Special Education Careers

Board Certified Behavior Analyst Exam Preparation and Information

You’ve worked hard to get your degree in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), completed your coursework, and finished your supervised fieldwork hours. You’re ready to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)! But first, you need to take the BCBA exam.

Don’t panic! You’ve got all the tools and knowledge you need to get through it. With the right preparation, you can pass the exam the first time.

In this guide, I help you prepare by giving you the information and resources you need to get ready. I talk about what’s on the exam, helpful study resources, and a few final tips to boost your chances of success.

Inside the BCBA Exam

  • What Do You Need for the BCBA Exam?
  • What’s on the BCBA Exam?
  • Preparing for the BCBA Exam
  • Review the BCBA Handbook
  • Take an Exam Review Course
  • The Cooper Book
  • PasstheBigABAExam.com
  • Join Online Study Groups
  • What Happens After the BCBA Exam?
  • Tips to Help You Pass
  • Do You Have Questions?

What Do You Need for the BCBA Exam?

Before you apply for the BCBA exam, you’ll need to have completed certain requirements. Chances are you’ve already fulfilled the eligibility requirements. Still, if you need a refresher, I talk more about specific BCBA requirements in this post


First, fill out the BCBA exam application and get approval from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) before you can take the test. When you apply, you’ll need proof of your degree, coursework, and field experience, as well as the application fee. You’ll also need to create a BACB account to receive updates about the exam and other important information as you prepare.

What’s on the BCBA Exam?

The BCBA exam is made up of 150 multiple choice questions administered in computer-based testing (CBT) format. You have four hours to complete the exam.

The exam consists of two main sections: basic behavior-analytic skills and client-centered responsibilities. Each of these sections gets broken down into smaller subsections.

The basic behavior-analytic skills section includes:

  • Measurement
  • Experimental design
  • Behavior-change considerations
  • Fundamental elements of behavior change
  • Specific behavior-change procedures
  • Behavior-change systems

For the client-centered responsibilities section, you can expect to see questions on:

  • Measurement
  • Assessment
  • Intervention
  • Implementation, management, and supervision

In January 2022, the BACB will make changes to the exam. While the general material stays the same, these changes reorganize and clarify previous text sections. You can check the BACB’s Fifth Edition Task List to find out more about the specific changes to the exam so that you can prepare accordingly.

The BCBA test requires you to follow a particular code of ethics. You can’t share exam questions with other candidates, current or future. The BACB also has specific rules for taking the exam, including materials you can and can’t use at the exam site. You can find more information in the BCBA Handbook.

Preparing for the BCBA Exam

The BACB provides some resources that you can use to prepare for the exam. It works to your advantage to use as many of them as possible. Here are a few that you can explore to help you pass on the first try!

Review the BCBA Handbook

The BCBA Handbook has task lists that offer more information on the exam structure. It also explains the requirements for exam eligibility, what to do if you need accommodations, what you should and shouldn’t bring to the exam, and instructions for arriving and taking the exam. You’ll also find five sample study questions like the ones you’ll see on the exam.

While the handbook itself doesn’t have much in terms of study materials, knowing what to do when you show up for the exam can relieve some stress. If you’re already nervous, being able to get where you need to be and gather your materials before the exam date makes a big difference!

Take an Exam Review Course

While the BACB doesn’t offer its own exam review courses, it does recommend taking one either online or in person near you. The BACB doesn’t recommend any in particular, but these types of courses can help you prepare by giving you a better idea of how the exam will go and what will be on it. They also let you refresh your knowledge of ABA basics, as well as more advanced concepts, so you can identify your weaknesses and spend extra time studying them.

These courses also have participants take practice exams. Many offer several practice tests, which show you your progress and help you gain confidence. With a structured approach, you can make studying more manageable rather than cramming all the information the week before the exam.

Taking a course allows for a healthier form of studying that makes you more likely to retain the material. Research shows that studying over time for scheduled periods improves long-term memory and test results. These courses are usually affordable but know that you’ll likely have to pay a fee to take one.

The Cooper Book

Applied Behavior Analysis by John O. Cooper, Timothy E. Heron, and William L. Heward is a great place to start when it comes to studying for the BCBA exam. You should get the book’s third edition if possible, so you have the most recent information and updates to the text.

The book is a popular resource for ABA therapists and BCBAs, and it has plenty of information to help you study. You don’t need to read all 800 pages, but you can make flashcards, mark important topics that you need to spend more time on, and make it work for your ideal study style.

Even more useful are the supplementary materials that go with the text. You can find chapter quizzes online, as well as additional resources like summaries, self-assessments, notes, graphs, and supportive links.

PasstheBigABAExam.com

Pass the Big ABA Exam (PTBABA) has plenty of BCBA exam resources, and it’s an invaluable resource for studying and learning more about the exam itself. It goes beyond practice tests. The site has products like study manuals, workshops, mock exams, lecture series, and events to help you strengthen your knowledge.

The site organizers hold open Q&A events where you can ask questions about the exam and clarify any concepts you’re unsure about. Aside from its excellent study resources, PTBABA is a supportive study community that helps you build confidence as you prepare.

Join Online Study Groups

Sometimes, it helps to know you’re not alone while you prepare. When you have to devote so much time to studying, joining a study group means you not only get support with the material but also makes preparing for the exam feel less lonely.

You can find study groups through PTBABA, the ABA Study Group on Facebook, and other websites dedicated to forming groups like these, including ABAStudyGroup.com. Explore them to see which ones help you the most. Different groups work for different learning and work styles, but whichever one you choose should create an environment where you feel comfortable asking questions and participating in the group.

What Happens After the BCBA Exam?

You’ll be scored while you’re at the exam site once you complete the exam. Out of 500 points, you must score at least 400 points to pass. If you do pass, you’ll be added to the Certificant Registry within 48 hours, and employers can look you up there.

Once you’ve passed the BCBA exam, you can start using your certification. Some states have different licensing requirements for BCBAs, so make sure you check yours and follow any additional regulations. 

At this point, you’ve got the skills to practice as an entry-level BCBA. You have more responsibility as a certified BCBA, including overseeing and implementing ABA programs and designing care plans. You can now work independently in the ABA field and supervise registered behavior therapists. Don’t forget that you’ll need to keep your certification current and renew it every two years!

Tips to Help You Pass

Beyond studying, you can develop certain habits to help you retain more information, stay organized, and boost your confidence before taking the exam. That means taking care of yourself and functioning well on every level. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you prepare for the BCBA exam:

Create a study schedule: If you try to cram at the last minute, you’ll cause yourself unnecessary stress. A study schedule planned early on will help you identify weaknesses and increase your focus. You should also pencil in breaks!

Collaborate with others: When you study with other people, you can talk through the material and concepts, get insight from others, and offer your knowledge to help your peers.

Take care of your body and mind: Get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, and make time to rest. Each of these habits will make it easier for you to stick to your schedule and feel your best for the exam.

Do You Have Questions?

The BCBA exam doesn’t have to be overwhelming or intimidating. When you follow these tips to prepare and have all the information you need, you can pass on the first try. You have all the tools you need at your disposal, and I’m here to help!

Do you have questions about the BCBA exam? Have you taken the exam and have tips for others to follow? Let me know in the comments, or send me an email! I’d love to hear from you, and your experience might help someone else!

About the author

Emily Cummings

I am a mom of two crazy, amazing, independent, little feminists. They bring so much light to my life and a lot less sleep. Since becoming a mother and increasingly in the last year, I have witnessed parents struggling to connect with their child's special education team with no success. I have become more aware of the gaps in our public school system and how parents may benefit from empowerment and advocacy tools.

My work experiences range from a juvenile detention center to an autism specialist in the Issaquah School District and a special education teacher in a self-contained program in the Lake Washington School District. My master's in teaching focused on special education and behavioral disorders from Seattle Pacific University. I completed my BCBA coursework from Montana State University.

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