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E#223 How to Prepare for the NBHWC Exam

This episode is about 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, I’ll talk about 
* 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 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 detail 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 the 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 relationship, 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 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 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 reflect on what that might look like with a client in a first, third, tenth or other session, 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 to: 

    • Visit the NBHWC website and download all the resources 
    • Diarise key dates for administrative actions, like paying fees, printing out confirmations etc, and especially to 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 identity and be searched for cheating notes! 
    • Take a deep breath and get started. 


    NBHWC Exam Prep Resources: 

    Selection of Recommended Text Books ( 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. 

    Ready to get clarity on your pathway to success?

    Understanding who you are and what you need will allow your business to thrive! If you’re truly ready to break old habits and get out of the rut I encourage you to check out the Habitology membership.

    Learn more here:

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    E#212 What’s the Difference Between ICF & NBHWC

    This episode is about what’s the difference between ICF & NBHWC  

    Are you a qualified coach who is wondering how to gain professional credibility and endorsement? You might have been looking at ICF and NBHWC accreditation but aren’t sure which way to go. By the end of this episode, you’ll be clear on the difference between ICF and NBHWC as professional associations, what the process is for getting accredited by either, and perhaps some clarity on which option is better for you.

    If you’re a qualified coach of any type, then being a member of a respected industry association gives you professional credibility, visibility and a measure of competence as a coach. There are various professional coaching associations around, and the two most talked-about in health and wellness coaching are ICF – the International Coaching Federation – and the NBHWC – the National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coaching association. Let’s compare the two. 

    In this episode, I’ll talk about 
    * What is the difference between ICF and NBHWC?
    * What is the process for getting accredited by either?
    * Which option is better for you?

    What is the difference between ICF and NBHWC? 

    Let’s start with the International Coaching Federation.  

    ICF is a global organisation for coaches and coaching, which has been around since 1995 and has over 50,000 members. ICF aims to advance the coaching profession by defining and upholding coaching ethics, standards, core competencies and professional conduct.  ICF also provides independent certification and a worldwide network of trained coaching professionals. 

    ICF members are typically life coaches, executive coaches, leadership coaches and similar.  

    Having been around a long time, ICF is well known in Australia and in corporate settings, having at least a PCC qualification helps you get in the door as a coach at executive level.  ICF promotes itself as “the most globally recognised, independent credentialling program for coach practitioners.” 

    Now let’s compare the National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coaches association.  

    NBHWC is an American-based association that has collaborated with the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) in the US, to provide a robust board certification exam that assesses competencies in trained health and wellness coaches. NBHWC defines and upholds health and wellness coaching standards and core competencies at an international level, allowing the profession to advance in all aspects of healthcare and wellness.  NBHWC was developed and endorsed by some of the major players in health and wellness coaching. 

    NBHWC been around since 2016 and is linked to the medical and Medicare system in the US – but not elsewhere.  Still, NBHWC is considered by many to be the gold standard of credentialling for health and wellness coaches specifically, and at an international level.  

    NBHWC is not as well known in Australia as ICF at the time of writing but is becoming better known as more coach training organisations register as recognised providers with NBHWC and promote this status of their program. 

    Aside from advocacy and maintaining standards of training and coaching competency, both associations play key roles in advocating for our professions, creating a community for coaches, and for approving training courses that qualify coaches to sit the respective exams.

    What is the process for getting accredited by either? 

    ICF Accreditation process 

    ICF has recently (early 2022) updated their credentialling exam, process and levels. What I am about to describe covers this new process. 

    The ICF accreditation process involves submitting a portfolio of evidence first and an application fee. ICF assesses your application and then decides whether you are eligible to sit a three-hour multiple choice exam which they call a Coach Knowledge Assessment.  

    The portfolio of evidence varies according to the level of qualification you are pursuing, but all levels include certain types of information: 

    • Proof that you have successfully completed an ICF-approved course of a certain number of live (real-time) hours and evidence of successful completion*, 
    • A coaching log with certain number of hours depending on the level you are applying for,  
      • At least 75% of hours must be paid hours 
      • At least 25% of hours must have been completed in the 18 months prior to your application 
    • Completion of at least 10 hours of mentoring with an approved ICF mentor, and  
    • Submitting 1 recording of a coaching session and a transcript, which demonstrate you have met the ICF core competencies (this is a different session structure to HWC).  This only applies to PCC or MCC level applications. 

    As you go higher up the qualification levels, you need more hours of everything before you can sit the exam. 

    The bottom level is Associate Certified Coach or ACC, where you need to show evidence of completing 60 hours of coach-specific education and 100 hours of client coaching experience (e.g. coaching log). 

    The middle level is Professional Certified Coach or PCC, where you need to show evidence of completing 125 hours of coach-specific education and 500 hours of client coaching experience. 

    The top level is Master Certified Coach or MCC, where you need to show evidence of completing 200 hours of coach-specific education and 2,500 hours of client coaching experience. 

    *Note that If you have not completed ICF-approved education, you may choose the portfolio pathway for any of these three levels. This requires you to provide specific details of all the courses you have completed, including continuing education courses and the number of hours related to each core competency. 

    For example, I completed the PCC application process. I had completed one ICF-approved course, but to make up the 125 hours of coach specific training, I also provided evidence of four other courses I completed, each showing the curriculum, number of hours on each competency, and learning outcomes. It was a BIG job to do this, but I got through. 

    If your application is accepted, you will be notified and invited to sit the exam which can be done online from your home computer. The range of possible scores is 200 – 600, and a passing score is 460 or more. 

    I’d recommend about 4 weeks of study for the exam, given that your 10 mentoring sessions and private client coaching should have prepared you adequately, and there are no health metrics that need to be studied and learned. 

    Your application and the exam are all entirely accessed by a secure online portal in the ICF website. 

    NBHWC Accreditation process 

    The NBHWC accreditation process is similar to ICF’s.  

    You are required to submit a portfolio of evidence first and an application fee. Then, NBHWC assesses your application and decides whether you are eligible to sit a 4.5 hour multiple choice exam. 

    NBHWC lists a calendar that shows exam application periods each year. They have 3 intakes per year at the time of writing. 

    Once you have applied you have a window of time to submit a portfolio of evidence and then, if that is accepted, to book in and sit your exam and pay the associated fee. 

    The portfolio of evidence includes certain types of information: 

    • Proof that you have successfully completed an NBHWC-approved course of a certain number of live (real-time) hours (e.g. Wellness Coaching Australia’s Professional Certificate course), 
    • A coaching log showing 50 hours of health and wellness coaching sessions  
      • at least 20 minutes long,  
      • at least 75% of the session being coaching and not education,  
      • not including sessions with friends, family or classmates, and 
      • must have been completed AFTER completing your recognised training course. 
    • Submitting evidence of a health-related Bachelor’s degree, or alternatively, that you have completed 4,000 hours of work experience in any field.   

    The NBHWC website includes plenty of great resources including a sample coaching log. 

    >> Here is a link to the exam study materials and information 

    If your application is accepted you will be notified and invited to sit the exam, and will need to find a secure test centre location near you. 

    I’d recommend allowing about 12 weeks of study, 2 – 3 hours per week, covering their core competencies and learning the American medical metrics (these are tested). 

    Once your exam is completed, you will receive your score about 8 weeks after the closing of the testing window. 

    In both cases, the multiple-choice exam asks you to answer questions about specific situations.  

    For example, in the NBHWC exam, you might be asked what you would do if your client in their 10th session came in and was lacking motivation to continue. There are also specific questions about US medical metrics. 

    In the ICF exam, you might be asked what the best possible or worst possible action might be as a coach if your client presented with low motivation and reluctance to discuss specifics. 

    In other words, knowing the theory of coaching isn’t enough – the exams are testing your knowledge of how to implement the skills you’ve learned in real life situations, and related to the stage of change, size of obstacle, scope of practice and ethical considerations. 

    This is an overview of the two assessment processes – visit their websites to gain more specific detail of what is involved. 

    Which option is better for you? 

    The best option depends on your situation. 

    For some health and wellness coaches, NBHWC is more relevant as it is more specific to health and wellness coaching and is often desirable or essential for international coaching companies who employ health and wellness coaches (e.g. Noom – though they have an internal training program for this, possibly BetterUp). 

    While the general public in Australia don’t recognise NBHWC at this point in time, the credential is becoming better known. Plus, it is more specific to health and wellness coaching and the assessment considers a more specific model around habit change. 

    For some health and wellness coaches, ICF is a better fit. This is probably relevant if you want to break into corporate coaching, where ICF is recognised, and PCC is often the minimum standard.  

    ICF is more broadly recognised, although the credentialling system does not specifically assess knowledge of health and wellbeing metrics or development of habits. 

    Either way, being credentialled by ICF or NBHWC is good for your credibility but possibly involves a whole new suite of qualification courses, time and cost.  

    For many coaches starting out, it is better to work with clients and get proof that you can help people to build credibility and trust, before considering a formal credentialling process. 

    A Third Option 

    There is a third option – joining HCANZA; Health Coaches Australia and New Zealand Association. 

    This industry association is not a credentialling body, but it performs many of the same functions and ICF and NBHWC and upholds the standards of ethics and education of those two associations.  

    HCANZA provides community and connection in our local area, as well as advocacy for health and wellness coaching professionals and creating visibility and employment in our field.  

    HCANZA does not have a lengthy, costly examination process, just a requirement to show successful completion of:  

    • an NBHWC-recognised training program, or  
    • an ICF-recognised training program plus appropriate health and/or lifestyle education.  

    Other levels of membership are available if you: 

    • Are an allied health professional with an advanced degree and coaching experience and training 
    • Are a current or prospective student of a health and wellness coaching course, or 
    • Have completed a coaching program with health and lifestyle training meeting the criteria set by NBHWC. 

    There are three levels of membership: 

    • Professional membership 
    • Associate membership, and 
    • Student membership. 

    To apply for HCANZA membership, you need to provide evidence of training as mentioned above, professional indemnity insurance (or cover note), code of conduct and scope of practice documents, and an online application form and fee. 


    It’s clear that you can bolster your professional standing, credibility and visibility by being credentialed by an industry body such as ICF or NBHWC, or by being a member of an industry association such as HCANZA. 

    Any path you take requires you to have completed a certain standard of training by a training provider who teaches and assesses core coaching competencies.  

    In the case of NBHWC and HCANZA, evidence of health and lifestyle training is also required. 

    For ICF and NBHWC, allow around 4 – 12 weeks of study and evidence preparation. 

    If you are new to the industry and not sure where to start, your best option may be to simply join HCANZA, get some practice and experience as a coach, then decide on your future direction before committing to a credentialling process that costs time, energy and money. 

    Ready to get clarity on your pathway to success?

    Understanding who you are and what you need will allow your business to thrive! If you’re truly ready to break old habits and get out of the rut I encourage you to check out the Habitology membership.

    Learn more here: