"Certification is a demonstration that a designer can apply creative and technical solutions to a structure while achieving a functional, safe and aesthetically attractive interior environment."

Okay, I'm sorry! I'm getting a little serious with this post! But for real, certification and becoming a licensed designer is something I do take very seriously! This whole process is a huge step and something that is really requiring a lot of discipline for me.

About a year ago, I officially decided to begin the interior design certification process. I think I knew all along that I would eventually make the move to go as high as I could in the field, but I hadn't actually figured out the steps and fully understood what it meant. I received encouragement throughout school and then again from my boss. The certification process is not a requirement to work in the field, but it is a demonstration of competencies, supported by supervised work and a college degree. There are many guidelines and requirements to sit for the exam, including a specific education and supervised work experience by a professional. Not your every day designer!

So the real reason I'm writing this post is to give some advice! As you may know, especially if this is my mom reading (HI MOM!), I just recently found out that I passed the first exam of the certification process! You have no idea how ecstatic I am about it. I knew that I could eventually pass, but I wasn't sure if I had studied enough to really pass the first time.

I definitely studied. A LOT. But I felt like I started early, tapered off, and then started studying too late again. I felt so rushed the last week, that I pulled quite a few almost all-nighters to get more info in my head. My schedule was really too full in the months up to test day. So I've learned my lesson for the next two exams. I will make a better effort to keep my schedule clear so that I can be comfortable with the amount of studying I did.

I've already been asked questions about my study techniques and what books I used, so I thought I'd share! First thing. These books and practice exams are NOT CHEAP! I learned too late that my university library actually had the materials already, so I could have utilized those from the beginning and avoided the costs. I'd suggest going in on materials with other people if you can. I don't have anyone to share materials with for now but I plan on meeting up with my former teacher to talk about the practicum later. Job experience is another key to the exam. I have much more experience in casework drawings and other construction elements in my position. I felt that advantage during my studying when I knew material that I had not necessarily learned in school.

First, I purchased the "bible" - NCIDQ Interior Design Reference Manual (yikes! Huge and Money.) and the flashcards to go with that book, the Momentrix NCIDQ Exam Secrets Book and then I bought some practice exams.
Okay so here's how it went down:
I started in on the Reference Manual first. Honestly, it was so thorough and almost too much information at first. I got tired of the amount of information and almost couldn't push through it in the beginning. So I stopped reading the book and went on to the Momentrix book.
I started in on the flashcards - honestly, they aren't that helpful. They're too vague. I couldn't understand which answer I should have been thinking of. So I wouldn't recommend them. Especially for 30 bucks.
The Momentrix Secrets book was an ebook I invested in. It was recommended to me and I would say, it was helpful to start. I read through it completely. It was so cut and dry that it helped to begin with. It breaks many sections down into basic information. But it definitely did not cover everything.

ANNNDDDDD then I decided to purchase and take a pre-test ($90) through the Prometric testing site about two weeks before test day. That's when I got a little (a lot) anxious. I was not prepared for the type of questions and how the questions would be asked. I wasn't prepared for two possible "right" answers and having to make the decision between what I knew as two good answers. I studied more the following day, and then purchased another test. I did almost the same but I took screenshots of the questions. The tricky thing with those tests are that they don't just give you the answers. You don't get to review the questions and correct answers at the end either. You only get a percentage of what you got right in each section. So for me, screenshots helped me go back and review as I read my book and attempted to answer them correctly.

After that, I changed strategy. I went BACK to the Interior Design Reference Manual.
I went to the library and spent the week there. I read through almost every section of the Reference Manual that covered IDFX information. I took advantage of the practice IDFX exam books they had at the library. I tested myself and re-tested. This time, the answers were explained in those exam books. I LOVE the practice exam books. I feel like the questions are very helpful and show a relatively accurate way of how the questions are asked on the exam.

Honestly, I believe I spent a little more money than I needed to on exam books and pre-tests. Including the application fee, test fee, and study material, I felt a little drained for just the first exam.
If I could go back, I'd skip the second Prometric pre-test and spend more time on the Reference Manual Practice Exam books that I checked out for free from my university library. The first Prometric exam was helpful. It shows you an idea of the format of the test which was nice to know ahead of time. Also, I could have probably have checked out the Reference Manual from the library instead of buying it as well. I definitely would not purchase the flashcards. However, that said, I also have the material for the next two tests in hand. I'll likely purchase practicum practice tests, but everything else, I have covered.

I actually felt much better about the study material for the IDPX (the professional portion and next exam). I felt like I understood and knew much of the professional practice information. Probably due to my experience with education and running a very small business of my own, but largely due to my work experience now. I'm in the heat of construction administration every day, so it helps to understand concepts when you're actually using them every day. I already feel pretty prepared, but I'll definitely not let that stop me from focusing on that exam prep as well. And I'm confident now in how to prepare for it.

I also began to do research about others who had taken the exams and found some very helpful blogs! These women and designers are so very also encouraging in regards to how deal with stress, time management and studying, etc.

I love this blog...
She really breaks it all down and has helpful websites to visit, and even though her experience is from 2014, I found to really have the same experiences as she did with the first exam.

And this blog (and particular blog post) made me laugh.
"We're not taking this test to pick cute pillows. We're not decorators. This is not a decorator license. This is your DESIGN LICENSE. This is what sets you apart in the design world. This is what shows that you're more than a fandeck of paint chips and a pillow karate-chopper (please don't do this). This is your expensive, hard-earned license proving your ability to design a space which ensures the health, welfare, and safety of its occupants."

The NCIDQ is not an exam to demonstrate knowledge of style, fashion, and bold design elements. Of course that knowledge is important for the end result of a project. And it's important if your career goal is to decorate spaces, but that's not the first reason that many of us are here. There's a common misconception between interior designers and decorators, so I just want to make sure to clarify that to those who are considering this exam and making those career goals.
The difference between an interior designer and a decorator is here
That's not to say that decorating isn't super important! It really is and it can be argued that decorations, can also affect the health, welfare, and safety of the general public. So if you're considering a career as a decorator, I encourage you to take the proper measures to really understand how your decor planning really affects those in the space as well as fully understanding how to keep your clients safe. The NCIDQ exam is not out of your reach if you're willing to put in the required work hours beforehand!

Anyway, back to it! The writer of the blog also breaks down the drafting sections and what to immediately include on each section. I've already begun using that blog to study for the practicum next Spring. The breakdown she does on each one really seems cut and dry!

Leading up the night before, I made sure to find my testing center and our exact route.

Test day came so quickly. I didn't follow the "rules" for the night before. I was still studying. But that's again because of the lack of appropriate time management in the months before. I did however, wake up and eat a good breakfast. John and I left early for STL to avoid any traffic that could happen and in case we had bad weather. We planned to arrive a couple hours early, find the center, and then find something else to do until my test time. However, on our drive up, someone called me from the testing center to confirm my time and actually told me that they had seats open and that I could come as early as I wanted to. So that sped up our timeline. We ate lunch quickly and arrived at the center.

I took a deep breath and went in. They give you a locker for your belongings and then you go through a metal detector and "pocket exam" to be sure you're not carrying something you're not allowed. I took the opportunity to go to the restroom as I did NOT want to have to leave the exam to take a break. You're allowed to take a break, but the exam clock will still run, and you have to go through the metal detector/checkpoint upon returning. So I'm glad I didn't need to use that time.

I accepted a pencil, calculator and scratch paper that I was offered. I took the introduction to the exam software. And then I stopped and prayed for a minute. I prayed for peace and prayed that the information and everything that I studied and KNEW leading up to this would present itself at the times I needed.

 The test itself really seemed to go quickly. I won't reveal any sample questions or information about the testing material, because there's a confidentiality (and let's be honest, it's also to be fair to all those involved) that comes with these exams. However, I can talk about other details. I remember hearing people in the other testing booths typing like mad and so I was thanking God that I didn't have short answers and essays to write! Ha! These testing centers are centers for many types of professional examinations (medical, law, licensing), so there are many different exams going on at one time in any given room.
On the test itself, I spent a little too much time on a couple questions in the beginning, but quickly corrected that. I tried to remain calm the entire time. There were many questions I felt prepared for, but that doesn't mean the exam was not difficult. I remember trying to keep track on scratch paper the question numbers that I was completely confident about. I marked the questions I wasn't 100% on so that I could go back later and then moved on. I finished the exam with only 9 minutes or so left. So I took the opportunity to go back and look over the other questions I wasn't positive about. I'm so glad that I did. I had a couple revelations in regards to how certain questions were asked, which in turn, caused my answer to change. And just like that, it was over.

My best advice is to understand what each question is asking. Many questions can seem tricky at first, but the answer lies in how the question is asked.

I hopped in the car and immediately looked up the questions that I was still thinking about in my book (in typical OCD fashion) and was relieved when I found a majority that I had answered correctly.

We met up with friends in STL and took the rest of the night to unwind my brain with dinner and early Christmas shopping! We joked that they weren't allowed to ask me to make any decisions for the rest of the night. It was a great way to end a day full of anticipation. The next day, I actually felt pretty confident about the exam, but I didn't want to over excite myself in case I just completely bombed it! The six week wait for the results could have been bad, but I just refused to dwell on it and rarely let myself think about it. They tell you that your score will take 8 weeks to come back, so I was not expecting the email for another couple weeks.

Last week, I received the email that my score was posted on my account. I had a moment of panic and then a moment of prayer. I knew that regardless, I couldn't change the past and that I HAD felt confident about how I had done. And then I logged in. I definitely felt a rush of relief and confidence when I saw that I had passed. The exam itself is pass/fail and graded in a way that is still confusing to me, so besides the percentage of questions correct on each given section of knowledge, that's all you get. It's not like passing with a "C" grade. Each section of knowledge is a specific percentage towards your score, but you don't know which questions are under which category and you don't know the exact percentage each section is given. And there are 25 "placebo" and hidden questions on the exam that are not actually graded. Confused, yet? One of the blogs at the top does a pretty good job at explaining I think. Again, I tried not to get too hung up on the grading scale.

So that's that! I passed, and now I'm getting ready to apply in January for possibly the Spring exams for the final two. I'm working to make sure that I have all of the required work hours ready to turn in with the application. If my hours don't add up the way I think, I may not be able to sit for the last two exams until next Fall, which is still acceptable, just not ideal for my "get it over with" mentality.

Let me know if I can help anyone else with beginning the process! It's a big step, it's kind of scary and it feels like you'll never retain all of required the information, but you will! Just take each day at a time.

**I also want to clarify that I DO not claim to be knowledgeable in all aspect of the exams. This post is merely my experience.