Print & digital resource:

NCE Visual Study Guide & Test Prep Activity Book by Lindsay Braman

My comprehensive illustrated & interactive study guide for the National Counselor Exam (NCE) uses images, colors, mnemonics, and humor to engage brains in effective study.

When I began studying for the NCE, I did exactly what my graduate school professors told me to do to study: I ordered the “purple book”, some test prep flashcards, and an encyclopedia of counseling.

When my study materials arrived, I was scared.

Page after page of unbroken text blocks and too-complicated flashcards made me realize that if I wanted a good visual study guide resource for the NCE, I was going to have to make it.

So I made a study guide for people like me: folks who learn a little differently and recall visually – and also for people who struggle with traditional textbooks (common for ADHD, Autism, and other neurodivergences)

Buy the Digital Reference Version

Purchase this version to instantly download 17 pages of full colors notes covering key ideas for all 6 domains covered in the National Counselor Exam.

Buy the Spiral Bound Activity Book Version

Purchase this version to order a 150+ page activity book including coloring book pages, fill in the blank sheets, and tear-out flashcards.

Things to know about my Spiral Bound NCE test prep activity book:

  • Full-size – 8.5 by 11 inches.
  • Spiral-bound so it stays open while studying!
  • Printed on premium, textured paper you can color and highlight with no bleed.
  • 150 pages including reference, coloring book pages, and interactive activities.
  • Proudly printed and bound in the USA.
  • Made with love by a small creator! (An actual test-taker- not a corporation or AI bot!)

How I Made my NCE Study Guide

With my test date a few months on the horizon, I set up a dedicated study desk, chose a color palette, and set to work reviewing each chapter of the primary texts that are recommended for NCE study prep. As I went through each chapter, I consolidated. I omitted fluff, unnecessarily technical language, and content that any 1st year grad student would know by heart.

I created my study notes by focusing on:

  • 📝 Things predicted to be most likely to be on the test,
  • 🧠 Concepts that were novel to me,
  • 🤔 Concepts that are particularly difficult to remember.
  • 🎨 and ideas that I believed I could represent in a unique, memorable way.

It took me weeks of total immersion in reference books, but by the morning of my test, I’d created 20 pages (later edits condensed down to 17) of visual notes to review for the National Counselor Exam.

two sample pages from an illustrated counseling test prep book.

What Tests are Covered by the NCE Visual Study Guide

NCE: This study guide was created for counselors taking the National Counseling Exam- which is administered by the NBCC and part of the process of gaining NCC credentials and is part of the process of becoming a licensed counselor in most US states.

CPCE: The content of this study guide aligns with the test content in the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination (CPCE), and can be used to study for this comprehensive exit exam used by many counseling graduate programs.

This study guide may also be a helpful supplement for people studying for the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), the Marital and Family Therapy (MFT) exam, or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). Many of the same core concepts are covered by these tests, although please notes that my resource is not designed to comprehensively cover the content in these exams.

A look at my studio while I was creating this resource.

How to Study for the NCE using a Visual Study Guide

While you can’t take these notes into your NCE test, I’m confident that they can be a powerful tool for visual thinkers preparing for the National Counseling Exam. In my study activity book, you’ll find notes to review as well as pages to interact with and make your own.

Included Sections in the Activity Book:

Section 1. Full-color, full-page notes to study. I use color-coding, word association, mnemonics, and humor to boost the study-power of each page.

Section 2. Black and white pages redesigned for coloring! Grow familiarity with the content by mindfully coloring in words and illustrations. Through coloring, you’ll create visual and movement-based memory of the content.

Section 3. Fill in the blank. In this section, keywords on the right-hand side of the page have been omitted and replaced with a colored blank. Test your knowledge by filling in the right side of the page and then checking your answers by using the left-hand page as a key. This fill-in-the-blank exercise helps test your knowledge as well as tickling some additional brain regions through reference and comparison, which should lead to improved recall. 1

Section 4. Recopy. In the final section of this spiral-bound NCE test prep activity book, you’ll find a blank page on the right opposite a complete note on the left. You have two options here:

  1. Recopy the notes in full for practice, or
  2. Wait to use this section until several days before your test. Recopy only the information you think you might not yet have fully committed to memory. This recopying method can help you create a targeted set of notes to review in the final days and hours before your exam.

Tips for taking the NCE as a visual thinker.

Sadly for us visual thinkers, the days are over when we could take tests on paper*, interact with questions visually, and write on our test paper—but there are still ways to use your visual thinking skills to boost your test score!

Opt for an In Person Test

If doodling and writing help you recall information, I recommend taking the NCE tests in person at a testing center. While online testing is available—and in many cases more convenient—absolutely no scratch paper or writing utensils are allowed for online NCE tests.

In-person testing centers provide a pen and a surface to write on. Once your test officially starts (wait until the timer begins counting down, not when the proctor leaves), spend the first few minutes of your test drawing the visuals that are the toughest to remember.

Before I even looked at the first question, I wrote out all the mnemonics that were floating around in my head and drew the simple illustrations I struggled with the most (for me, a bell curve with standard deviations, and Piaget’s developmental stages). Once you have completed your visual reference sheet, you can begin your test, referring back to the reference sheet you created as needed.

* The NCE and CPCE may still be taken with pen and paper if an accommodation is requested and approved. If you’re an aspiring therapist with an ADHD, Autism, learning disabilities, consider arranging to take the test on paper.

Some Key Notes About my NCE Visual Study Guide

I believe my test prep activity book can be a helpful resource for visual learners and other learners; however, it should not be used as a standalone resource. I developed these study prep materials by omitting a ton of data—most of which seemed obvious or redundant to me, but might not be for you.

Additionally, I’m a single human without a review committee, so the resource I have created is likely not without bias – and what I felt was obvious or redundant is most certainly informed by the orientation of the graduate school I graduated from.

All this to say, I can’t guarantee that you will pass the test if you study this resource exclusively. I believe this study guide is best used in combination with with traditional test prep materials and test quizzes.

What are these notes?

Sketchnotes? Doodle Notes? You decide.

I’m not exactly sure what to call my notes. Some people who create in a sketchy but similar fashion call their notes sketch notes. I settled on the term doodle notes for my own reference but avoid using it online because made up words aren’t good for much on micro-niche sites like mine on the internet!

Instead, I like to think of these pages as “visual soundbites” that are carefully placed together, like a jigsaw puzzle, to invite the eye to flow around the page, taking in chunks of data.

Why study visual notes: Supporting Research

See footnotes for references used.

  • Brains are designed to form memories: Forming memories is one of the most important tasks of a brain.2 Because of that, brains evolved to have a lot of redundancy for remembering!
  • Brains use multiple regions to form, store, and recall memories. Research shows that multiple areas of the brain are involved in encoding memories1.
  • Intentionally engaging more parts of the brain during learning can lead to improved recall.3,4
  • Visual engagement with study material can improve recall. 4 While memory research gets complex, the simplest takeaway is this: text and language primarily activates the left hemisphere of the brain, while images and visuals primarily activate the right hemisphere. 5

Test prep represented in both text and image, improves our chance of recalling information by physically storing it in more brain-real-estate.5

How I Learned to Study Visually

Visual learners like me often recall information in a visual way. Ever since textbooks and quizzes became part of my education, I’ve recalled information based on how and where it’s placed on a page. (And usually, I’d score lower when tested on a plain-text reading than if the study material was disrupted by insets, illustrations, and text boxes.)

Over time, I learned how to use my learning style and recall style to create my own resources. After being inspired by illuminated texts that I saw in a museum, I began doodling in the margins of my reading. At first, I focused on interacting visually with plain text— I’d use highlighting, underlining, and other visual markers to help me process and remember what I was studying.

Psychology Study Notes I created early in grad school, that eventually evolved into my NCE Study Guide:

In graduate school to earn my Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology school, I became more practiced at filtering my assigned reading through my own visual mind. Creating visual study sheets became a task that I used in many courses in graduate school. While other students created a cheat sheet crammed with tiny text, I’d make a page of small doodles that illustrated concepts I needed to remember. When our study sheets were put away and tests were on our desk, I would draw the visuals on the back of my test paper before starting the test- as a visual way to recall the information I learned.

Final Thoughts:

My comprehensive illustrated study guide for the National Counselor Exam (NCE) is a labor of love designed for visual learners and those who think and remember in neurodivergent ways.

By transforming dense text into engaging visuals, mnemonics, and humor, I believe I’ve created a resource that makes studying not only more effective but also more enjoyable! Whether you choose to download the digital reference or get yourself a copy of the spiral-bound activity book, you’ll find a variety of tools to help you master the material in a way that resonates with your unique learning style. Happy studying, and best of luck on your exam!

Want to be a part of my team that supports the creation of resources like this, gets early previews of new releases, and access to a portfolio of psychology visuals active since 2018? Join my community on Patreon.

Buy the Digital Reference Version

Purchase this version to instantly download 17 pages of full colors notes covering key ideas for all 6 domains covered in the National Counselor Exam.

Buy the Spiral Bound Activity Book Version

Purchase this version to order a 150+ page activity book including coloring book pages, fill in the blank sheets, and tear-out flashcards.

  1. Robertson, L. T. (2002). Memory and the brainJournal of dental education66(1), 30-42. [] []
  2. Bisaz, R., Travaglia, A., & Alberini, C. M. (2014). The neurobiological bases of memory formation: from physiological conditions to psychopathologyPsychopathology47(6), 347-356. []
  3. Zivan, M., Vaknin, S., Peleg, N., Ackerman, R., & Horowitz-Kraus, T. (2023). Higher theta-beta ratio during screen-based vs. printed paper is related to lower attention in children: An EEG studyPlos one18(5), e0283863. []
  4. Dando, C. J. (2013). Drawing to remember: External support of older adults’ eyewitness performance. PloS one8(7), e69937. [] []
  5. Schacter, D. L. (2002). The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers. United States: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pg 26-27 [] []

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