is developed, which could be several each year. Examinees are given four hours to complete either exam.

Study Guide for Both Exams

The Study Guide for the National Counselor Examination and CPCE is a valuable resource to prepare for either the CPCE or NCE. On their website,, the Center for Credentialing and Education which administers the exams, indicates that “…any study materials developed for the NCE should be useful for the CPCE.”

For more information, see the Study Guide for the National Counselor Examination and CPCE.