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Counselor Education Comprehensive Examinations

Department of Psychology and Counseling

Rehabilitation Counseling - School Counseling - Mental Health Counseling

Purpose and Description of Comprehensive Examination


Comprehensive examinations are required as demonstrations of a students’ overall mastery of foundational counseling concepts and knowledge of their chosen specialization. Preparing for the comprehensive exam is a final opportunity for students to integrate their learning and increase levels of competency as emerging professionals.


The exam includes both the national Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Exam (CPCE) and essay type questions. The CPCE is a multiple choice test researched, developed, and distributed by both the Research and Assessment Corporation for Counseling (RACC) and the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE), two affiliate corporations of the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). The item writing committee was selected from masters and doctoral level professionals. The committee compiled a comprehensive listing of texts used in counselor education programs. Each question was developed based on information found in the most commonly used textbooks. The exam is designed to assess the student’s knowledge of counseling to ensure minimum competence in the field. The CPCE will also provide collective feedback that can be used by the program in developing and improving curriculum. The benefits of using the CPCE are as follows:


  • Allows our counseling comprehensive exam to better meet psychometric standards.
  • Gives program an objective view of the knowledge level of students.
  • Allows program to examine student functioning in various curriculum areas.
  • Promotes longitudinal self-study.
  • Compares program results to national data.
  • Stimulates student integration of knowledge learned in separate courses.
  • Gives students comparative strength/weakness feedback.


Lastly, the CPCE is developed to reflect the eight core competencies identified by CACREP as minimum level competencies for all counselors. In addition, the test is a reflection of the National Counselor Examination (NCE), the test used in multiple states as their primary counselor licensing examination. The comprehensive exam is taken during the final semester of study and includes items taken from the following areas of study:

  • Professional Identity – studies that provide an understanding of all aspects of professional functioning including history, roles, organizational structures, ethics, standards, and credentialing.
  • Social & Cultural Diversity – studies that provide an understanding of issues and trends in a multicultural and diverse society.
  • Human Growth & Development – studies that provide an understanding of the nature and needs of individuals at all levels of development.
  • Career Development – studies that provide an understanding of career development and related life factors.
  • Helping Relationships – studies that provide an understanding of counseling and consultation processes.
  • Group – studies that provide an understanding of group development, dynamics, counseling theories, group counseling methods and skills, and other group work approaches.
  • Assessment – studies that provide an understanding of individual and group approaches to assessment and evaluation.
  • Research & Program Evaluation – studies that provide an understanding of types of research methods, basic statistics, and ethical and legal considerations relating to human subject research.


In addition to these foundational areas of study, the student must also successfully respond to several specialty questions in essay format. These items will be selected by the counseling program faculty as representative of the practical expectations associated with the student’s chosen area of specialization. Specialization questions may include multiple faceted questions, research analysis, a case study, etc. The student may receive additional information and study guides from their academic advisor.


As stated, the comprehensive examination will be taken in a student’s last semester of study. Dates for the comprehensive examination are scheduled at the end of each preceding semester. The date for the spring semester is determined and set at the end of the fall semester and so forth. The examination will be scheduled for five hours to include a half-hour break for lunch. The student will take the CPCE in the morning session and will receive materials for the essay specialty questions in the afternoon session. The student will be given three hours to complete the CPCE portion of the exam and two hours to complete the specialty essay items.


Preparation for the Comprehensive Examination


Students should be gathering information and studying for the comprehensive exam throughout their program of study. Students should refer to course syllabi, notes, texts and additional materials from all courses. In addition, the student should look for relationships between and among the content of various courses that can help the student respond to counseling situations. Although students may choose to organize study groups to facilitate their preparation, or use study materials prepared by other students, each student is held personally responsible for his or her own success. Students differ in the type and amount of preparation they need, therefore, no assumptions should be made that those who study together will perform equally well in responding to the actual exam. Students are strongly discouraged from relying on the study materials prepared by other students. Such materials have the inherent weakness that content that was exceptionally meaningful to the one who prepared it loses some of that meaning when viewed from another’s perspective. Additionally, such materials may contain inaccuracies, be incomplete, and/or be out of date.


Students may request input from faculty – such as suggestions on additional resources to review in preparing for the exam - but should not expect faculty to provide tutoring in the content of the exam. Furthermore, faculty should not be expected to make arrangements for tutoring from any other source. The responsibility for preparing to complete the comprehensive examination and for successful performance on it rests exclusively with the individual student.


Evaluation of the Comprehensive Examination


The CPCE is scored by the CCE and takes approximately ten days to two weeks for results to return to the counseling program director. Students must receive a score of 60% on six of eight sections of the CPCE in order to pass. If a student fails the CPCE, they must retake the entire test. Students must pass both the CPCE and essay portion of the exam. A student who fails only one component of the exam must retake that specific portion of the exam only. In other words, if you pass the CPCE but fail the essay portion of the exam, you must re-take only the essay portion of the exam. Any student who fails either portion of the comprehensive exam will have failed the exam and must take the exam at the next scheduled time. Special consideration may be made for an alternative time to retake the exam, but reasons for such a consideration must be reviewed and approved by the Counseling Program Committee.


As for the essay component, a sub-committee of at least three faculty members affiliated with the counseling program in the Department of Psychology and Counseling will review the student’s responses. The coordinator of the student’s area of specialization will serve as chair of the committee and will select two other readers, subject to the approval of the Counseling Program’s Director and the Chair of the Department of Psychology and Counseling. One of the three readers must be the student’s Program Coordinator. Each reader will evaluate all responses by a particular student. Although each section may include several component questions, the readers will give each section an overall rating. Readers will evaluate each section based on a five point system with five being “exceptional” and one being identified as “unacceptable.” Upon completion of scoring, the Coordinator of the student’s area of specialization will compile the scores of each section. The student must receive a grade of three or above on a specific section of the exam to pass that section. In order for the student to have been judged to pass a section, the student must receive a passing value from two of the three readers. At this point there are four options:


  • A student will pass the exam;
  • A student will be asked to rewrite a certain section, or sections, of the exam;
  • A student will be asked to come in for an oral exam over certain content areas;
  • A student will fail the exam.


Any student scoring three or above on all essay items will be deemed to have passed the essay portion of the exam. Depending on the nature, number and content of the specialty questions, each may have specific passing requirements. For example, the Clinical Mental Health portion of the Comprehensive Exam includes four items that require a case study to complete. A student must pass three of four questions in order to have passed the essay component. Specific requirements for each specialization can be obtained from your Academic Advisor or Program Coordinator.


The Graduate School will notify students of exam results. A student who qualifies for remediation will be contacted by the student’s academic advisor to identify a time to meet with the committee to discuss the student’s options. After a student completes either a rewrite, or an oral exam, the student will again be notified by the Graduate School of the results.


A student who retakes the essay portion of the examination will not be tested over sections that were passed in the first attempt. The committee may require the student to complete additional courses or additional study prior to taking the examination a second time. In accord with the Graduate School policy, any student failing the examination a second time will be dropped from candidacy for their degree.


The following are links that might help with available study guides for the CPCE and NCE.