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NCIDQ, is it worth it?

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

Short answer. YES


Long answer, well keep reading… I can honestly it was an arduous process and ultimately a great decision.

So this journey for me began well over 5 years ago. I have been in the business for 10 years. I graduated in the heart of the 2008 recession so gainful employment was tough. I had to take any and all opportunities, even working for free at one point just to gain experience.

In the first few years after graduating, I seriously questioned my decision even going back to school due to the fact that there appeared to be no work. NCIDQ which had been a big discussion in school was far from a possibility at this time.

When I finally landed my first full time gig with an Interior Design firm I was pretty pumped, just about working to be honest with you. I had somewhat forgotten about the NCIDQ and figured one day that may happen.

As it goes with recession the coming out of the recession was fairly bumpy ride as well, my full time job had slowed down and I managed to secure 2 part time design jobs to make up the hours of one full time job. Again I questioned this path I was on. On one side I really enjoyed the work but on the other hand the stress of trying to pay the bills with my minuscule pay checks was making it harder and harder to keep going. I have to admit I was fairly determined as I hate to give up on something, especially something I went back to school for after having a successful, albeit short, career in insurance. I looked at alternative income opportunities that were still in the design field and I started teaching part time at the local college, it was rewarding, but a lot of work for not enough pay. I felt it wasn’t a good fit for me. I loved the idea of teaching, but I truly didn’t enjoy it. What as a designer girl to do…. The work was scarce, the pay was awful and the investment into the profession thus far had far outweighed the reward.

However I will have to say I had the foresight to remain optimistic enough to log my hours and get them signed off as I earned them, just in case I ever actually made it in the design world and could even consider applying to write my exams.

It wasn’t till 2012 that I FINALLY landed a great job, it was public sector, and it was an interior design position with a university. I truly felt like this was my reward for slugging through the crap jobs, with crazy bosses (I’ll do a post on that another day) and shit pay and still smiling when I told people that I was an Interior Designer. They all thought it was such a cool job, and for years I faked it till I made it.

When I started this job, it was awesome, I mean I loved every single minute. I was a real designer…. Which meant holy crap I can get my exams done now. OK… time to hunker down. Because I didn’t work for a registered designer it took me WAY longer to gain enough hours to even qualify but once I had this job I was like now I have to get this done…. Until I thought wait… do I really need to get this?

It had at that time seemed like no one was getting it. The person I work with, that was an interior designer had been in the business for 25 years without it. A lot of people I knew didn’t seem interested in getting it, and for my current role that like I said I was loving I really didn’t know if I needed it. BUT I plugged on. I thought ok, this is at least worth trying. Now at this point I had already heard the horror stories about the 8 hour exam and that is was basically a 75% fail rate…. *WTF* like seriously… I was stressing and I wasn’t even convinced I needed it at that time.

But I moved forward, it had been 5 years and I finally could write them, I should at least try it. So I signed up for the hardest one first. The 8 hour Prac exam… cause I am a moron clearly. Let’s just say, I did not prepare correctly for this exam. I found the process exhausting and stressful, the information was difficult to get and there really didn’t seem to be any help in how to go about studying for this exam. Compare that to a GMAT exam that gives you everything and more about how to study and a million resources for free… it was very frustrating. The day of the exam, we are all in rows with our huge drawing boards, because although the world had moved past manual drafting they were still doing the exam by hand and honestly none of us had manual drafted since our first year of college. There was no food or drink allowed, washroom breaks had to be monitored (obviously) and you had a 30 min lunch break with no talking about the exam allowed.

STRESSFUL…. And this was only 1 of 3 exams. The environment stressed me out, the speed at which I needed to manually draft plans stressed me out. I felt like I had been on full panic mode the whole time which left me feeling physically drained making the drive home almost unbearable at over an hour commute. Needless to say it felt terrible, and I was not confident that I would pass, but I had a hole 16 weeks to wait for results. OH MY GOD The exam itself felt so unrelated to what I was doing, it covered areas that I had no experience in, like HVAC and Egress pathways. All important but even with all my work experience this was not a work experience exam. You needed to learn a lot of stuff, because I to this day do not know designers that get into the level of detail that this exam covers.


So 16 weeks later guess what.


It hit me hard. I knew I wasn’t prepared enough, but I thought I would scrape by. This process left me deflated. The exam was hard, I didn’t feel ready to try again and I really felt like it wasn’t worth it.

Ultimately I had resigned to just not having it. I talked to people and found information to support that this decision was the right decision. And for a while I was really at peace with this decision.

But you know what, a lot has changed since I originally went through this process. Some within the profession and a lot within my self.

My perspective changed largely after many and major changes where I worked. I went from loving my job, to literally hating to go to work everyday. I knew I couldn’t go on feeling like this and that I was going to have to start reevaluating what I was going to do next as a Interior Designer I had 5 years under my belt, I felt I had a lot to offer. As I started looking into what is next I noticed a theme presenting itself that had not been there several years previous. The NCIDQ qualification was listed as a requirement on design jobs, if I wanted to branch out on my own I needed it to be taken seriously, and if I ever wanted to even be considered at a senior design level I was going to need it. Times have changed in our profession and they changed fast. It was no longer a “maybe I will get it” It was as if I want to go ANYWHERE in my career beyond where I was now I will NEED to have my NCIDQ.

The stress of this realization hit me like a ton of bricks. I had put this exam behind me 3 years previously and had no intention of looking back. But here I was staring at it face to face like a distorted fun house mirror making me question all the decisions I had made.

I wasn’t nearly in the position I was in previously, I had had a baby and he was only 2! I barely slept and had very little time between my job, my husband and my baby. But as I mentioned before, my perspective changed. I felt like I HAD to get this. I hated my job at this point and I new I needed to change directions or potentially go out on my own. This was no longer an optional credential, it was essential to my professional future.

SO I started the whole process again, but with a new found vigor. I committed to reading “NCIDQ reference manual, by David Ballast” cover to cover. I wrote notes, and I signed up to take the practice tests online offered by our local chapter. I studied every single day, even if for only 1 hour on my lunch break. But most nights after my son was in bed I would read and take notes further. I gave myself a solid 4 months of studying. I had a plan of attack. By the 2nd month I was reading a taking notes and feeling like it was no sinking in. I was panicking. I did not want a repeat of 3 years previous. SO I googled, like any smart person these days to find more help. I landed on Q PRAC, a website designed to help you study for this exam. NOW I am no way tied to this, I am just sharing what I found and what worked for me. Full disclosure. Because this program is EXPENSIVE, especially for us Canadians as it is in US Dollars. Also at this time I met a lady that was a part of the chapter I was in that sent me a bunch of study notes and practice info for free, it was super helpful. So I came up with the plan. I was going to use the free additional information that I was gifted for the next month plus my notes and then I would sign up and pay for 1 month of the Q PRAC. Cause it was all I could afford.


So last month before exam, I am still stressed, but signed up for Q PRAC and a hole new world of help opened up for me. I truly felt like I had found what I needed. It had study modules and unlimited practice tests with reviews on where you were going wrong. I was able to get a feel for the style of questions that I would be facing. I tackled this program like it was my job, I would spend at least 3 hours on the weekends and then every lunch and almost every night that last month working through the online program. It was intense, but still so worth it.

One thing that was rather exciting was this was now all on the computer. So all 3 parts, the drawing exam that had seriously stressed me out previously was not even ½ the time and on the computer. To make it even better it was a lot closer to home and I could book them all around my schedule. This felt much better, and the wait time for results was now 6 to 8 weeks versus the previous 16 weeks.

The exams were tough, it still covered areas that I didn’t do a lot of at work, however this time around I studied like my life depended on it. I wrote the first 2 and felt really good about them, approaching the 3rd exam. I still was super nervous about it. I think from my previous failure and I still just stressed about how much there was to cover in 4 ½ hours.

So 6 weeks later, results were in!


IDPX…. PASS (by 1 point… but I passed!)

PRAC 2.0 ….


OMG…. And by only 7 pts.

I was really upset, I think for about a solid week I couldn’t get out of my funk.

But then I realized that so many people have failed many times before they have succeeded and I had come way to far to give up now. I also have 2/3rds completed. I just had this one hurdle to get over. So I buckled down, paid the money and signed up for it again. I paid for 2 months of Q Prac this time around, and worked on building my speed, because ultimately I felt I was just to slow and very much felt like I was running the clock on the exam.

I went in with the mentality that 3rd times a charm, and ultimately I had prepping for this exam for the past year. I only failed by 7 pts so I knew my stuff, I just missed a couple things. This second… well 3rd attempt was a 100% better and easier then the first 2. I felt more prepared then ever, I went through the exam at a great speed I felt that a lot of the answers came easier and faster to me this time around and overall I felt more confident going in. I even had 20 minutes to spare this time, where as I BARELY finished the time before.


7 weeks later… it felt like forever

I got the results

I FLIPPING PASSED and like ACED the exam, I jumped my score by almost 100pts. Huge improvement.

Getting that congratulations email was the best feeling ever!

I completed my NCIDQ!!!

Ok so your thinking, great story but why do you say you should get it?

Interestingly enough the entire time I was making the decision to commit to getting the NCIDQ because my job was royally sucking, I was talking about my NCIDQ, I was informing my coworkers of what I was studying for and the importance of it. My boss asked me about it and interestingly enough there was a change of leadership throughout this process as well, which took a job that had really gone to the pits, because my previous boss was a dick… sorry no sugar coating it, to a boss whom I greatly respected and felt the feeling was mutual. This change in leadership along with me advocating the importance of getting my NCIDQ completed meant that they were well aware of the skills I was bringing to the table.

Not even 6 months after completing my NCIDQ, I got a promotion, the title I wanted Senior Interior Designer, with the job reflecting in the outline that NCIDQ qualification was a requirement for the position as well as a 10K pay increase.


What an interesting change of events, instead of just leaving my job for another one, I focused on bettering myself and going after something that had come and gone many times in my thoughts over the years as important.

Now that I have it, I see that the entire process was a lesson in itself, it showed me I can do anything I put my mind to and I have a new found joy for my job and career in Interior Design.

Going for it and getting my NCIDQ gave me bragging rights and with that a whole lotta confidence, which obviously translated into my career as everything improved afterwords.

So maybe for some you won’t find the exam as challenging as I did, but no matter the process for you, I highly recommend going for it and becoming a leader in design and earning those credentials, because nothing says Interior Designer, like someone with the credentials to back that up.


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