Preparing for the certification exam for substance abuse counselors, or the Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ADC) exam by the IC&RC, can be a challenging but enjoyable task, especially if you (the candidate) appreciate the reasons behind taking the exam and adopt a positive attitude toward the process. In order to perform well on the exam, I recommend you to know something about its structure and to be familiar with answering multiple-choice questions. It is also important to carefully review and understand the topics covered on the exam. Here I will share with you some tips on how to study more effectively.
Study Tips to Prepare More Effectively
You may not perform as well as you want or expect on this exam for two reasons:
- Insufficient mastery of the material, and
- Difficulty with taking exams of this kind.
The good news? Both situations are preventable!
Study strategies that work best for one person may not work best for another. Study strategies are very effetive when they suit each person’s learning style. Some study strategies that tend to work for many candidates (all of you preparing to take the exam) are the following:
- Aim for quality of study time, not just quantity. Information makes it into long-term memory when its meaning is understood. We understand things better when we take our time to allow our brain to process the information. So, it is more efficient to spend 1 thoughtful hour on learning material than 5 hours repeatedly skimming it. Study to learn and not just memorize!
- Study the right material. And I am here to help you with that (wink). The topics covered on the exam are not a secret. You can find out exactly what you need to study for this test by consulting the Candidate Guide for the IC&RC Alcohol and Drug Counselor Examination (2015). It is wise to balance the attention given to each area of the exam.
- Avoid complacency. It is not enough with knowing the 12 Steps and having experience as a person in recovery to pass the exam, and it’s also not enough with work experience in the field of substance abuse counseling because the certification exam measures your competency: your knowledge, skills, and attitudes and you ability to perform those skills effectively. For instance, you might be really good at conducting screenings and assessments, but you also need to know what Motivational Interviewing (MI) is and how/when to use it.
- Create a reasonable study plan. Divide the material into topics. Study only one topic per study session. Study for small blocks of time (1 or 2 hours) over several weeks. Studying small chunks of material over a longer period of time, known as distributed practice, brings better results in learning than massed practice, a.k.a cramming. Of course so people say that they perform well on exams when they cram and study under pressure, but they do well probably because they already knew the material before their cram session (ahaaa!). If you have already learned the material, looking over it again at the last minute seems pretty simple task. But waiting until the last minute to learn new material is a risky and ineffective strategy.
- Make emotions work for you. More EQ than IQ! That’s right, your Emotional Intelligence (EQ) can be more powerful than your Intellectual Intelligence (IQ). Passing this exam is not just about what you know but also about how you handle the test-taking experience. Your EQ can help you tremendously but it can also affect you if you let your anxiety get out of control. Some anxiety in anticipation of taking the exam is normal and you can use it as the energy directed toward preparing for it. Repeat these self-messages in your head:
- “I have every reason to expect to perform well on this task!”
- “My well-organized study and positive attitude are preparing me effectively for this task”
- “I am not going to be asked about everything in the drug and alcohol counseling field”
- “I do not have to answer 100 percent of the items correctly”
- “This is only one of many challenges that I have met and will meet in my career.”
- Join a study group. Depending on your learning style, a study group can be enjoyable and helpful, but it can also be a tiresome distraction. You know if you are able to study with other people or if you prefer to study alone.
- Practice answering multiple-choice items. Familiarity with answering multiple-choice questions can make the exam go more smoothly. However, do not rely on “practice quizzes” as your only resource to prepare for the exam. I get to see how many exam candidates look desperately for practice quizzes to prepare for the exam. You will find so many options out there and some of them are quite expensive. Practice quizzes don’t give you the actual questions on the exam nor do they guarantee you a passing score. They do help you in practicing how to read and answer (how to take) a multiple-choice questions BUT, caution because those multiple-choice questions might be in the form of 1 correct answer and 3 incorrect answers, which is NOT the format of the questions on the test. Each multiple choice question on the exam has 1 BEST answer and 3 distractors (possible correct answers). So, do not waste your money on practice tests because you do not want to get used to answering questions that have only one correct answer.
I hope you find these tips helpful. Good luck and happy studying!