How to Prepare for the NBHWC Exam

Are you registering for the next NBHWC exam intake and wondering how to prepare for the exam? I get asked this a LOT, so I wanted to cover the key steps I took to prepare when I sat the exam and help you understand what to expect. I have included some links at the end to help you navigate the exam prep resources that NBHWC provides.

What is the NBHWC exam about?

The NBHWC exam (National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coaches) is a process that qualified health and wellness coaches can go through if they have completed a recognised training course and want to be accredited with the international governing body.

In this episode, we’ll cover

* What is the NBHWC exam about?
* How do you prepare for the NBHWC exam?
* What can you expect on the day?

By sitting and passing the exam, you essentially get certified as a professional who has a certain standard of demonstrated knowledge and practical skills in relation to the core competencies of health and wellness coaching. 

It’s a great thing to do if you want to work for a digital health/coaching company such as BetterUp, or if you want to work internationally where the qualification is recognised. In any case, a formal certifying exam proves your competence as a coach and that can be a credibility boost for you and your business. 

The exam competencies cover four main areas: 

  1. Coaching structure 
  2. Coaching relationship 
  3. Health and wellness knowledge 
  4. Ethics and conduct. 

The exam itself is a 4.5-hour session where you answer multiple-choice questions on a computer, in a secure and monitored test facility in your nearest capital city. 

The questions aren’t about your knowledge, but more about your ability to know which skills to use and when in a variety of health and wellness coaching scenarios.  

Now, I’m going to walk you through the resources and how I recommend using them to study. 

How do you prepare for the NBHWC exam? 

There are three parts to preparing for the exam: 

  1. Reviewing the requirements and study materials 
  2. Creating and implementing a study plan  
  3. Application administration. 

To prepare for study, let’s start by walking through the exam resources that NBHWC provides, as this information will prepare you for study. 

First, go to the NBHWC website and allow about 30 – 45 minutes to review the resources that I am about to describe.  

To find them, go to the top menu bar and find the Board Exam section, then click into the sub-menu area called Exam Prep Resources 

Let’s take a high-level tour before diving into the details of study planning. 

Upcoming Events 

I highly recommend booking in for an upcoming NBHWC Exam Q&A to learn about the process of applying and examination in a live setting, where you can ask questions. 

The Certifying Examination Content Outline 

First, download the Health and Wellness Coaching Certifying Examination Content Outline. This is a booklet that outlines the content that will be examined. 

Please note that this is not a test of knowledge, so you can’t rote learn for this exam. It’s a test of your ability to apply knowledge in a real-life situation. The multiple-choice questions focus on assessing your ability to take the right approach in different contexts. 

I suggest you spend about 5 – 10 minutes looking through the content that is assessed so that you have a good overview. Here’s a nutshell of what’s in the guide. 

The first section being assessed is about the coaching structure. In this section, you’ll be expected to demonstrate that you know how to prepare for a session, the coaching skills that you will use in a first or regular session, and how to close a coaching program in a final session. 

In the coaching process section, you’ll be asked questions about coaching relationships, communication and coaching techniques. This is the biggest section as it covers multiple areas. 

You’ll need to show that you know which specific skills are relevant and used in different scenarios, and sometimes, how they are used. For example, how do you use reflections and how often? It depends on the client’s stage of readiness to change, how they show up to the session, the focus of the session and possibly which session it is. 

Next is the Health and Wellness section. This has a few more rote-learning style questions where your knowledge of specific guidelines and chronic disease is tested. You might need to quote guideline levels (note that it’s US guidelines being tested, no matter what country you reside in), plus an understanding of symptoms, different types of risk factors and basic facts about each condition. 

The final section is about ethics and legal, and you’ll be tested on knowledge of professional conduct and ethics. Once again, the focus is knowing how to apply this knowledge in a real-life situation. 

We’ll come back to this in a moment; for now, let’s look at the next resource that NBHWC provides. 

The Practice Exam 

Once you’ve had a look through the booklet, take about 10 – 15 minutes to look through the Health and Wellness Coach Practice Exam.  

It is set up in the exact format that you will see at the testing centre.  You can come back to this during your study. 

The Bulletin of Information (Application Administration) 

Next, spend about 5 – 10 minutes looking over the bulletin of information. 

It covers the logistics of the examination, including test delivery, test centres, scoring and reporting.  

The steps in the application process are clearly spelled out on page 13. 

I recommend using this Bulletin to schedule any key dates into your diary for actions that you’ll need to take in the weeks leading up to the exam. 

One thing I recommend you do as soon as you can is to book your exam date and time via the Prometric Test Centre link, because there are limited test centres in Australia, and spaces are limited and can book out quickly! 

The Code of Ethics, Scope of Practice and HIPAA Privacy Rules 

These are resources to help you study and prepare for the ethics/legal section of the exam. 

Job Task Analysis 

This paper gives some background into the NBHWC and the role of the health and wellness coach. 

Studying for the exam 

Once you’ve downloaded the Certifying Examination Content Outline, you’re ready to map out your study. 

I prepared by studying for 2 – 3 hours each week over 15 weeks, and this was adequate time to cover the elements being assessed. 

Based on how you learn and how much time you have available, you can follow a similar or more condensed or expanded schedule. 

The content outline contains 26 main sections, each with sub-sections. If you allow 2 – 3 hours to review and study each section, that’s roughly 52 – 78 hours of study. This helps you to work out roughly how much time to set aside each week before the exam. 

I suggest getting some of the standard coaching textbooks to help you review. For example:  

  1. Coaching Psychology Manual by Tshannen and Moore 
  2. Wisdom of the Whole by Bark 
  3. Motivational Interviewing by Miller and Rollnick, and  
  4. Wellness Coaching for Lasting Change by Arloski. 

Each one of those will have a few pages dedicated to most or all of the sub-topics in the Content Outline. 

I studied by getting my books together, finding the relevant sections in each book, then reading what each has to say and writing some summary notes into an A4 notebook. 

I also went back to read over my notes and then reflected on what that might look like with a client in a first, third, tenth or other sessions, depending on how they might show up to the session (e.g. deflated, happy, etc). 

What can you expect on the day? 

When you enter the test facility, you will be asked to secure your possessions, prove your identity and show that you have no way of cheating. 

You’ll be given a locker to store your wallet, any food you want and personal belongings, which will be checked first to ensure you have no cheat notes. 

You’ll then need to show your driver’s license or other ID to prove who you are and probably need to provide a printed record of your test application and fees paid (check the Bulletin to confirm). 

Finally, to prove you won’t cheat, you’ll have to pull your sleeves up to show that you’ve got nothing written on your arms, then turn your pockets out, or pull up your pants legs.  

You can take a break during the exam but there are rules about this such as only a certain number of people can leave the test room at the same time – check the Bulletin for current information. 

I recommend flagging any questions you’re unsure about and keep moving on to manage your time properly. You can revisit flagged questions at the end, it’s better to keep going. 

Once you hit submit, you’re free to go. While 4.5 hours is allowed, you might do it quicker. For me, multi-choice is easier than regular written exams and it took me 2 ¾ hours to complete it. 


Today we talked about some of the things you need to do to prepare for the NBHWC exam. 

Some key points I recommend are: 

  • Visit the NBHWC website and download all the resources 
  • Diarise key dates for administrative actions, like paying fees, printing out confirmations etc, and especially book your test spot as early as possible – remembering that you may need to travel to another city to sit your exam. 
  • Create a study plan for the 26 main sections, over a period of weeks (I’d allow 15 weeks at 2 – 3 hours per week, or a more condensed version if you prefer) 
  • You might need to buy textbooks to help you study – that’s up to you. 
  • If you’re travelling interstate, get there a day early to prepare mentally. 
  • On the day, take limited belongings with you and prepare to show your identity and be searched for cheating notes! 
  • Take a deep breath and get started. 

 NBHWC Exam Prep Resources: https://nbhwc.org/resources-for-coaches/ 

Selection of Recommended Text Books (Amazon.com.au links – non-affiliate): 

  1. Coaching Psychology Manual by Tshannen and Moore 
  2. Wisdom of the Whole by Bark 
  3. Motivational Interviewing by Miller and Rollnick, and  
  4. Wellness Coaching for Lasting Change by Arloski. 
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