NCIDQ: Myth Busters

By Jan Bast


With the ease of finding obscure information on the Web, I have to admit that I am surprised when I meet NCIDQ Certificate holders, presidents of ASID and IIDA chapters, and even former NCIDQ board members who have misconceptions about NCIDQ. However, as procedures change, our memory of what was once policy is often hard to erase. Here are some of the more common misconceptions I have recently heard.

MYTH: To qualify to take the NCIDQ exam, your education must be from a school accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA— formerly FIDER).
NCIDQ's education requirements do not currently require graduation from a CIDA-accredited program. While NCIDQ strongly supports CIDA's mission to maintain the "gold standard" for interior design education, we know that some colleges and universities are unable to pursue CIDA accreditation; and we believe students attending these schools should not be excluded from the opportunity to earn the NCIDQ credential.

This misconception arises because there are some jurisdictions that require applicants to have a CIDA-accredited degree in order to receive a registration or license to practice in that jurisdiction. To find out how this applies to you, determine if you are going to practice in a jurisdiction that has interior design regulation (for the latest list, go to Then, contact the agency or read the regulatory requirements online to determine the eligibility requirements. Read NCIDQ's examination eligibility requirements if you are not going to work in a regulated jurisdiction.

MYTH: I should take the examination as soon as I graduate.
This is incorrect. The NCIDQ examination is one step in a process toward professionalism. The first two steps, consisting of your education and experience, prepare you for the third step— the examination. The exam covers much more than the academic lessons you learned in school. It includes information you need to know to safely practice interior design; this includes wisdom gained from firsthand experience working on projects under a qualified supervisor before becoming eligible to take the exam.

MYTH: I can pass the exam without studying.
It is unlikely. There may be portions of the exam relating to areas of interior design which you may not handle on a day-to-day basis. As previously mentioned, the exam is based on a combination of knowledge and skill areas that are learned in school and in on-the-job experiences. Preparing for the examination by reading books, participating in a study group and completing a Practice Design Problem (PDP) is always recommended.

MYTH: I don't have the information I need to study.
In addition to the wealth of free exam information on the NCIDQ Web site, NCIDQ offers Practice Design Problems (PDPs), the Exam Study Guide (third edition) and the Interior Design Experience Program (IDEP). All of these tools were created to help candidates understand the exam format and prepare them to take the exam.

However, NCIDQ's mission is to protect the public. Because our obligation is to the public, we cannot provide study programs or formal preparatory programs. IIDA, ASID and IDC—associations whose mission is to promote and protect the profession—provide preparatory programs and other study tools. It is important to understand, however, that people who provide prep programs are not involved in writing the examination.

MYTH: The exam is so hard that very few people pass it.
Not true. The pass rates range from 60 percent to 80 percent, depending on the section. This pass rate percentage is comparable to those taking architecture, landscape architecture and engineering exams. Most professional organizations experience a vocal minority who complain as to how difficult it is to pass their exam. The majority of test candidates pass their professional licensing/certification exams, and then continue to pursue a successful career in their chosen vocations. History indicates that candidates who have appropriate interior design education and experience fare better on the exam than those that do not. (Visit to see the latest NCIDQ pass rates).

MYTH: The exam costs too much.
Preparing for and taking the examination is not cheap. NCIDQ understands the financial constraints on candidates and strives to hold the costs as low as possible from year to year. The cost of the exam is based upon the number of staff and vendor hours that go into every test question. Additional time invested includes hundreds of volunteer hours for writing test questions and scoring the exam. If it were not for our volunteers' dedication and generosity, you can imagine how much more expensive the test could be. NCIDQ will continue to keep costs to a minimum; for instance, the application fee has only increased $5 in the last five years.

The NCIDQ examination is an essential component of becoming a professional and is an investment in your career. Professional organizations often offer discounts or incentives for members to take the exam. Additionally, NCIDQ's IDEP allows you the opportunity to participate in a monitored experience program and then take section III of the examination for no charge.

MYTH: The exam will soon be computerized.
NCIDQ is often asked when the exam will be offered in a computer-based format. Eventually, we would like to be able to offer candidates this option. However, converting a paper-and-pencil examination to an electronic one is a very involved process. There are great expenses and security issues, and obviously, some of those costs would have to be passed along to the end-users. Given the relatively small size of our candidate population, we feel this expense would put a financial burden on our candidates. In the interest of keeping costs to our candidates to a minimum (see previous myth), a computer-based examination is still years away.

MYTH: An architectural education is equivalent to an interior design education.
This is also incorrect. Architecture and interior design possess different bodies of knowledge; have separate education accreditation programs; utilize separate monitored experience programs; and have separate examinations. There is a body of knowledge common to interior design that is recognized by NCIDQ (read the document at While there may be overlap between the professions, NCIDQ does not deem the two distinct educations as equivalent.

MYTH: The exam is only for commercial designers.
All three sections of the examination contain material covering broad-based knowledge that is essential to the practice of interior design. The program for section III—the practicum section—has a residential design component as well as a commercial component, such as retail, hospitality or medical. The NCIDQ examination tests for minimum competency in interior design, regardless of an individual's intended specialization.

Our lives are busier than ever and it is difficult to always stay current on pertinent information. The next time someone asks you a question about NCIDQ and you are not sure of the answer, don't guess! Send them to NCIDQ's Web site (, or tell them to call (202) 721-0220. NCIDQ's policies will continue to evolve as the profession changes—reflecting the changing practice of interior design, while holding true to NCIDQ's mission of protecting the health, life safety and welfare of the public.

Jan Bast is president of NCIDQ. She is currently the program director at Design Institute of San Diego. Prior to that, she spent 15 years as a partner in Bast/Wright Interiors, providing programming, space planning, contract documents and project administration for both commercial and residential projects. Bast is an NCIDQ Certificate holder and a certified interior designer in California.