How I passed the NCIDQ Exam after 7 failed attempts

Kia Weatherspoon
Feb 5, 2023
6 min

In the fall of 2019, I took the NCIDQ exam for the final time. I sat for this 3-day three-part professional licensure exam 7 times. The triumph of passing was not fleeting. It was a seven-year journey I had to share. Equally important is why it took 7 times!

1.       One size doesn’t fit all

When I began this journey back in 2012, I was armed with all the tools other people had used to pass.

  • Study 6 months in advance- check.
  • Use the infamous Ballast book - check.
  • Write flashcards - check.
  • Purchase other costly study materials - check.
  • Take the expensive weekend preparatory class - check.
  • 6-month equally as expensive as the test online workshop - check.

I was taking the steps others had taken, and to be fair, some were successful, and others, like myself, weren’t. It was around time number three  I literally convinced myself I had a learning disability. I was rife with how I got a BFA and MA with a learning disability. It was a mental death spiral that got deeper and darker with every failed attempt. Then, I finally asked myself: “Why are you taking this exam?”

2.       Motivation – it is personal

Motivation is a beautiful thing when it’s aspirational and not tied to a strategic outcome. My original motivation started when I gained the desire to become an Interior Designer. I remember flipping through Hospitality Design Magazine and seeing licensed Interior Designer Deborah Lloyd Forrest, ASID (now FSAID.) Right then I was inspired! Literally, in my spirit, I felt I want to be a licensed Interior Designer! It was so pure, honest and personal!

Over the next 15 years, I would learn more about the importance of licensure within the industry. Having an alphabet soup after your name meant more money. The industry would take you more seriously. Not becoming licensed meant your ability to serve at the highest levels of professional associations was limited, the legitimacy of the design profession is resting on our collective non-licensed designers’ shoulders. Ok, is that last statement a bit dramatic? Maybe - but maybe not! The more you delve into any profession you love, the more you learn and want to be a positive, contributing, equally inspiring member of your industry. But when success is tied to forces greater than you,  it gets easy to lose motivation That’s when fear sets in.

3.       Fear of being defined by the outcome

Fear is an insidious fucking word! It’s powerful because you can’t see it, yet it overpowers you slowly. When it shows up, it doesn’t stop you. Instead, it hovers to keep you in its midst. Every time I was sitting for the test, I was sitting in my fear. Fear that if I’m not successful THIS time, then it means I’m not a great designer, my voice in the profession will be limited, and I would be letting down all the people who were rooting and inspired by other successes I was achieving.

I started to feel like this failure was defining me. What I was feeling was captured so perfectly in the episode of Grey's Anatomy" Let the Angels Commit”. In the show, Gretchen became so marred by her failed outcomes for the Bar Exam and judgment of others she felt like it was defining her. While my fear didn’t result in physical harm to myself.  My fear of judgment was stifling my success. Judgment is 9 times out of 10 typically self-inflicted. No one. I repeat no one cares as much as you. It’s your own personal fear and continual judgment of yourself. We are all beautifully flawed human beings, to that extent we are the harshest with ourselves.

4.       At least anxiety shows up

Anxiety is the partner of fear. It’s more physical in nature. It portrays itself as the shaking of your leg, the inability to sleep through the night, clenching your jaw, incessantly checking your phone, or my personal favorite – falling asleep during the test! Yup! You read that right. Literally, I would fall asleep in the middle of the test!  The irony is I am a morning person…..the morning-est of morning persons. The morning person where you’re “like calm down it's too early for all that energy”. I would get a great night’s sleep, stretch, eat a healthy brain breakfast as all the test prep people tell you to do. But the anxiety was literally causing me to shut down. Yup, just like the self-diagnosed learning disability - I now “had” a sleeping disorder. Of course, it only happened while sitting for this test. These physical cues were anxiety. Thankfully because I was feeling, seeing and experiencing it, I became hyper self-aware and started to look for solutions.

5.       Be self-Aware - then be gentle.

Our greatest capacity as human beings is to express kindness to others. However, we don’t give ourselves the same grace. Between attempts 6 and 7, I started to dissect my feelings associated with the test. Those feelings were all negative. Which meant I was constantly feeling, speaking, and thinking negatively about it. You can only work towards a different outcome only when you stop seeing the negativity in the past. I had to accept the past outcomes as they were. Not as good or bad, pass or fail, but opportunities to learn. I had to give myself grace. In doing so, I was then able to look for studying techniques that worked for me.

6.       Adults have killed creative learning

Ok, if you’ve been waiting for the tactical tool, study guide, book, or prep class that guarantees success, then this is the step you are looking for. At some time in grade school we were taught that to learn is to remember. Seriously, find me a reference book that is not as dry as fuck! Trying to remember an entire reference manual over the course of six months is like repeatedly eating a saltlick.

Learning is actually to imagine and feel! That my dear readers, I re-learned from Jim Kwik and the first 10 episodes of the Kwik Brain podcast. It started with his course on speed reading. I realized I didn't have to remember every single fact/definition if I could imagine them. For example, to remember the number of sprinkler heads required per square foot and the required distance, I imagined Cardi B walking down a corridor saying “Okkurr” 200 hundred times, while her husband Offset said “I know honey” 15 times. Does that sound absurd?! Yes, but I imagined what I knew I would remember. Literally, every time I would create these outlandish points of reference I would laugh. Like, out loud laugh. That’s when I realize fun and laughter are things you feel in your spirit. The laughter slowly overpowered the fear and anxiety and I was having fun with myself. The repetitiveness of it was infectious.

7.       Acknowledgment is repetitive and written

Along the way I discovered affirmations. At the start of attempt 7, I began writing on index cards various versions of “I am capable of passing the NCIDQ” and “I will pass the NCIDQ!” a few times a week. Then it transitioned to waking up in the morning and taking a pause before I got out of bed saying, “I am love, I am joy, I am abundance, I am an NCIDQ certified Interior Designer.” I would sit in those feelings of accomplishment, then start my day.

Speaking and writing those affirmations were daily reminders, but feeling them was squelching the fear and anxiety. It built up a reserve, so when test day arrived I was able to successfully focus.

These lessons were tied to the examination, but it was about so much more. I’ve learned motivation has to start with an in-spirit feeling. It continually has to be nurtured. Be more mindful when utilizing others’ methods as a guarantee for your own version of success. Use fear and anxiety as warning signs and know you can overcome them by being self-aware. When you are gentle with yourself, you can find your way back to the initial feeling of pure and untainted motivation. Laughter and imagination should be present every day! And finally, when you affirm, it shifts your thoughts, feelings, and energy towards success.

It would be a disservice to just say this journey to licensure was good, bad, or hard. It was undoubtedly my journey. A journey I proudly share.

Kia Weatherspoon, ASID ← Look at that!!