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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#147 Being Prepared (Getting Ready)

    This episode is about being prepared (getting ready)

    If you are thinking about embarking on a big journey or a big change like starting a business, losing 10 – 20kg, training for a marathon or having a family, or changing careers, then you’re probably thinking that you need to be prepared or organised before you can start.

    It’s great to be prepared because it can help you to feel confident, but on the flipside, trying to be too prepared means you may never feel ready to take a step.

    As somebody who totally knows this from lived experience, I want to invite you to think about what being prepared creates for you, and how to do it in a way that doesn’t sabotage your success.

    In this episode, I’ll talk about 
    * The meaning of getting prepared
    * When to know you are ready
    * What and who can help you

    What does getting prepared actually mean?

    A lot of people talk about needing to be fully prepared before they launch their business, or to be totally ready before they take action in some area of their life. But what does getting prepared actually mean? It’s like the ubiquitous “I need to get organised” statement that people say. 

    When I question my clients on this, they’re often not very clear on what it means to get prepared. They’re often not really sure about what getting organised means or when enough is enough. So I invite you to think about that right now, and to get some clarity around the specific things that you must do to be prepared enough to take action in some area.

    I can give you a few ideas to get you started.

    In business, getting prepared means you have done enough market research to define a viable niche. 

    Logistically you need to have a business number set up, a separate bank account, a LinkedIn profile set up, and to have clarity on a core service you will sell and the benefits of that service.

    You need to know what you’re charging and how you will collect money.

    You need documentation to run that service, and you need a marketing plan to start reaching customers and building your professional networks.

    If you have those things then you are prepared.

    Even though that’s a business example, you can follow the same process for life.

    For example let’s say you’ve been studying something and you need to know whether you are prepared enough and ready to sit the exam.

    So in this case, you might have read the text book a couple of times, you might have answered the study questions, you might have done some practice practical sessions, and you have reached a point where you sense you know the answers when you hear or read certain questions being asked.

    On paper, for both of these examples, it looks like you’re organised and prepared.

    But when will you be ‘ready’?

    So here’s the other half of the equation. Logistically you’ve ticked all the boxes, but do you feel ‘ready’ to take action, in terms of your confidence, your motivation and your energy?

    Being prepared is one thing,  but feeling ready is another.

     If you have ticked all of the logistical boxes but you’re not feeling very confident or sure about your next steps or whether they will be successful, then there is some mindset work that you might need to do and some limiting beliefs that you need to overcome before you can actually start taking action.

    I see this a lot in students studying health and wellness coaching, but also people who’ve made any sort of change in their lives.

    I’ve seen people lose weight in an 8 or 12 week program, and then not feel ready to make lasting behaviour change and wanting to go back to their old ways.

    I have seen people get study completed and get everything ready to set up a business, and then back away from it because they lack the confidence in themselves or their knowledge of this skill to start the ball rolling.

    Any sort of change into a new direction requires you to change your identity. This isn’t an overnight thing. 

    The first critical step to changing your identity is developing the belief that you can become a different sort of person.

    This is a hard step, but a very important one. This belief in your ability to become successful is required to find the motivation to get started and to persist, even when things are hard.

    You need to draw deep on your strengths and get support, and to create the environment of success to persist and succeed no matter what.

    If you’re a long time listener of my podcast, you might recall me telling the story of my motorbike trip across Australia. A key point in that story  is that everybody I told about the coming trip either laughed at me or told me I was an idiot. Nobody was backing me to do that trip. My boyfriend at the time thought I could do it, my two sisters were neutral and said please be careful, but everybody else tried to talk me out of it and told me that I couldn’t do it. Luckily I had enough self-belief that I could ride a motorbike through all sorts of terrain that I had never experienced and get to the other side and return unscathed.

    You can see how easy it could have been in that situation to let myself be talked out of the trip. I was terrified about it, having never ridden a motorbike before in my life and only having just got my licence.

    But while I was vulnerable to the opinion of all the ’nay-sayers’ around me,  I was still able to imagine myself persisting through the difficult times, using the support of my boyfriend at the time and my mental strengths and skills, and a physical strength program I’d developed and used to get me to the other side.

    While this was a physically- and mentally-demanding trip for me with a risk of injury or accident, many of the things that we are terrified doing in life are actually not life-or-death situations.

    In many cases, the consequences of failure are a lot less than what we make them out to be.

    I had a business coaching client once who booked a coaching session with me but could not take any action until she had spoken to her supervisor at work about her plans to build a business in the background. She couldn’t even bring herself to do market research!

    I had a weight loss client who wouldn’t start making any progress into her journey until after her one-week holiday overseas, which was 6 weeks away.

    So to answer the question, when will you be ready, I suspect it’s more to do with making a decision, waiting for something to occur, picking a start date, and finding the courage and support you need to take action and get traction with your new venture – whatever it is.

    What and who will help you?

    In my example of the motorbike trip, I mentioned that I was relying on the support of my boyfriend at the time, my own strengths, and my own physical and mental preparation. 

    The question is for you now, what and who will help you on your journey?

    What are the character strengths that you have to that will help you through the difficult parts  more easily?

    What are the strengths and skills you bring to the project that will ensure your success or at least give you confidence in some areas?

    What sort of mental and/or physical preparation will you need to do?

    Who are the people you need to rally around you and help you to stay motivated, to brainstorm ideas, to download to, and troubleshoot problems as they come up?

    I’ve never heard of any great success being achieved by one person completely on their own. If you know of one, please let me know because I would be very interested to hear that story.

    What is your platform for action?

    Let’s bring these elements together for a moment and talk about your platform for action. 

    Whatever your project is, whatever the thing is that you wish to do, there are going to be some logistical aspects you need to complete to be prepared.

    What are those things?  Write a list.

    Now, there are going to be some mental or self confidence aspects you need to work on before you feel ready to start.

    What is the decision you need to make?

    What do you need to commit to?

    What do you need to believe in advance?

    Why is that important to you?

    Finally, there are the strengths and supports you need to put in place as your backstop to help you be consistent and persistent.

    What are those strengths?

    How will you draw on them?

    Who are the people who will help you?

    How will they help you?

    I encourage you to put these things into a plan with specific activities scheduled into your calendar.

    When you have all of your ducks in a row, you will finally be prepared and feel ready to take action and get traction.


    Today, we’ve really dug into the idea of ‘getting prepared’ but behind that, ‘being ready’ to take action.

    Whether it’s your business or your life, you certainly need to tick a few boxes but you also need to manage your thoughts, get support and make some commitment to when and how you will take your first steps.

    A lot of people give up before they even start, even though the consequences are often not exactly life or death.

    The worst that can happen to you is an emotion.

    If you can just do enough to get started, then it might free you up to work and live on purpose and do what you were meant to be doing in the world.

    I invite you to reach out if you need support for this – it’s exactly the work we do in the Passion to Profit Program.

    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: