My Advice to Coaches on Preparing for the ICF Coach Knowledge Assessment


In order to become an Associate Certified Coach through the International Coach Federation (ICF) I completed an internationally recognized, accredited coach training program through Newfield Network.

It is extremely important to me as a Coach, that my services are of the highest professional standard and informed by sound research.  In exploring professional certification, I discovered that my own values align with those of the ICF:

Integrity, excellence, collaboration and respect.  


Once I had completed the two-year certified and accredited coach training program through Newfield Network (becoming a Newfield Certified Ontological Coach)  I applied for Associate Certified Coach through the ICF, submitting my coaching hours, a recorded coaching call with a client and completing the Coach Knowledge Exam.

In addition to working as a professional coach through Trajectory Coaching YYC, I work full-time as an academic development specialist at a large Canadian University, helping students maximize their personal and academic potential whilst pursuing undergraduate and graduate studies.  I coach students in optimal learning and studying techniques, and with this blog post, I wanted to share some insights into preparation for the exam.

This is not intended to be a study guide or comprehensive overview or what you need to know for the coach knowledge assessment; it is simply a reflection and place to share my own process of preparing for this exam.  I hope that my academic development advising knowledge will serve you as you prepare for the CKA, and good luck!


My preparation for the Coach Knowledge Exam went as follows:

Gather together all of the various sources of information and training I received.

I started a binder and in it, included:

-Printouts of all details on the Coach Knowledge Assessment from the ICF website

-ICF Website frequently asked questions and definition of coaching

-ICF  11 core competencies

ICF Code of Ethics and Code of Ethics FAQ as well as Professional Code of Conduct

-Printouts of any articles I could find on the experience of taking the CKA, like this one on Linked In 

-My course notebook.  When you are in Coach Training, don’t passively take notes or wait until the coach / trainer provides notes.  Take active notes on everything and anything that strikes you as beneficial to your learning.  Add your own thoughts and observations to any content you are learning both during, and periodically after your training.  In the 12 months since my coach training concluded, I have visited and revisited my notebook, recording thoughts and observations from working with clients that deepen my learning in a particular facet, for example, the Observer-Action-Result model.

For example, from the accredited coach training through Newfield network I wrote everything in one a notebook.  I recorded all content and theory from the two in-person conferences, and also observational notes when we witnessed live coaching (in a separate section of my notebook titled “the art of coaching”, or when our coach trainers broached the topic of ICF core competencies, codes of ethics, or professional standards, as well as sample coaching scenarios (I always put a star in the margin beside these.)

Create a Filing Cabinet for All Information (An Overarching Structure)

On I created some mind maps (I am a visual learner and use this preference/strength to my advantage.)  I decided to create three mind maps

1.) The coaching core competencies (with any notes from my various sources above

2.) Ethical and professional guidelines (with any notes from my various sources above, particularly “scenarios” covered in training or in reading)

3.) Coaching definitions, theory and models


(A sample of the mind map I created in GoConqr – a great website I often recommend to students for creating mind maps and study materials.  The act of thinking about and visually structuring key concepts helps with information retention and recall.)

Review  your own Coach Training Observed Coaching Calls and the Feedback you Received on Your Coaching (According to the ICF Core Competencies)

The deepest learning occurs when we immerse ourselves and not just practice a core competency, but become it.  With observed coaching calls and the feedback from your mentor coach, your learning deepens dramatically .I found it extremely helpful and beneficial to review all of the coaching I completed that was observed by a mentor coach and reading the feedback deepened my awareness of best practices in each of the core competencies.


Know Your Learning Preference

What are your learning preferences and strengths?  Go with them.  Are you an auditory learner? (conversation, podcasts, vocal reading and reviewing)

Written learner? (enjoy re-writing notes, writing observations, journals)

Visual learner? (visual maps, diagrams and figures, doodles and stick figures, arrows and embelishments in your notes, which go beyond just words on a page)

Kinesthetic learner? (Need to physically structure your study space, mix studying with movement, treat each competency separately in stacks of notes or separate books / pages)

(there are many learning preferences!)

Know When to Stop

Many of the greatest painters have discussed the difficulty of a masterpiece; it is difficult to know when to stop. At what point is the painting complete?  Likewise, I find out difficult to decide when I was “ready” to stop studying and sit down and complete the exam.  I wrote it within 4 months of receiving my Newfield Coach Certification, with approximately 1 hour a night preparation over two weeks, and a final 3-4 hour study session the day before the exam.  You’ll never feel “ready” but you will feel a slight shift in yourself as your level of preparedness reaches a crescendo.


Centre + Ground Yourself Before Sitting Down to Write the Exam 

In Coach training we are exposed to grounding and centering exercises that we may explore with our clients when it serves the session and the clients’ goals.

It has been quite some time since I wrote a multiple choice exam that was in the 2-3 hour completion time range.  It was an adjustment to calibrate my focus and early in the exam, I found myself reading and re-reading sentences.

My advice is to be prepared both for shorter sentences as well as longer scenario-based sentences, and to put in some time centering and grounding in the days leading up to the exam – Though it is a tall order to walk into an exam focused, centred, grounded and devoid of stress, it is a reasonable order to walk into an exam centred and grounded.  We can use our own coaching skills on ourselves once we observe our body, feelings and thoughts operating in a way that do not serve us in an exam situation.   

About 10 questions in I decided to do a breathing exercise to focus and ground myself, and slow down my racing mind (yes, even us coaches experience human emotions – but we observe and decide whether or not to engage with them as we decide whether they will serve our goals.)

This was tremendously helpful for the rest of the exam, along with the knowledge that I have accumulated hundreds of coaching hours, training, learning conference calls, continuing education, professional development and reading.  As I bought myself back to centre before beginning question 11, I reminded myself of this effort and preparation that went far beyond the final phase of active studying.  I also found it helpful to hold a pen up to the sentences on the computer screen and use it to physically ground my eyes and focus, much like I would underline a sentence on a paper exam in University.  Computer-based exams can present a challenge for kinesthetic types like myself, and a somatic practice such as this can be extremely helpful.

The website for the Coach Knowledge Exam is simple, easy to negotiate and very user-friendly once you get started.  The simplicity of the platform allows the coach to fully engage with their knowledge (rather than worrying about how to use the interface.)  The coach can focus on bringing their knowledge to bear on the questions and scenarios which are well worded and constructed, and highly relevant to our practice as professional coaches.

The exam offers the ability to mark questions for later review / return and will make note of any questions skipped.  I was quite surprised that I missed answering 3-4 questions at the end of the exam, and was thankful for this handy feature.  With 155 questions, it is easy to miss one or two.  I was able to complete the exam in approximately 1h 45 minutes with a return to approximately 11 questions which I marked to return to (again, thankful for this feature.)


Published by Carina

Instagram expert strategist, professional life elevation coach, writer.

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  1. Thanks for the advice. My notification has arrived but I am traveling, with very dodgy internet connections so will wait till I get home in next week and then take it.

  2. Thanks for putting this information together. I’ve just applied to take my CKA so I still have time to collect all the things on your list. Do you know of a practise test available?

  3. Thank you for all your advice, I will take this into my preparation when I sit down to do my CKA assessment.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing such valuable experience and information dear Carina! My CKA notification has arrived and plan to complete it in the next few days.