ICF Credentialing Exam: How to Prepare and Pass

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ICF Credentialing Exam: How to Prepare and Pass

Preparing and studying for the new ICF Credentialing Exam and differences with the old ICF CKA

By Lucia Baldelli

Having an ICF certification adds credibility to your practice, proving that you have skills and have joined training courses that meet the highest standard in coaching education. If coaching is in the picture of your future career, then keep in mind that ICF credentials are highly recognised in the coaching industry. The ICF credentialing exam is the cornerstone of the certification process. In this article, I will focus on the new ICF Credentialing Exam, which replaced the old Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA), an online test that any coach going for ICF credentials is required to pass. The exam is an essential requirement for ICF credentials that not only assesses your understanding of coaching principles but also aligns you with the highest standards of professional integrity and excellence in coaching.

The new ICF Credentialing Exam

The ICF credentialing exam is a key step for anyone wanting to become a certified coach. It shows you’re dedicated and demonstrates your expertise. In this exam, you’ll be tested on the ICF Core Competencies, the ICF Code of Ethics, and the ICF Definition of Coaching.

If you are aiming for an ICF credential, you have to pass this exam, ensuring you are well-versed in the fundamental principles and ethical standards that define professional coaching.

The exam, updated in November 2019, matches the latest ICF Core Competencies. It’s a crucial part of becoming a coach, usually done after you finish your training hours and before you get your certification. You can take it online or in person, which is great for coaches all over the world.

In August 2022, a significant shift occurred when the new ICF credential application paths — Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 — were introduced.

The previous exam, known as the Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA), was discontinued at the end of May 2023 and the new ICF Credentialing Exam was introduced. This means that candidates who submit an application for an ICF Credential on or after August 2, 2022, at 12 Noon EDT (New York), are required to complete the new ICF Credentialing Exam — even if they have passed the CKA for a previous credential. However, individuals renewing their ICF Credential are not required to retake the exam.

The new ICF exam is not merely an assessment; it is described by ICF as a “high-quality, state-of-the-art credentialing exam aligned with the highest standards of certification test development practices.”

It was developed with insights from ICF-credentialed coaches from around the globe who contributed as subject matter expert volunteers. This collaborative effort ensures that the exam remains relevant and rigorous, accurately representing the evolving landscape of coaching practice.

What about the ICF CKA Coach Knowledge Exam?

In the evolution of the ICF credentialing process, it’s crucial to recognize the changes that have been implemented and what remains constant. Here’s a snapshot of the transformation from the Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA) to the new ICF Credentialing Exam:

What stays the same:

  • The foundation of all questions is solidly built on the ICF Core Competencies, ICF Code of Ethics, and ICF’s Definition of Coaching.
  • Questions continue to vary in difficulty to comprehensively assess a coach’s understanding.

What changes:

  • Enhanced security measures ensure the integrity and value of your ICF Credential.
  • Flexibility in exam location: candidates can opt for an online proctored exam from home or office or visit an on-site Pearson VUE testing center.
  • A total of 81 questions, predominantly scenario-based, require candidates to discern both the best and worst actions for each situation.
  • Scoring now ranges from 200 to 600, with a passing mark set at 460.
  • Each question has one “correct” answer.

The shift towards a more secure exam environment shows ICF’s commitment to fairness and equal opportunity for all candidates to showcase their coaching knowledge and skills. The ICF has in fact partnered with Pearson VUE, a renowned provider of computer-based testing, to administer the new ICF Credentialing Exam. This collaboration ensures a high-quality testing experience, whether you choose to complete it amidst the comfort of your own space or at a Pearson VUE testing center.

Want help to ace your exam? Our session ‘Get Ready for the ICF Credentialing Exam’ is for you! You will learn everything you need to know pass the new online test: requirements, resources, tips & tricks and more. You will also try our ICF practice test and get ready to go!

  • Start Date: 16/09
  • End Date: 16/09

ICF exam requirements

Embarking on the journey to obtain an ICF credential requires a commitment to meet a set of stringent requirements designed to prepare you for the challenges and responsibilities of professional coaching. 

To be eligible for the ICF credentialing exam, you must:

  • Complete a specified number of training hours, which vary depending on the credential level you are aiming for — 60 hours for Associate Certified Coach (ACC), 125 for Professional Certified Coach (PCC), and over 200 for Master Certified Coach (MCC). 
  • Engage in 10 hours of ICF mentor coaching, which includes a mix of group and individual sessions.

After the training, gather your coaching experience and apply for the exam. You’ll have to pay a fee. Once your application is approved, you’ll get an invite to schedule your exam with Pearson VUE. You have 60 days from receiving the invitation to book and take the exam.

On the day of your exam, it’s important to allow for a 30-minute preparation period. This time is allocated for system checks, environmental scans, and ID verification to ensure compliance with exam protocols. To facilitate a smooth experience with the proctoring process, select a quiet, private space and maintain silence throughout the exam duration.

For those ready to take this pivotal step in their coaching career, further details on booking an appointment and preparing for the ICF exam day can be found at the ICF’s official guidelines on exam procedures.

What is the new ICF credentialing exam content and format?

The new ICF credentialing exam format is meticulously structured to assess a coach’s proficiency and decision-making skills. The exam consists of 81 situational judgment items, divided into two sections.

Candidates have a total of 180 minutes to complete the exam, with the time allocated as follows: 

  • Exam Instructions: 3 minutes
  • Section 1 (41 items): 87 minutes
  • Scheduled Break: 5 minutes
  • Section 2 (40 items): 85 minutes

The ICF credentialing exam is available in several languages, making it accessible to coaches all over the world.

ICF credentialing exam pass rate

Each question within the exam holds equal weight, and the scoring system uses a scaled score ranging from 200 to 600, with a passing mark set at 460, equivalent to correctly answering 76% of the questions. This scoring model includes identifying both the Best Action and Worst Action in response to the scenarios presented.

If you don’t pass the exam on your first try, don’t worry! You can retake it after 14 days for a fee of $105 USD. If you need more attempts, just wait 30 days after each try.

You get up to six tries in a year, starting from your first exam date. If you still haven’t passed after a year, you can keep trying up to six times each year, starting from the date of your first exam.

This tough exam process is there to make sure coaches are really ready to meet the ICF’s high standards in coaching skills and ethics.

ICF credentialing exam questions

The ICF credentialing exam questions are designed to evaluate a coach’s practical application of coaching principles through situational judgment items. These 81 scenarios require a coach to select the most appropriate and the least appropriate course of action from four possible answers.

There is only one correct best action and one correct worst action for each scenario, and credit is awarded solely for these selections. Although multiple answers might seem reasonable, the challenge lies in identifying the optimal and the least effective response based on ICF standards.

The exam’s content spans across four domains that encapsulate the core competencies of a proficient coach. These include: 

  • Foundation, 
  • Co-Creating the Relationship, 
  • Communicating Effectively, 
  • Cultivating Learning and Growth. 

The questions are distributed to reflect these domains, with varying percentages assigned to each competency—such as Demonstrates Ethical Practice and Embodies a Coaching Mindset under Foundation, or Establishes and Maintains Agreements under Co-Creating the Relationship.

Scoring is based on the accurate identification of both the Best Action and Worst Action for each scenario. The approach encourages candidates to not only recognise effective coaching strategies but also to be aware of actions that could undermine the coaching process. Importantly, there is no penalty for incorrect responses, which means candidates can answer without fear of negative scoring. This method ensures a fair assessment of a coach’s ability to navigate complex coaching situations effectively.

How to prepare for the ICF credentialing exam

Getting ready for the ICF credentialing exam might feel overwhelming, but it’s a great way to strengthen your coaching skills.

Start with the basics: the ICF Core Competencies and the ICF Code of Ethics. These are crucial since they form the foundation of your coaching practice. Also, check out the ICF PCC Markers for specific standards that will help you measure your progress.

To really grasp these concepts, dive into coaching books and consider joining a group mentorship program. These provide structured learning and valuable feedback.

Practicing through coaching sessions is super helpful too. It lets you put what you’ve learned into action, which is key for understanding the competencies deeply. Practicing with different scenarios also helps you get better at spotting the right and wrong responses, which is super important for the exam.

Think about joining an ICF accredited coaching training program. These programs mix theory and practice perfectly, prepping you well for the exam.

While knowing the Ethics and Competencies inside out is crucial, don’t forget to consider how you learn best. Whether it’s reading, group discussions, or using multimedia resources like videos from the ICF website, pick what works for you. Remember, the exam isn’t just about what you know; it’s about how you use that knowledge in real coaching situations. So, a thorough prep in different ways isn’t just a good idea – it’s a must if you want to really shine in your coaching career.

Feeling alone in your coaching practice? Our FREE Coaching Dojo is for you. Join us for an engaging session where you can practice coaching, receive constructive feedback, and learn from experienced mentors. This supportive environment allows you to grow your skills, connect with peers, and gain new perspectives. Don’t miss this opportunity to enhance your coaching abilities — reserve your free spot now!

  • Start Date: 22/07
  • End Date: 22/07

Study Materials and Resources

When you’re aiming for coaching excellence, choosing the right study materials is key. The ICF offers several essential resources for your study plan.

Start with the ICF Code of Ethics, which lays out the ethical rules for our profession, and complement this with the ICF Interpretative Statements to get a clearer picture of these ethics in action.

The ICF Core Competencies define the essential skills and approaches that distinguish proficient coaching. The ICF YouTube channel has videos explaining each competency clearly.

Beyond ICF’s own materials, expand your knowledge with reputable coaching books that explore diverse perspectives and methodologies within the field. A curated list of influential titles can be found on our blog The 12 best coaching books to read in 2024 offering you a rich tapestry of wisdom to weave into your exam preparation.

Also, consider online courses and webinars that focus on specific coaching areas. These interactive sessions add more depth to your learning. Study groups or a study buddy can also be really helpful. Talking about tough topics and sharing ideas can make things clearer and build a supportive learning community.

As you use these resources, see them as building blocks for mastering the ICF exam content. They’re not just for passing a test, but for guiding you throughout your coaching career.

ICF Practice Test and Mock Exams

Practicing with mock exams is a great way to prepare for the ICF credentialing exam. Testing yourself with an ICF practice exam will help you see what you’re good at and what you need to work on.

As you might already know, the test is pretty new and there aren’t many practice exams out there. While you can still find some sample questions on the ICF website, which will give you an idea of what the exam is like, we want to offer you something more.

To further enhance your ICF exam preparation, we are excited to offer exclusive free access to our free ICF credentialing exam simulator. This invaluable tool is designed to mirror the actual exam environment, providing a realistic set of sample questions that cover key areas of the test. Utilizing this online ICF mock exam allows you to identify strengths and areas for improvement in a risk-free setting. The best part? It’s completely free for our clients. By practicing with our free ICF credentialing exam simulator, you can gain confidence and sharpen your coaching skills, ensuring you are well-prepared not just to pass the exam, but to excel in your coaching career.

We invite you to take our free ICF practice exam today and contact us to discuss any questions or doubts you may have as you prepare for your ICF exam journey.

ICF practice sessions

Engaging in mock coaching sessions is also a really effective way to prepare for the ICF exam. It’s like a trial run where you can use what you’ve learned in a setting similar to real coaching. These sessions do more than just boost your confidence – they’re a chance to get valuable feedback. This feedback, whether it’s from your peers or mentors, helps you grow by offering new viewpoints and pointing out little details you might not have noticed.

To set up these practice sessions, get in touch with people in your coaching network or start a study group with others who are preparing for the exam. You can also join online coaching groups where experienced coaches might offer to help with mock sessions or give feedback on your practice. 

The aim here is not just to pass the exam but to become a better, more confident coach. By using practice exams and mock sessions as part of your prep, you’re really improving your coaching skills – skills that will be useful to you and your clients well beyond the exam.

How to pass the ICF credentialing exam: tips and strategies

Navigating the ICF Credentialing Exam can be daunting, but with the right approach and mindset, success is within reach. From my own experience, I can assure you that there might be questions that could stump even the most seasoned coaches. The key to acing the exam is not just about knowing. It is about understanding the essence of coaching and being able to think as a coach in different scenarios.

Here are some tips to help you pass: 

  • First, remember that although more than one response may represent a reasonable response to the scenario presented, candidates will receive credit only for selecting the best possible action or the worst possible action. This means that it’s not just about knowing the material; it’s about applying it effectively. The correct answer indicates the best way to act as a coach in that scenario. The worst answer indicates what a coach should absolutely avoid in that scenario.
  • When faced with questions, read them carefully and methodically eliminate incorrect answers. This strategy helps narrow down your choices and increases your chances of selecting the most appropriate response.
  • Moreover, always keep the ICF coaching competencies and coaching mindset at the forefront of your thought process. Evaluate each scenario through this lens to discern what makes one reaction better than another, or one action worse. It’s not simply about what you do, but why you do it – your reasoning should align with the core principles of coaching.

By “thinking” as a coach, more than anything else, you will be well-equipped to choose responses that reflect the highest standards of our profession. So take a deep breath, trust in your training and preparation, and step confidently into your exam – you’ve got this.

ICF exam sample questions (and answers)

The ICF credentialing exam is designed to measure your ability to apply the updated ICF Core Competencies in realistic coaching scenarios. Many look for ICF exam sample questions to practice before the exam and to familiarize with the format and structure, and online you might find different icf sample questions pdf and materials.

Here are some ICF exam sample questions to give you a taste of what to expect and how to approach them, directly from the ICF website:

Question 1: A coach is meeting with a prospective client who is growing a new business. The coach is an investor in a competitor business. What should the coach do?

  • BEST action: Share their role as an investor in a competing business and acknowledge the possibility of a conflict of interest with the client.
  • WORST action: Not say anything and try to keep their role as an investor separate from their role as a coach.

Question 2: A client struggles with delegating tasks and ends up completing all the tasks themselves. The coach feels disappointment. What should the coach do?

  • BEST action: Take a breath and acknowledge that the client is responsible for their own choice.
  • WORST action: Praise the client for meeting deadlines but ask why they failed to support team members’ development.

Question 3: A client comes to a session appearing stressed, listing multiple challenges. What should the coach do?

  • BEST action: Acknowledge the significant challenges and ask which one they would like to explore first.
  • WORST action: Ask the client to begin with the major event they are planning at work since it was mentioned first.

Question 4: A client shares journal entries showing deep reflections on social anxiety but speaks little during sessions. What should the coach do?

  • BEST action: Acknowledge the reflection work done and explore some of the emotions described in their journal.
  • WORST action: Ask the client to summarise their journal entries for the coach.

Question 5: A client preparing for retirement suddenly becomes emotional about leaving their job. What should the coach do?

  • BEST action: Acknowledge the emotional impacts of the transition and ask if they would like to spend time with those feelings.
  • WORST action: Pause, then ask the client to identify remaining plans they would like to focus on today.

As you practice these scenarios, remember that identifying both the best and worst actions requires a deep understanding of coaching ethics and competencies. Approach each question with a coach’s mindset, considering what aligns best with ICF standards and what could potentially harm the coaching relationship.

Still unsure about acing your exam? Join our live prep session with a mock test simulation and learn requirements, resources, tips & tricks and more.

  • Start Date: 16/09
  • End Date: 16/09

Taking the ICF Credentialing Exam

When you’re getting ready for the ICF Credentialing Exam, knowing what to expect and how to prepare is crucial.

Make sure to check out the ICF “candidate guide” for full instructions. Before exam day, know what you can and can’t bring to the test area. Things like food, coats, calculators, phones, wallets, and purses are not allowed. If you’re at a Pearson VUE testing center, they’ll provide a locker for your personal stuff.

If you’re taking the exam online, here are some key points: You’ll need your phone to check in, but you can’t use it or any other device during the exam. Also, no open books or notes are allowed. The exam has two parts, and once you finish the first one, you can’t go back to it. You might have to show a 360-degree view of your room and stay put without talking for the whole exam. Remember, you can’t get any help from others.

On the day of the exam, manage your time well. Tackle the questions you know first, then come back to the trickier ones. But be careful not to mark too many for review, as they need time to understand properly. This strategy will help increase your chances of doing well while following ICF’s rules.

For more info on the online exam rules with Pearson’s OnVUE, check out their guide at Pearson’s OnVUE Guide. Good preparation is key to passing and getting your ICF certification.


As we wrap up this guide, I want to leave you with one last piece of advice. The ICF credentialing exam is a big step towards becoming a certified coach. Although it’s tough to fail, the questions are complex, so it’s important to stay calm and focused. Make sure you’re well-rested and have ways to handle stress on the day of the exam.

Your mindset is just as important as what you’ve learned. Take a moment to relax, breathe, and trust in all the hard work you’ve put into preparing. When it’s time for the exam, let go of any worries and show what you know about coaching.

We at Coaching Outside the Box are here to help you through it all. If you need more help or resources, feel free to reach out and contact us. Our courses and mentoring are here to make sure you pass the exam and do great in your coaching career. Let’s work together to lift up the coaching world, one certification at a time.


It’s totally normal to have a lot of questions when getting ready for the new ICF credentialing exam. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of frequently asked questions. These FAQs cover common things that many coaches want to know and are designed to give you quick, easy-to-understand answers so you feel ready and informed.

But we know there’s always more to ask! If you have more questions or need details we didn’t cover here, check out the ICF’s official page on credentialing exams at ICF Credentialing Exams. You’ll find a lot of helpful info there to guide you on your way to getting certified

How long does the icf credentialing exam take?

When embarking on the ICF credentialing exam, time management is a crucial aspect to consider. You will be allocated a total of 3 hours to complete the exam. This time frame is designed to allow you to thoroughly engage with each question, reflect on your knowledge of coaching competencies, and apply your understanding with depth and precision.

What is the ICF credentialing exam cost?

The cost of the ICF credentialing exam varies depending on your affiliation with the International Coach Federation. For ICF members, the exam fee is set at $175 USD, a reflection of the value and support the community provides. For non-members, the cost is $325 USD. This distinction underscores the benefits of being part of the ICF’s expansive network of coaching professionals.

Why has ICF changed the CKA exam?

The ICF is always working to keep their coaching certification the best it can be. That’s why they updated their credentialing exam to make sure it meets top global standards. The new exam is all about making things fairer and more secure for everyone taking it. They’ve teamed up with Pearson VUE for secure testing, both at their centers and online through Pearson OnVUE’s remote proctoring. This shows how serious the ICF is about keeping the exam’s quality and integrity high. These changes help prevent any misuse of the exam and keep its reputation strong for all future coaches who will take it.

If I studied for the ICF CKA can I still pass the new credentialing exam?

Absolutely, the foundational body of knowledge required for the ICF credentialing remains consistent. If you have prepared for the ICF CKA, your efforts are still very much relevant and applicable to the new credentialing exam. The core principles, competencies, and ethical guidelines that you’ve studied are the bedrock upon which the new exam is constructed, ensuring a seamless transition in your certification journey.

What should I study to ace the new ICF credentialing exam?

To ace the new ICF credentialing exam, really get to know the ICF Code of Ethics and its interpretative statements. They help clear up a lot and are super useful. It’s also important to understand the ICF Core Competencies deeply. These aren’t just rules – they’re what make a coach good at their job. Along with reading, I suggest watching the videos on the ICF website. They give you a better, more practical view of these competencies. Studying in these different ways will give you the knowledge and understanding you need to ace the exam.

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