How Hard is the BCBA Exam?

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Are you a graduate of an accredited applied behavior analyst (ABA) program? If yes, you may want to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). However, the question is, how hard is the BCBA Exam? It is a challenging exam! The percentage of the takers, even the retakers passing the exam, is decreasing yearly.

BCBA exam is one of the most competitive exams nowadays. If you fail, it is pretty disappointing because it is also expensive. That’s why you must ensure that you will pass the exam the first time around. Even those with potential don’t have an assurance that they will pass the test.

However, it doesn’t mean it’s difficult; you won’t take your chance. In this article, you will know the essential details and valuable tips on how to pass the BCBA exam the first time.

What is the BCBA Exam?What is the BCBA Exam?

Before you become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst – a professional, who is a certified behavior analyst, you must reach the passing score for BCBA exam. Once you pass the exam, you may provide behavior analysis services and can be an expert in particular areas like autism, other developmental health problems, and mental health problems. It can be another milestone in your career after you get the certification.

The BCBA exam questions consist of 185 multiple choice questions that are good for four hours and administered through a computer-based format. Ten items are not graded since it is considered pilot questions. You can apply for the exam at any authorized Pearson VUE testing site around the globe.

How Does the BCBA Exam Work?

How Does the BCBA Exam Work?

Before taking the BCBA exam, you must present proof of eligibility. For the new guideline, after you have graduated with a degree in Psychology or any related field, there are four ways how you can be eligible to take the BCBA exam, which is the following:

  • Get a degree from ABAI- Accredited or ABAI recognized program.
  • Finish Behavior Analytic Coursework.
  • Become a faculty teacher and researcher.
  • Earn a postdoctoral experience in applied behavior analysis.

You must also have adequate related work experience, including Supervised Fieldwork and Concentrated Supervised Fieldwork.

Supervised Fieldwork – the supervisee needs to finish a total of 2000 hours and must receive at least five percent supervision experience hours in one month.

Concentrated Supervised Fieldwork – the supervisee needs to finish a total of 1500 hours and must receive at least ten percent supervision experience hours in one month.

If eligible, you must create an account in Pearson VUE, fill out the application form, submit it through email, pay the needed fees, and schedule your appointment with Pearson VUE.

BCBA Exam Scope

You can check the BCBA task list 5th edition, which is the newest edition, so that you will know the exam coverage. There are two sections: the foundations and applications, which consist of basic concepts and skills.

Section 1: Foundations

  • Philosophical Underpinnings
  • Concepts and Principles
  • Measurement, Data Display, and Interpretation
  • Experimental Design

Section 2: Applications

  • Ethics (Ethics Code for Behavior Analysts)
  • Behavior Assessment
  • Behavior-Change Procedures
  • Selecting and Implementing Interventions
  • Personnel Supervision and Management

BCBA Exam Cost

The application for the BCBA exam cost, it is pretty expensive. See below:

Certification application – $245

Examination retake application – $140

Examination Appointment – $125

Preliminary Coursework Evaluation (optional) – $100

The fees are not refundable. Every time you retake the exam, you must pay the application and appointment payment again.

For every cancellation and rescheduling of the exam, you also need to pay additional fees. If you cancel thirty to five days before the examination, you must pay $59. If you cancel or reschedule five days to forty-eight before the test, you must pay $69.

BCBA Exam Passing Scores

There is no exact passing score for the BCBA exam because the association utilized the modified Angoff method. Every five years or when necessary, a new set of examinations is formulated, meaning there are changes in the content like initiating a new task list.

Based on the Angoff method, the passing score is determined by the panel of BACB experts, and the approval is from the board of directors. Your performance has nothing to do with the performance of the other takers.

How Hard is it to Pass the BCBA Exam?

How Hard is it to Pass the BCBA Exam?

Without any doubt, the BCBA exam is difficult. According to BACB Annual Data Report, for the last three years, there has been a decreasing number of passers on both first takers and retakers. See the table below:

Year 2021
Number of Candidates Tested BCBA Percentage
First takers 12, 107 60%
Retakers 11, 301 28%
Total 23, 408
Year 2020
Number of Candidates Tested BCBA Percentage
First takers 6,583 66%
Retakers 6,166 31%
Total 12,749
Year 2019
Number of Candidates Tested BCBA Percentage
First takers 6,884 63%
Retakers 6,327 27%
Total 13,211

Many reasons have been derived as to why the exam is difficult. Among them are the following:

  • It is to control the increasing number of universities opening programs for BCBA and the expanding number of individuals taking up the course.
  • The profession is in demand globally. However, the study guide materials are written in English. If you are from countries where English is not the primary language, you may need to learn the behavior analysis subject in English, which may be challenging for you. As a result, you may have a hard time passing the exam.
  • The inadequacy of the academic programs like different priorities, less student engagement, poor curriculum design, lack of practice, and inefficient faculty contribute to the lower passing rate of the BCBA exam.

Can You Retake the BCBA Exam?

Can You Retake the BCBA Exam?

Yes, you are allowed to retake the exam. However, you must wait 30 days from your previous exam before you can apply for the retake. You can have a total of eight attempts from your first attempt within two years to retake the exam. Forty-eight hours after you fail the exam, you will receive a retake application form in your email. You must pay the retake application fee of $140 and the appointment fee of $125.

If you fail in your eight attempts to pass the exam within two years, you need to wait until your two-year authorization period is over before you can apply again for a retake.

5 Tips for Passing the BCBA Exam

5 Tips for Passing the BCBA Exam

Although the BCBA exam is challenging, you still be able to pass it with enough preparation and willpower. Below are guidelines on how to pass the BCBA exam the first time:

Establish a Strong Foundation

I have written above that one of the causes of the low BCBA passing rate is the inadequacy of the academic program. That’s why as early as the beginning, choose a university that produces students who eventually pass the BCBA exam.

Although enrolling in a university with a low passing rate does not mean you will fail the exam, it will already tell you that you need to make an extra effort in preparation for the exam compared to those who are graduates from a reputable university.

Study the BCBA Task List

The good thing about the BCBA exam is it comes with a task list that gives you coverage of the possible questions. You may not value the definition of terms, but if you don’t know the basic terms, you will have problems answering the questions. You need to study and learn these topics by heart to prepare for the exam.

The task list has three categories:

  • Basic behavioral analytic skills include the common skills practiced by a behavior analyst.
  • Client-centered responsibilities include the application of practical work to clients.
  • The Foundational knowledge includes the basic concepts.

Moreover, learning about the examination outline can also give you an idea of what the exam looks like, and the BCBA will also provide you with sample questions in the task list.

A. Philosophical Underpinnings 6
B. Concepts and Principles 32
C. Measurement, Data Display, and Interpretation 21
D. Experimental Design 12
E. Ethics 18
F. Behavior Assessment 18
G. Behavior-Change Procedures 35
H. Selecting and Implementing Interventions 16
I. Personnel Supervision and Management 17
Total 175

Study First the Foundation

After you have read the 5th edition task list, you may start your study with the foundation. First is the Philosophical Underpinnings. You must develop mastery of the goals of behavior analysis as a science that includes the description, prediction, and control. These are the basic concepts about the observation of behavior and events. Your job as BCBA is to observe behavior and events, understand how they relate to each other, and learn how you can control this behavior and events.

Next, learn about the philosophical assumptions, which include Determinism, Pragmatism, Parsimony, Empiricism, and Selectionism. Moreover, you also study the radical behaviorism and the Dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Please include the analytics, applied, conceptually systematic, effective, behavioral, generality, and technological.

You may study the behavior, response, and response class for the concepts and principles. In the exam, you must know the difference between a behavior and a response. Other important topics you need to study are stimulus and reinforcement. When you study Verbal Operants, please include its echoics, mands, intraverbals, tacts, textuals, and transcription. For the Derived Stimulus Relations, study reflexivity, symmetry, and transitivity. You must understand the verbal operant, particularly the motivating operation questions, because these are tricky questions.

Data display and interpretation begin with the operational definitions of behavior for the measurement. You must also learn about Sampling, validity, reliability, the accuracy of measurement, measurement system, graph data, and interpreting graph data like the trend, variability, and level.

For the experimental design, you should study the variables, internal and external validity, Comparative, Component, and Parametric Analysis.

Study the Application

For the application, you must learn how to review the available records, such as the education and medical history of the client. Before you start your case, you must gather all the necessary information.

Why include the education and medical history? It is because they may have a specific behavioral plan in school, like speech therapy. All those things will affect your treatment plan. Hence, think of the educators as part of your team with the parents. Even if you are not a doctor, check if they have an existing diagnosis. Please note that as a behavior analyst, you must rule out any medical problems first.

After determining that the services of the behavior analyst are needed, you should understand how the behavior change procedure is applied. Make sure to study its different types, such as the use of positive and negative reinforcement, the use of Skinner’s analysis to teach verbal behaviors, the use of reinforcement procedures to weaken a behavior, and many more.

Next is the selection and implementation of interventions. It would be best if you studied how to use different interventions and what specific situations these interventions apply to. Once the interventions are provided, you must also know how to monitor the client’s progress and the intervention’s effectiveness.

The last topic under application is about the Personnel Supervision and Management. This part is more on why a behavior analyst is needed, monitors the performance, and evaluates the effectiveness of the performance.

Study Ethics

Ethics is vital in BCBA. Please note that there is a new ethics code for 2022. The introduction of ethics includes the principles and guide to behavior analysis. As a behavior analyst, you must act appropriately in the field of behavior analysis. Thus, you must continue educating yourself and working professionally. It would help if you learned what is right and what can be harmful to the client. Your main priority is how to provide effective treatment to your client.

You must also learn about your responsibilities as a professional, in the field of practice, to clients and stakeholders, supervisees and trainees, public statements, and research. You must be actively participating in research to maintain your competence. It is also vital that you fully understand how to promote truthful behavior while avoiding fraudulence.

Ethics is not something that you must get intimidated by on the exam. It is not difficult as long as you have studied the coverage.

Wrapping Things Up: How Hard is the BCBA Exam?

How hard is the BCBA exam? It can be hard if you are not eligible and prepared for it. However, suppose you are equipped with enough knowledge from your previous university, adequate skills from your related work experiences, and mastery of the new task list of BCBA. In that case, there is no reason for you to fail the exam.

This article pointed out the importance of starting your preparation from the beginning, which is choosing the best university with a high passing rate. Once you have a strong educational background and complete work experience, you may begin studying from the foundation, application, and Ethics. You will surely make it!

Picture of Professor Conquer
Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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