Note: This article was originally posted on March 10, 2017. My website crashed a month ago, and I didn’t have a back up! After rebuilding my website from scratch, I’m now reposting the article with updated links, and the original comment thread in the body of the article.
I recently took the ICF’s Coach Knowledge Assessment exam (CKA).
This online multiple-choice exam was part of the requirement for me to receive my Associate Certified Coach (ACC) credential with the International Coaching Federation.
Several of my fellow coaches are also taking the exam, and a frequently asked question is “How do I prepare for this? How do I ace it?”
Here’s how I prepared for the exam and my experience in taking it.
First of all, the CKA Exam
(UPDATE July 2020: I recently received an email from Life/Professional Coach, Consultant, Trainer Esther Attebery, who noted that the CKA exam is no longer an open-book test. Thank you, Esther!)
The questions’ difficulty levels vary. Some assess your awareness of a concept or skill-based around these five broad domains:
1. Setting the foundation
2. Co-creating the relationship
3. Communicating effectively
4. Facilitating learning and results
5. Coaching foundations and knowledge base
Other questions probe for deeper understanding and right application within scenarios in these four areas:
1. Professional conduct at large
2. Conflicts of interest
3. Professional conduct with clients
4. Confidentially and privacy
You won’t need to memorize any definitions or lists. You simply choose the best answer among four options.
Most importantly for me, this exam is Pass/Fail. Currently, the passing grade is 70%. This means you can miss 46 questions and still pass the test!
As someone who used to obsess about “getting an A” in all my classes, knowing that this exam is Pass/Fail really freed me from over-preparing! Of course, as a professional, I want to do my best. However, for the purpose of receiving your ICF credential and passing this exam, there’s no difference between getting 100% and 70%. If you pass, you ace the exam!
How I Prepared for the CKA Exam
While there are exam prep courses available for purchase, I found that the following prepared me well for the exam.
Review The International Coaching Federation website
First and foremost, the ICF website provides abundant information for your prep.
Information about the Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA) itself:
- Overview of the CKA
- The ICF has helpfully revamped their website so that all the information about the CKA is now on this one page. You’ll also find sample questions on this page.
Material and Knowledge that the ICF will test around:
- About the ICF and its Mission, Values and Definition of Coaching
- Core Competencies & Core Competencies Levels Table*
- Code of Ethics and Standards
I found the core competencies, the core competencies levels table, and the code of ethics to be particularly helpful in reviewing the materials covered by the test.
*Note: The ICF updated its competency model in November 2019. Scroll down the ICF Core Competencies page for this information.
Review my coach training materials
I received my coaching training and my Certified Christian Leadership Coach designation from Coach Approach Ministries (CAM). Through their ICF accredited coach training program, I had more than 60 hours’ worth of Approved Coach Specific Training Hours (the so-called “ACC ACSTH Path“). Briefly reviewing my notes from those classes helped to refresh my memory and understanding of the material covered on the exam.
Review my feedback notes from mentor coaches
I also briefly looked over notes from my CAM group mentor coaching class. One of the ICF requirements for ACC credentialing is mentor coaching for a minimum of 10 hours over a minimum of 3 months by a qualified Mentor Coach. Reviewing what I learned from my time with a mentor coach also helped me in my preparation.
Browse resources on the internet
I also googled resources on the internet. Here are some links that you may find helpful.
- Beth Beulow, PCC, shares her experience in taking the CKA.
- Carina Huggins, ACC, shares her advice on preparing for the CKA.
- Keith Webb, PCC, writes about how to pass the CKA.
- Anne Gaal, PCC, shares a Youtube video about preparing for the CKA.
- Caryn McCurry, ACC, developed a quizlet to help you prepare.
I’m glad these coaches shared their prep and exam-taking experience!
My Experience Taking the CKA Exam
About a month after I submitted my application for the ACC credential, I received an email with a link to the online exam and an assigned username and password.
Once I was in using the provided username and password, I was asked to change my password and include a security question. For me, that was the most confusing part of the exam! 🙂
Taking the Test
The exam is designed to be taken in one sitting, for a total of three hours. I recommend finding a time and a place where you will not be disturbed or distracted.
The questions often consist of a case or scenario. Take your time in reading the question carefully. Some of the answers ask what’s the BEST to do. Others ask what NOT to do. Be sure you are clear what the questions are asking.
I found that I could easily eliminate two of the four possible answers. On some of the questions, it was more difficult to determine which of the other two was the right answer.
If I was stuck on a particular question, I flagged it to return to it later.
If I accidentally skipped a question, the system automatically notes it.
Reviewing My Answers
At the end of the exam, I was brought to a review page that lists the first few words of all the questions on the exam. On that review page, I saw whether I completed that question or whether I skipped or flagged it.
I found the review process to be clunky.
It was easy enough to go back to a question that I had skipped or flagged.
But after I completed my review of a question, I was sent back to the first page of the review.
That was fine when I was reviewing the first thirty questions or so. But for the questions towards the end of the exam, I found myself having to advance several review pages of questions before getting back to where I had left off.
I hope later versions of this test will just bring you back to the page where you last selected a question for review.
After I completed the exam, I immediately received my score on the website. From that page, I can print out my results or save as a PDF. I also received an email with my score.
Since this is an assessment and not a learning tool, I was not told which questions I missed.
I probably spent around three hours preparing for the exam.
I took two and a half hours to complete the whole process.
At the end of the day, I’m glad that I didn’t spend more time preparing for it.
For those of you preparing to take the CKA exam, here’s my takeaway:
- Review the basics and core material from the ICF and your training.
- Trust what you have learned.
- Be focused and relaxed while taking the exam.
- You will ace the exam!
For those of you who’ve already taken the exam, please feel free to share your thoughts and experience!
If this article has been useful to you, please consider signing up for my periodic e-newsletter.
80 thoughts on “How to Ace the ICF Coach Knowledge Assessment Exam (CKA)”
Steve A. Spangler March 10, 2017 at 1:28 pm
Thanks for sharing. Very helpful.
Thank you, Steve!
Kim Izaguirre-Merlos March 11, 2017 at 1:28 am
Love this to share with my leaders going through coach training. Great process write-up and links to your resources, Michael. Thank you!
Kim, I’m happy for you to share with your leaders! Thanks!
Helene Rennervik July 3, 2017 at 4:56 am
Thank you for sharing your way and how to prepare for the ICF CKA assessment.
I will use this way of preparing all before I sit the assessment in the next month.
Useful tips. Plan to complete my mentoring and take the test.
Poźniak Dominika July 27, 2017 at 3:06 am
Thank’s very much for this article. It was very useful for me.
Especially login experience and conclusion.
Yesterday I passed CKA and I will always remember about Your help in this process 🙂
Greetings from Poland!
Thanks Michael. I am anticipating taking the CKA in the next month as I apply for my PCC (it wasn’t required when I got my ACC certification.)
This was very helpful information. Others have said, “Don’t worry about preparing for it. If you’re actively coaching you’ll do fine.” That doesn’t really work for me (and my insecurities). What you wrote is both encouraging as well as a good roadmap.
Cal, sorry for my tardy reply. I hope your CKA went well, and that I can call you a Professional Certified Coach!
Mrunal October 24, 2017 at 1:52 am
Your post is so honest and simple…in addition to being helpful.
Thank you for the links too!
I loved your style of writing too…
Applying for my PCC directly and have to take the CKA as well. This will be helpful!
Hi Mrunal, thanks for leaving a comment! All the best as you take your CKA!
Complete and very helpful. Thank you.
All the best as you take the exam!
Christine October 27, 2017 at 8:49 am
Thanks for your valuable advice , that is exactly what I was looking for.
Greetings and blessings from Germany
All the best, Christine!
Carole November 19, 2017 at 2:42 pm
Thanks for sharing your ICF knowledge test reflections as you helped me to figure out how I wanted to design my prep. strategy. I, too, feel that 3 hours of prep tiime, when combined with certification learning and experience, and integrating the material from the ICF website, created a solid sense of readiness going into the test. As you suggested, printing the Code of Ethics and the compentency table, provided handy, quick reference tools. I had a great outcome; I passed the ICF knowledge test!
Congratulations, Carole! All the best in your coaching!
Michael this is great!!! I will be going through all the steps that you are suggesting. THANK YOU.
Glad it was helpful, Erdi! All the best as you prepare for the exam!
Charity roberson December 18, 2017 at 3:01 pm
As always, Michael you’ve done a great job paving the way and helping others! Thanks for putting this together!
Thanks, Charity! Hope you’re doing well…and wishing you a Merry Christmas!
Christine from Germany January 8, 2018 at 4:36 am
Hello Michael, have a question as i am just preparing fort he cka Test .
Are the questions the same no matter if you want acc or Pcc credentials ?
As I aim for acc I wonder if I should all read in the template about Pcc level requirements , what is your advice ?
Hi Christine, the questions are the same no matter what level of credentialing you’re seeking. They assess a baseline knowledge that all ICF coaches need to have. There are no questions that ask you to answer at a “PCC level.” Once you pass the CKA for the ACC, you won’t have to take it again when you apply for the PCC or MCC. Hope this helps, and all the best!
Nikos Grey January 29, 2018 at 6:55 am
Godbless you mister.
I thank you dearly for your valuable will to help me/us with this test.
Balaji February 13, 2018 at 2:29 am
Thank you Michael for sharing your experience. It’s very helpful 🙂
Just wanted to drop a note to say “Thanks a lot” for taking the time and effort to put this together. This write-up is serving as a ready reference one-stop-shop for my preparation. As time is scarce and pressures are high…this has been very valuable. Much appreciated.
Shah, I’m so glad it was helpful. All the best as you take the test!
Bruce H. Jackson February 16, 2018 at 10:33 am
Thank you for assembling these resources.
Please just check as most of your links no longer work.
Bruce, thanks for the heads up! The ICF recently revamped their website. I’ll update those links.
Thank you so much for taking your time to write and put this information up based on your personal experience. Very thoughtful.
Yes, it is helpful in knowing others feel the same way and wanted to help those eliminate some stress and succeed in passing the CKA exam.
To Your Awesomeness,
Thanks, Connie! Go ace the exam!
So great & thankful.
However, How many time we can re take the exam?
The only information I could find on the ICF site < https://coachfederation.org/coach-knowledge-assessment> under “CKA FAQs” is that if you don’t pass the first time… “An applicant can elect to retake a different version of the test for a fee of $75 USD.”
Thnk u, different versions? Any advice, plz.
I suspect the second exam may have slightly different questions… I don’t know since I didn’t take it. And I doubt you will need to also. 🙂
Instead of advice, perhaps some words of encouragement: Trust what you’ve learned, in your classes, in your exam review, and in your coaching practice. Currently, the passing grade is 70%. This means you can miss 46 questions and still pass the test! The ICF _wants_ you to pass!
How can you focus your positive energy on _taking_ the exam (and showing what you know), and let go of negative thoughts about _failing_ it?
All the best! You’ve got this!
Kathleen O’Connor March 13, 2018 at 11:21 am
First of all, although it was a year ago…Congratulations on passing (aka Acing) the CKA!
Secondly, thank you so much for sharing so much detail. Reading your post has helped me as my first step in preparitng for my own exam.
Thanks, Kathleen! All the best as your prepare to take the exam!
Cyril Johnston April 14, 2018 at 2:49 pm
Thanks Michael. You and I met at the 2015 CAM breakthrough in Nashville. I appreciate your sharing. This has been very helpful. Hope your coaching work goes well.
Thanks, Cyril! Hope your coaching practice is going well for you also!
Linda S May 25, 2018 at 12:00 pm
Thanks so much!
Andrea Elrom July 4, 2018 at 1:25 am
What happens if u fail? When can u take it again?
According to the ICF, if an applicant does not pass the first time, an applicant can elect to retake a different version of the test for a fee of $75 USD.
Hanan Hassan July 6, 2018 at 3:28 pm
Thank you so much , it is very helpful 🙂
Yolanda Y Moten July 28, 2018 at 1:37 am
Thank you for sharing. I preparing for the exam and needed guidance on how to study.
Thank you very much.
Your tips are helpful for me. Now I have a general impression about the CKN. What I’d like to have is some examples of the qustions that will be very grate.
Sample questions are posted on the ICF website: https://coachfederation.org/coach-knowledge-assessment.
Hi Michael, this is great and thanks for the link. You are doing such a great service by sharing your experience and helping others achieve their call to coach! Best regards, Carina Huggins from Trajectory Coaching.
It is my pleasure, Carina. All the best to you!
Thanks for sharing your experience; it really helped me to think about the type & amount of preparation to do, and how to create the right conditions for sitting the test 🙂
Thanks for your comment, Jo! All the best as you take the test and in your coaching journey!
Many thanks for this detailed overview of the ICF Coach Knowledge Assessment Exam (CKA). It helped a lot to me to know these details
Thank you Michael for this great article. I have read this useful article and I am convinced that the described impressions are very helpful, not only for me.
Thank you, Dr. Wafi. All the best as you take the exam!
Kavita lobo August 24, 2018 at 4:21 am
Hi. My heartfelt gratitude to you for helping me clear my CKA. I followed ‘word by word’ your suggestions. Spent approx. 3 hrs reviewing study notes, ACC mentoring notes, reading ICF Ethical Codes and the competencies. I completed my exam in 2hr. 05 mins. And yes, passed!!!!
One big fat elephant off my back.
It is humbling, the clarity in your presentation of the process helped tremendously. Wish ‘the’ for you always.
Cheers (literally!!! :))
Kavita, thank you so much for sharing your success with me! It warms my heart to hear that my post helped you in passing the exam. May you contribute to the success of others in your coaching!
Thank you Kavita for your lines. You encourage me to do the CKA in a few weeks.
It really makes me very curious how you could answer the 300 questions in about 2 hours. I was thinking: What were the hardest parts of the CKA? What took you the most to think and think about?
Thank you in advance and best regards
Renee Morris September 26, 2018 at 2:50 pm
Thanks so much! This article was very helpful. I am planning on taking the test soon.
Hi Michael – thanks for your insights. For some reason I’m feeling nervous about taking the test (I’ll be taking it this coming Monday). After reading your post I felt a bit better. I’m already doing some of the things you recommend and have definitely spent more than 3 hours studying 🙂 Feeling like I’m probably pretty prepared and need to trust in my knowing. Will do a meditation before to feel calm and filled with ease. Wish me luck! 🙂
Good luck, Caryn! But you won’t need it because you sound very prepared! 🙂 Sending you prayers and good thoughts your way!
Thanks Michael – talk about things showing up just when you need them. After I posted here I found a Quizlet set up by someone else to practice with and was so pleased to see my knowledge easily coming forth. Those gremlins sure do like to make themselves known . Feeling good and nice to have this space on which to share ☺️
That’s great! Would you mind sharing the link to the Quizlet? Perhaps others might also benefit from the added practice. Thanks!
Sure – here’s the Quizlet link: https://quizlet.com/94235131/icf-written-exam-flash-cards/
I hope it’s helpful 🙂
Thanks for sharing, Caryn! I’m sure it will be very helpful.
Yay! I passed! And I feel like, through my studying, I deepened my learning and am seeing that show up in my coaching already. How great is that?! Thanks for the space Michael. It’s been really nice to share about taking the test in this space. Super appreciative! Happy Thanksgiving!
Congratulations, Caryn! Thanks so much for sharing this celebration with me! I am grateful that I can contribute to your success! Happy Thanksgiving to you also!
TERESA L NGAU-CHUN November 14, 2018 at 9:43 pm
thank you for being informative
still finding my way around the acc credentially.
appreciate the tips, very encouraging
Thank you for all your informations and support.
I have one question, and probably you know about it.
In case I do not pass the CKA, in genaral is there a second chance for me to repeat it? Is there any requirements that I have to meet?
Thank you in advance
According to the ICF, if an applicant does not pass the first time, an applicant can elect to retake a different version of the test for a fee of $75 USD. I don’t think there are any extra requirements for taking the exam again.
Thank You-that helps releive some stress!
Thanks a lot, it is very much appreciated!
Dom Addeo February 11, 2019 at 1:09 pm
Thank you, Michael, for this great summary and set of tips. Very helpful.
Dom, I’m glad it was helpful to you! All the best!
Anita Nandini April 13, 2019 at 3:41 am
Many thanks for the guidance.
Was trying to access this link “Two coaches share their experience on a conference call about taking and passing the CKA in 2015”
Doesnt seem to work. Could you pls help.
Thanks for letting me know. It looks like the authors of the original post took that video down. Sorry about that! All the best as you prepare and take the CKA exam!
I hope you are doing well.
few days I took the CKA Exam. Regrettably, my score was only by 69.03%. So I have to retake the exam.
I hope you can help me in answering my question: do you know if the next 155 questions are the same questions that I got in the first exam or will I get new questions?
Thank you very much for your help
Dr Wafi, I’m so sorry to hear that you were 1% away from passing! According to the ICF website: https://coachfederation.org/coach-knowledge-assessment:
Q: What happens if an applicant doesn’t pass the Coach Knowledge Assessment on their first attempt?
A: An applicant can elect to retake a different version of the test for a fee of $75 USD.
My interpretation of their answer is that you may get some new questions, and that the order of the questions will be different, but I doubt that the second test will contain 155 different questions from the first test.
Thank you very much Michael for your response.
Yes, I’ll retake the exam and hope that I’ll get the score of more than 70%.