Becoming A Coach

ICF Credentialing and Exam Updates, Explained

Learn about the process changes and new requirements to earn your ACC or PCC with the ICF - in plain English!

2023 ICF Credentialing and Exam Updates

If you’ve been thinking about becoming an ICF credentialed coach, you may have noticed a lot of structural changes to that process occurring within the International Coaching Federation over the past year. And even if you haven’t been following that bouncing ball, you’re still in the right place to find out what you need to know going forward.

In this blog, we break it all down into human-speak to give you a full understanding of what to expect in pursuit of your ACC or PCC credential. (If you’re not familiar with the different coach credentials offered by the ICF, we’ve got you covered! You’ll find all the details below.)


What’s An ICF Coaching Credential?

The International Coaching Federation is a non-profit, professional organization. Their mission is to support coaches and promote coaching as a profession. It’s the only globally recognized, independent credentialing program for coach practitioners. 

The goal of the ICF is to establish a consistent definition of what coaching is, and to train exceptional coaches across all coaching specialties and disciplines. The ICF also maintains an ethical code of conduct for life coaches. They set global standards to ensure that all the coaching programs they accredit meet a high level of quality. 

How the ICF defines coaching

The ICF definition of coaching is “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership.”

‍What credentials can you earn through the ICF?

They offer three coach credentials to reflect your current level of training, experience, and mastery of the ICF Core Competencies. These are:

Associate Certified Coach (ACC)

  • 60 hours of qualifying education
  • 100 hours of client coaching experience

‍Professional Certified Coach (PCC) 

  • 125 hours of qualifying education
  • 500 hours of client coaching experience

‍Master Certified Coach (MCC) 

  • 200 hours of qualifying education
  • Hold or have held a PCC Credential
  • 2,500 hours of client coaching experience

Wondering which is right for you? You can learn more about the different credentialing levels in our guide: ACC vs PCC vs MCC - What’s the Difference Between ICF Coach Credentials?

Is it important to be ICF certified?

While it may not be necessary for your path as a coach, at Lumia we've chosen to offer this level of training in our coach training program because we’ve seen how ICF credentials open doors, provide deeper insights into the art and science of coaching, and boost the confidence of our life coaching students. 

Getting your ICF credential is one way to establish credibility and demonstrate your commitment to rigorous, evidence-based practice as a professional coach. Whether it’s the right path for you will depend upon your goals.

Wondering if it’s worth it for you? Learn more in our guide: Why Become an ICF Certified Coach?

Woman staring at computer screen, looking at credentialing requirements

Checklist of ICF Certification Requirements

1. Training

At least 60 hours of approved, coach-specific training with robust documentation is required for your Associate Certified Coach (ACC) credential, or 125 hours for the Professional Certified Coach (PCC) level. 

You will be required to demonstrate that you have completed a comprehensive training program that includes the ICF definition of coaching, ICF Code of Ethics and ICF Core Competencies, organized in a scope and sequence that encourages your growth as a coach.

For more detailed information, see the ICF’s Training and Education Requirements guide.

2. Mentoring

The ICF defines the mentoring process as “coaching and feedback in a collaborative, appreciative and dialogued process based on an observed or recorded coaching session to increase the coach’s capability in coaching, in alignment with the ICF Core Competencies.”

To apply for your ACC or PCC credential, you’ll need to document 10 hours of Mentor Coaching over a minimum of three months. Your Mentor Coach must be an ACC who has completed a full cycle of their credential (through renewal), PCC or MCC in good standing. Some coach training programs include mentor coaching as part of your education experience.

Want to learn more about what mentor coaching is, and how to find one? Read our guide: What Is ICF Mentor Coaching?

3. Coaching Experience

You’ll need to provide documentation of a minimum of 100 hours of coaching with at least eight clients following the start of your coach-specific training to apply for the ACC. If you’re going for your PCC, you’ll need at least 500 client coaching hours to qualify.  A majority of these hours need to be paid (either monetarily, or in a qualified exchange of goods or services).

For a complete overview of this requirement, you can review the ICF’s coaching experience overview here. And if you need some strategies for knocking out those hours, check out our guide Your First 100 Coaching Hours: How To Meet the ICF Requirements.

4. Performance Evaluation 

Your coaching skills will be evaluated as part of the credentialing process. To accomplish that, you’ll submit one client session for review via audio recording and written transcript. Depending upon the coach training program you participated in, this review may be conducted by your school and verified with the ICF as part of your program curriculum.

You can read more about the ICF’s performance evaluation standards here.

5. ICF Credentialing Exam

The final step in the process is to take a test of your coaching knowledge base. This is where you demonstrate an understanding of the Core Competencies. 

We’ll cover more details on the new ICF credentialing exam (formerly known as the Coach Knowledge Assessment) below.

Two men at a table, drinking coffee and having a coaching conversation

The ICF Core Competencies

This is the meat and potatoes of the ICF credentialing process! To earn your ACC or PCC credential, you’ll be expected to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the Core Competencies and how they are applied.

Expanded and updated in 2021, the ICF Coaching Core Competency model consists of four sections that together contain a total of eight standards. While these standards appear simple on the surface, there’s a great deal to unpack within each section. (That’s why we include 3 months of hyper-focused ICF core competency training in Lumia's Signature coach training program.) 

In brief, they are:

A) Foundation

  • Demonstrates Ethical Practice
  • Embodies a Coaching Mindset

B) Co-Creating the Relationship

  • Establishes and Maintains Agreements
  • Cultivates Trust and Safety
  • Maintains Presence

C) Communicating Effectively

  • Listens Actively
  • Evokes Awareness

D) Cultivating Learning and Growth

  • Facilitates Client Growth

For a deeper dive into the skills and behavioral markers necessary to demonstrate these competencies, we recommend checking out these publications: Updated ICF Core Competencies: What Coaches Need to Know and the ICF’s overview of Updated Minimum Skills Requirements.

Woman sitting at a table, books spread out across it studying for a test

The New ICF Credentialing Exam 

In August 2022, the ICF introduced a Credentialing Exam that replaces the former Coach Knowledge Assessment (also known as the CKA coaching exam). If you completed your coach training prior to that time, you were likely prepared for the old test. Here’s what you'll want to know about the differences.

  1. The former CKA coaching exam was based on an older version of the ICF Core Competencies. The new Credentialing Exam content is aligned with the updated competency model.
  2. The test is now scenario based. It includes 81 scenario-based questions that evaluate your coaching knowledge and ability to apply the Core Competencies in real world settings.

If you currently hold an ICF credential, you most likely took the CKA exam at the time of your application. If you now hold an ACC credential and plan to apply to the PCC or MCC level in the future, you’ll be required to take the new ICF Credentialing Exam to upgrade your accreditation. If you’re renewing at your current credential level, you won’t be required to take the new exam.

What's included in the new exam?

For a detailed explanation of changes along with an overview of the testing process, see the ICF guide to the new exam and their overview of credentialing exam contents.

What’s driving these changes at the ICF?

The coaching exam was updated to align with the new ICF Core Competencies model that was rolled out back in 2019, and integrated into accredited coach training curricula in 2021.

But that's not all. Over the past few years, consumer interest in coaching has exploded. The profession is expanding rapidly in response, and the ICF has not been able to keep up with the volume of applications coming in from people who want to earn an ICF credential. 

Trust us, this is a good thing for our field!

What it means is that there’s more market demand than ever before for well trained, credentialed coaches. And… it has also created something of a backlog in the short term.

To keep pace with these developments, the ICF recently changed its accreditation of coach training programs and introduced the Level 2 credentialing path. If you are familiar with the ICF’s previous model, the change looks like this:

  • ACSTH (Approved Coach Specific Training Hours) → Level 1
  • ACTP (Accredited Coach Training Programs) → Level 2

The ICF’s adjustments to their accreditation structure has, in turn, changed what’s expected of Lumia as an ICF accredited coach training program. 

We value our ICF accreditation and adhere to their standards of maintaining the highest levels of coach training. To meet those standards in 2023 and beyond, we have updated our Signature Coach Training Program from a CCE Program (Portfolio Path) to Level 2.

Starting in January 2023, Lumia's Level 2 coach training program now includes:

  • All training hours needed for ACC or PCC Credential
  • Live observation coaching with feedback in class 
  • Written feedback on recorded coaching sessions
  • In-house performance evaluation by PCC Instructor
  • 7.5 hours of group mentoring with PCC Instructor
  • Required 1-1 Mentor sessions with PCC coaches included 
  • New and updated live classes taught by ICF Credentialed Instructors

Wondering if this is the right program for you? Check out what our graduates have to say: Why Choose Lumia Life Coach Training?

Additional Resources

Want some personalized support in charting your course? If you’re considering becoming an ICF credentialed coach, we’re happy to talk through your training and credentialing options. You can schedule a call to discuss your situation with a member of the Lumia team and get all your questions answered.

Want To Be An ICF Credentialed Coach?

Launch your coaching practice right! Check out Lumia Life Coach Training - a program that's every bit as unique as you are. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, business instruction to prepare you for liftoff as an entrepreneur, and fellow students dedicated to becoming a collective force for good.

Lumia Coaching: Vibrant community. Evidence-based life coach training. Lifetime support.

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Lumia is accredited by the ICF as a Level 2 Pathway Program. Want to learn more about the ICF credential requirements? Click here for further details.