The BACP Certificate of Proficiency: What You Need to Know

The BACP Certificate of Proficiency: What You Need to Know

In this article, we explain what you need to know about the BACP Certificate of Proficiency (CoP) – and Counselling Tutor’s Charlie Nagy, who took the CoP in November 2023, provides his personal insights into his experience of registering and preparing for the exam, and taking it.

BACP Certificate of Proficiency

Q: What is the BACP Certificate of Proficiency (CoP)?

A: The BACP describes the CoP as ‘a standardised assessment of the skills, knowledge and abilities required to be a professional counsellor or psychotherapist’. It aims to ensure that all BACP registered members have ‘the minimum level of competence that clients have a right to expect’ (n.d.a, paragraph 1).

Charlie says: ‘After completing my qualification, I was eager to join the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). This ambition led me to the Certificate of Proficiency (CoP) exam, an assessment for counselling professionals seeking registered membership with the BACP. This exam serves as a benchmark for ensuring that practitioners have the necessary skills and knowledge to provide safe and effective counselling services.’ 


Q: Who has to take the CoP?

A: You have to pass the CoP if you want to become a registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. The only exemption to this is for people who have qualified on a BACP-accredited course.

Charlie says: ‘The CoP exam is particularly crucial for those whose previous training was not specifically accredited by the BACP. It upholds the standards of practice and ethical considerations that are fundamental to the field.

By passing this exam, counsellors demonstrate their competence in key areas of counselling practice, aligning with the BACP's commitment to protecting clients and ensuring the highest quality of counselling services. The exam is not just a formality but a significant step in a counsellor's professional development, reflecting their dedication to ethical and effective practice.’


Q: So if I am currently looking for a course, should I try to find a BACP-accredited one?

A: You could do if you wish, but as taking the CoP is free for BACP members and is generally seen as not too onerous, you should also balance all the other factors in choosing a course (for example, cost, duration, when teaching takes place, location, and experience of past students).

If you do decide you particularly want to take a BACP-accredited course, you can find one through the BACP’s Accredited Courses Directory.

(Do bear in mind that taking a BACP-accredited course doesn’t make you a BACP-accredited practitioner. The BACP’s accreditation scheme for individual practitioners is something different, which members can apply for only after they have been in practice for at least three years and have completed a minimum of 450 supervised practice hours.)


Q: Can I work as a counsellor without being a BACP registered member?

A: Yes, there are other professional bodies that you could join instead – for example, the National Counselling Society, which doesn’t require you to take a test.

Again, as the CoP is free to take (so long as you do so within the 24-month deadline) and not too onerous, take time to read about the different professional bodies, and to chat to other therapists about their experiences in this respect. In other words, don’t base your decision only on whether or not you need to take a test.

Some employers and counselling agencies where you wish to go on placement or to work may express a preference for membership of a particular professional body. However, there is increasing awareness now that there is a range of professional bodies, and that employers should be open to any of these that are recognised by the Accredited Registers Programme of the Professional Standards Authority (PSA).


Q: So I’ve decided I do want to become a registered member of the BACP; where and when can I take the CoP? 

A: You used to have to go to a specific venue (e.g. a hotel) to take the CoP on a computer there, but you now most people do it online (e.g. from home or your workplace), monitored by remote invigilators.

You can’t take the test on a tablet or mobile phone: you need an internet-connected laptop or PC, which must have a webcam, microphone and speakers. You need to be in a quiet, private room where you can be sure of not being interrupted.

If you really can’t take the CoP online, the BACP does still provide a few in-person sessions each year at UK venues. The test is still computerised, but all the equipment is provided.

Charlie says: ‘The shift from in-person to online testing (a few years ago) was a welcome change, allowing me to fit the exam into my regular schedule comfortably.’


Q: How do I book to take the CoP?

A: You first have to be an ordinary member of the BACP – this requires that you have qualified (at a minimum of Level 4 on the National Qualifications Framework) via a course where the final stage contains a minimum of 100 client hours under clinical supervision as part of a placement in an agency or a clinical setting.

Once you are an ordinary member of the BACP, you must then take the CoP within 24 months. You can book onto a test date by visiting the BACP events calendar and choosing a date and time that suit you. There are usually eight sessions per month on offer.

Charlie says: ‘Booking the exam was straightforward. Assessments are mainly conducted through scheduled, free online sessions. A visit to the BACP portal, a few clicks, and I was scheduled to take the test in about eight weeks.

Weeks before the exam, I was contacted by TestReach, the online platform managing the test. I found downloading and setting up the TestReach app simple. This technology ensures fair and monitored exam conditions, replicating a traditional exam setting.’


Q: What if I have a specific learning difficulty or a disability that makes it difficult or impossible for me to take the CoP in this way?

A: The BACP offers a range of reasonable adjustments, for example:

  • an extra hour to complete the CoP if you have dyslexia
  • extra time and breaks if you have chronic fatigue syndrome
  • allowance for coloured background or readers if you have visual impairments.

When you book your CoP, you will see that some sessions on the BACP events calendar (usually two per month) are marked as ‘Additional Support’ ones. These ones are the best to book onto if you need adjustments made, as they are more supported, for example by having specialist invigilators.

When you book, you need to tell the BACP what adjustments you need; you may be asked for proof of why you need these adjustments. You should also tell the BACP if you use any assistive equipment, e.g. hearing aids.

If you’d like to get in touch with the BACP to talk about what adjustments you need, you can either fill in the reasonable adjustments form or call 01455 883300.


Q: What format – and how long – does the CoP take?

A: The CoP is an online, multiple-choice test based on six case studies of possible practice scenarios (which have been written by practising therapists). The BACP has produced a short video about the format and scoring (n.d.a), and there’s also a transcript of this available on the BACP website (n.d.b).

You get two hours to complete the test, or three hours if you can get extra time as a reasonable adjustment. So you could aim to spend roughly 20 minutes (if you have a total of two hours) or 30 minutes (if you have three hours) on each case study. But you can split the time between case studies as you choose.

Charlie says: The test, comprising 43 multiple-choice questions, took me just over an hour. It involved reading scenarios and responding to related questions, focusing on procedural and best-practice principles. Some questions allow multiple responses, while others require a single answer.

The questions are designed to assess practical knowledge and understanding of good practice in counselling. They are not heavily theory-based but require a sound understanding of ethical principles and procedural approaches.’


Q: Is the CoP hard to pass?

A: If you have achieved your counselling qualification, you can pass the CoP! Most people who have taken the CoP report that they didn’t find it too bad at all. Many people pass first time, and you can have three attempts in any case. (Failing three times may lead to membership cancellation, with the possibility of reapplying after six months, contingent on passing the CoP.)

Remember that the CoP tests general principles of professional working (e.g. on ethics) – it doesn’t test your knowledge and skills of the theories and modalities you trained in. It’s more about competence in everyday practice.

There isn’t a set pass mark, as each month a team of practising therapists and BACP staff review all the answers and adjust the scoring so it is fair to everyone who has taken the CoP that month.


Q: So how can I prepare for taking the CoP?

A: Before your test date, the BACP will send you a preparation guide, and give you access to a tutorial and an example of an assessment so you can practise. Doing this sample test several times will prepare you well for the real thing.

Another thing you could do is to read through the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions (BACP, 2018) a few times. There’s no need to memorise it in any way – it’s just a handy way of checking you have a sound overview of the general standards that the BACP expects of its members.

The BACP (n.d.c, ‘What subjects do I need to revise?’ section) suggests that ‘you should be familiar with signs and symptoms of mental health conditions, indicators of self-harm and suicidal ideation, and possible side effects of some medication and their impact on therapy’. The NHS website and the Mind website are useful for reading about these things.

There’s an article on the BACP’s website (n.d.d) that tells you what to expect and what you need to do:

  • four weeks before
  • three weeks before
  • two weeks before
  • one week before
  • on the day.

Do take the time to work through these steps, as this will really help and also boost your confidence and help you feel calm on the day.

Charlie says: ‘The CoP tests generic principles applicable across various counselling methods, so specific theories or dates are not required. Before the exam, I received full access details, a preparation guide, a tutorial, and a sample assessment for practice. I took a mock test using TestReach, which was valuable in familiarising myself with the exam format and technology.’


Q: How can I stay calm on the day?

A: Here are some general tips that we hope will help you feel calm on the day of the CoP:

  • Remind yourself that you have prepared well for the test.
  • Put the test in perspective: you can always retake it if you need to, and you need it only for BACP membership (there are other professional bodies you could join).
  • Try to eat a healthy meal before the test, so you don’t get distracted by feeling hungry, and so your brain has the fuel it needs!
  • Go to the toilet just before the test, to help you feel comfortable during it.
  • Make sure you’re clear on the time of the test, and be ready a little early, with any equipment that you need.
  • Immediately before the test, give yourself some quiet time to relax and take some slow, deep breaths – or use any other calming techniques that you know work for you.
  • Visualise yourself sitting the test calmly, and opening the letter from the BACP that tells you you’ve passed.
  • Use some positive affirmations, e.g. ‘I am well trained and have practice experience: I can and will pass this test.’
  • When you start, read through the first case study carefully, rather than rushing in.
  • Keep an eye on the time and use it as a guide, but try not to feel pressurised by this. It’s natural that some case studies might take longer than others to read and work through.
  • If you don’t understand any instructions in the test, ask the invigilator for clarification as soon as you can.
  • Try to relax during the test. If you notice yourself feeling anxious or fuzzy-minded, stop for a moment, close your eyes and take three slow, deep breaths before carrying on.
  • Try to focus on the test, and refuse to listen to unhelpful thoughts during the test. You could maybe imagine them as clouds in the sky, or leaves on a river, and let them just float on by.
  • When you finish the test, give yourself a treat to reward yourself for getting through it.


Q: How and when will I get my results?

A: The BACP reviews and moderates all the results and then writes to you within around five weeks of the test date.

The most likely outcome is that you’ll have passed, but try not to worry if you haven’t. You can rebook, and you’ll be even more familiar then with the format and what to expect, so it’s highly likely you’ll be through then.

Charlie says: ‘After the exam, the inevitable second-guessing began, a natural part of any testing experience. Now, it's a waiting game for the results. I know, I’ll hear from the BACP within five weeks of the exam, and it’ll allow me to become a registered member if I’ve passed – and if not, I can retake the exam.’


Q: Charlie, what are your final thoughts and tips for future test-takers?

‘My three top tips would be:

  • Familiarise yourself early: Get comfortable with the TestReach app and the exam format.
  • Create a conducive environment: Ensure your testing space is quiet and organised.
  • Trust your training: Rely on your instincts and training, focusing on practical and ethical considerations.

‘Embarking on the CoP exam is a significant step in your professional development. With the right preparation, understanding of the exam format and scoring system, and a calm mindset, it can be a smooth and affirming experience, paving the way for your BACP registered membership.’


Q: What if I have any more questions?

A: Read through the guides listed in the references. If you still have questions after that, you can email the CoP team at the BACP on

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The BACP Certificate of Proficiency


BACP. (n.d.a). BACP Register Certificate of Proficiency: How to become a registered member [online]. BACP. [Viewed 4/4/23]. Available from:

BACP. (n.d.b). Certificate of Proficiency: a how to guide – video transcript [online]. BACP. [Viewed 4/4/23]. Available from:,other%20point%20in%20the%20assessment

BACP (2018). Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions [online]. BACP. [Viewed 11/6/21]. Available from:

BACP. (n.d.c). FAQs about registration: Answers to members’ common enquiries [online]. BACP. [Viewed 4/4/23]. Available from:

BACP. (n.d.d). Taking your Certificate of Proficiency: Guide to the online assessment process [online]. BACP. [Viewed 4/4/23]. Available from: