How to Pass the International Coach Federation (ICF) Certification Exam

Jul 9, 2024 | 0 comments

It’s undeniable – the coaching profession has skyrocketed in popularity, and for many good reasons.

Coaching is profoundly effective, yet it operates in a space often overlapping with other fields such as therapy and consulting, creating numerous gray areas. Navigating these complexities requires a commitment to ethical practices and clear professional boundaries.

This is where the International Coaching Federation (ICF) shines, setting the global gold standard for coaching.

By adhering to ICF guidelines, coaches not only bolster their credibility but also ensure they are providing the highest quality of service. While certification from a coaching school is foundational, an ICF credential elevates your status, reflecting a dedication to excellence, professionalism, and ethical integrity in a rapidly expanding field.


Understanding ICF Requirements to Prepare for the ICF Certification Exam

Before diving into how to pass the ICF’s online Certification Exam, it’s crucial to understand the two types of exams required by the ICF for becoming a credentialed coach.

These are the ICF Coaching Performance Evaluation and the ICF Online Certification Exam, each serving a distinct purpose in assessing a coach’s readiness and capability.



The ICF Coaching Performance Evaluation is designed to rigorously test a coach’s practical coaching abilities. It focuses on real-world application, evaluating how well coaches engage with clients, utilize core coaching competencies, and demonstrate effective coaching techniques. This exam ensures that aspiring coaches can not only understand but also skillfully implement coaching strategies to facilitate client growth and transformation.



On the other hand, the ICF Online Certification Exam assesses a coach’s theoretical knowledge and understanding of coaching principles, ethics, and best practices. This written exam covers a broad range of topics, including the ICF Code of Ethics, coaching methodologies, and the foundational theories that underpin the coaching profession. It ensures that coaches have a solid intellectual grasp of the profession’s standards and can articulate the principles that guide their practice.

Together, these exams provide a comprehensive evaluation of a coach’s capabilities, ensuring that those who earn ICF credentials are well-rounded professionals equipped with both the practical skills and the theoretical knowledge necessary to excel in the coaching industry.

Let’s explore them both in detail…


The ICF coaching performance exam is a critical component of the International Coaching Federation’s (ICF) certification process. It is designed to assess a coach’s competency and adherence to ICF’s core coaching competencies and ethical standards in action.


What is the ICF Coaching Performance Exam?

  • It’s a Live Coaching Session: The performance exam typically involves a live coaching session where the candidate coaches a real client or a peer. This session is observed and evaluated by an ICF-approved assessor.
  • That uses Performance Markers: The ICF has established specific performance markers that outline the expected behaviors and skills of a competent coach. These markers include demonstrating active listening, powerful questioning, direct communication, creating awareness, designing actions, planning and goal setting, and managing progress and accountability.
  • You are Evaluated: Assessors look for the coach’s proficiency in creating a trusting and safe space for the client, effectively managing the coaching process, and maintaining a non-judgmental and supportive stance. Essentially using the performance markers and specialized training to ensure that the coach is modeling their level of training in their coaching skills.

What are the differences between the ACC & PCC Performance Exam Levels?

The requirements and expectations for the performance exam vary based on the certification level – Associate Certified Coach (ACC), Professional Certified Coach (PCC), or Master Certified Coach (MCC).

Higher certification levels (PCC and MCC) require demonstrating more advanced coaching skills, adaptability, and creativity in the coaching process.

For instance, a PCC or MCC is recognized as a skillful, adaptive, and creative coach, while an ACC signifies someone who has mastered the essentials of coaching.


How do I prepare for the ICF Coaching Performance Exam?

Preparing for the ICF Coaching Performance Exam can be a thorough and enriching process. If you are attending an ICF-accredited coach training program, the performance exam preparation is typically embedded within the curriculum.

This means you will take the performance exam through your training program rather than directly with the ICF.

At Coach Training World you can rest assured… You’ll be taken care of!

  • Coach Training Courses: During your coach training courses at CTW, you’ll have ample opportunities to practice your coaching skills in real-time scenarios and receive appreciative feedback.
  • Coaches Corners: Beyond your courses, you can attend Coaches Corners as often as you like. These sessions allow you to connect with our global community to coach, be coached, and observe coaching. You can also receive feedback from instructors or peers.
  • Mentor Coaching: To ensure you are rock solid in both your confidence and competence, you’ll attend small personal group mentor coaching sessions and individualized coaching sessions to further refine your coaching skills. During this time, you’ll receive feedback on your coaching along the ICF’s performance markers and plenty of tips and tricks to embody these best practices while still being authentic in your coaching approach.


The International Coaching Federation (ICF) introduced a new Certification Exam in August 2022, replacing the previous Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA). This exam aligns with the updated ICF Core Competencies and is designed to assess a coach’s ability to apply these competencies in real-world situations.


What is the ICF Coaching Performance Exam?

  • 70% to Pass
  • 81 scenario-based multiple-choice questions*
  • 3 hours to complete the exam
  • Scheduled break approximately mid-way
  • Available in multiple languages
  • Accommodations available based on individual needs

*For each of the 81 scenarios you’ll be asked to identify the best and worst response from 4 multiple-choices options per scenario. Each question contributes to the final score.


How to Prepare to Pass the ICF Certification Exam

One of the best ways to prepare for the ICF online Certification Exam is to consider its purpose.As an ICF credential holder, you agree to abide by their Core Competencies, Ethics, and Standards of Best Practices. In short, you are embodying the ICF’s perspective on what a professional coach is. When you answer the different case studies, you are being asked to respond in a way that shows you understand and embody the ICF’s standards.


Important Tips & Techniques to Pass

  1. Understand the Core Competencies: As you train to become a Professional Whole Person Certified Coach, you’ll become deeply familiar with the ICF Core Competencies. These competencies form the backbone of professional coaching and will be a central focus of the exam.
  2. Study the Code of Ethics: To ensure you thoroughly understand the ICF Code of Ethics we’ve created a special course so you can study the ICF’s ethics using real world scenarios. In addition, you’ll explore these topics within your training and mentor coaching sessions.
  3. Embrace Best Practices: When it comes to coaching the Whole Person, you’ll be well-versed in the ICF’s best practices. This includes knowing how to apply these practices in various coaching scenarios presented in the case studies but more importantly in real time with peers and practice clients.
  4. Prepare with a Mock ICF Online Certification Exam: At CTW, you’ll receive resources that include practice exams in addition to the ICF’s official study guides and resources. This will help you get comfortable with the format and the type of questions you will encounter on the exam.
  5. Join Study Groups: In addition, you can collaborate with peers in study groups to discuss case studies and ethical dilemmas. Peer discussions can provide new insights and enhance your understanding.
  6. Stay Updated: Don’t worry! We’ll keep your abreast of any updates to the ICF competencies, ethics, and best practices to ensure your knowledge is current.

By thoroughly preparing and internalizing the ICF’s principles, you will be well-equipped to excel in the certification exam and showcase your dedication to professional coaching excellence.

And better than that receive the credibility and honor of being an
ICF credentialed Whole Person Certified Coach!


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