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Study Tips

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:

  1. Insufficient mastery of the material, and
  2. 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!
  • 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!

– Samantha


IC&RC Candidate Guide


  1. Elizabeth says:

    Does this cover the Rhode Island LCDP exam?

  2. Vernon says:

    Hi Samantha, this sounds really good! I just took the AADC – Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor(North Carolina) examination and missed it by a few!! I was wondering if your study guide is relevant/equivalent to AADC 2015 exam as well? If so where can I obtain your structured study guide? I have a big manual with a practice exam in the back of the book however I find myself overwhelmed with all the information it contains and I would like to have a condensed sense/feeling of “this is what I need to know.”

    • Hello Vernon, thank you for visiting my blog and for your comment. My study guide is relevant to the “basic” Alcohol and Drug Counselor exam (ADC). The one that you took is the advanced, masters level exam (Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor Exam AADC). My study guide does not cover the topics about advance assessments, tests and measurements, and counselor supervisor skills. I cover all the 4 Performance Domains, 12 Core Functions, drugs of abuse and their effects, DSM V, and theories of counseling.

      I hope this information helps! Feel free to contact me if you have further questions.


  3. Tim says:

    Hello Samantha! It’s been some tie since chatting with you. I will be graduating in April and going on to take the exam. I think this will be very helpful and refreshing. You presented terrific information, great details.

  4. vicki says:

    Hi Samantha, I am considering signing up for the 2 month service you provide. Can you give me more information on what I will receive from your service. Thank you

    • Hello Vicki,

      You get access 24/7 to study materials covering the major topics on the exam, based on the Candidate’s Guide published by the IC&RC. I have quizzes for all the drugs of abuse, quizzes for the 12 Core Functions, the 8 Practice Domains, and a quiz to practice the questions for the Case Study. The format of the study guide is self-pace, with slide shows, videos and notes. Let me know if you have any other questions. Regards!

      • Betty says:

        Hello Samatha, first let me start by thanking you for that valuable info. I would like to see the quizzes you have. I plan to test soon and I want to be prepared. Thanks Betty

      • Hello Betty, thanks for your comment. The quizzes are part of my online study guide for the ADC Exam 2015. I offer different subscription options depending on what you need. Please visit https://lcdcexamreview.com/exam-study-guide-2015/ for more information about my study guide for the Alcohol and Drug Counselor exam by the IC&RC 2015. Thanks! – Samantha

      • Vicki Roberson says:

        Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. Also, thanks for you assistance in advance. I’m sure I will need to do the practice quizzes so I will know how to apply the 12 core functions and the practice domains. I do not work in the field as of yet, so I feel I’m at a disadvantage. However, that just means I have to study a bit harder.

      • Vicki, thank you for visiting the blog. I wish you the best in your preparation for the exam.

  5. Veronica ALanis says:

    Hola Samantha, este lunes envie mi aplicacion para tomar mi examen, elegi espaniol pues es mejor para mi.. es la primera vez que lo tomo.. pero no tender mas oportunidad de tomarle, sera en el paso, tx…. tengo problemas que no podre tomerloo despues me puedes decir cual study guide es major.. Yo aplique para LCDC … pero queria la certificacion internacional, viene siendo esa?? tengo dos meses para estudiar mas o menos que me recomiendas…..

  6. Joe says:

    Is the breakdown the same for every test? As far as every test having the same amount of questions per each dimension?

    • Hello Joe. This is the breakdown for the IC&RC Alcohol and Drug Counselor exam. You can find this breakdown on their website. As far as the other exams for different certifications, I suggest that you visit the IC&RC website and the certifying board in your state.

  7. Mark says:

    Does this cover the ICRC Michigan’s ADC exam? I too just barely missed passing and am now looking for further resources.

  8. Paul Glauder says:

    I just took the exam today and failed by 2% points I can’t afford a study guide

    • Hello Paul. I am sorry to hear that. When will you be re-taking the exam? I offer individual study sessions and group sessions as well. These are more affordable than the study guide.

      Let me know if you are interested in any of these options and I will send you some information.

      Best regards.

  9. Sharon says:

    I love the study guide.

  10. Sharon says:

    Samantha, this info is awesome!!!

    • Mary says:

      This detailed information on the structure of the exam is very helpful, particularly with the breakdown of each dimension and the number of questions in each one. It helps to know where to concentrate our efforts while studying.

      • Thanks Mary. I am trying to post info based on the candidate guide. I might have gotten a little off track but I will be posting mostly info related to the candidate’s guide :). Thanks for your comment.

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