So… You’re About to Take the BCBA® Exam
Preparing for the BCBA exam can be exhausting. It’s the last obstacle before officially earning the BCBA® credential for which you’ve worked so hard. There are so many resources available and sorting through exam prep options, study methods, and study materials. You’ve got this!
Prior to the Exam
Create a Study Plan
Decide when, where, and how you will study. Choose a time you are unlikely to have other responsibilities that could be distracting and it’s convenient to turn your phone off. Make sure the location you choose to study is comfortable and easily accessible (e.g., home office, library, etc.). Finally, make an agenda and stick to it!
Take Mock Exams
Mock exams are a common study strategy used by test-takers. Mock exams can mimic the examination environment and improve the learner’s conditional discrimination abilities (i.e. the ability to choose among different options). To maximize the benefit of mock exams, consider reviewing the rationale for any questions answered incorrectly. Then, explain the concept in both simple and technical terms. A good way to test your own understanding of the content is to try and teach it to someone who is unfamiliar with the content.
Find a Study Group
Study groups can be useful for multiple reasons. They can provide accountability, opportunities for role-playing behavior-analytic concepts, and receiving feedback from other students with different strengths. If possible, choose a study group that does not include your best friends to mitigate the chance of time spent off-task.
One great tip for any study plan is immersion. BCBA candidates should be able to fluently translate mentalistic explanations of behavior into behavioral explanations of behavior. Generalization of the skills learned in coursework to multiple-choice test-taking is not easy, but important! Some valuable ways to immerse yourself in behavior analytic content is to read articles, join discussion groups on social media platforms, and listen to podcast episodes focused in behavior analytic content.
Day Before/Day of Exam
Prepare like you are going to attempt a physical feat. Eat healthy foods, exercise (preferably by doing something enjoyable), sleep well the night before, and avoid consuming alcohol (save it for after the exam if you’re a drinker). Additionally, rest your brain! You might want to stay up late the night before the exam to cram in some extra study time, but rest may be more beneficial. You’ve already put in the work to prepare for the exam. Marathon athletes rest the day before their event, and you should too.
Arrive at least 30 minutes early to the testing center. If your testing center permits, bring a snack and a water bottle. You will need to empty your pockets, complete some paperwork, and possibly wait for additional instruction from the proctor. Arriving early will help alleviate external factors which may distract test takers from attending to the intricacies of the question.
During the Exam
The most important component of answering an exam question correctly is determining what the question is actually asking. Generally, that information is found in the last sentence of the question. Consider reading the last sentence multiple times, or reading the last sentence first, then reading the question from the beginning.
Inevitably, test takers will struggle with some exam questions. Generally, skilled test takers can exercise their conditional discrimination repertoire to eliminate two incorrect answers. One way to increase the chance of selecting the correct answer is by creating a covert debate. Make the best case possible for the one potential correct answer, then make the case for the other. If you had to debate the correct answer with a colleague, which answer would you feel most comfortable defending? Chose that answer.
Keep track of the work you have completed throughout the process. Some testing centers provide white boards and dry erase markers for students to keep track of questions they have completed. This can be a valuable tool to help students utilize their time most effectively. Some students want to review every single question again (or multiple times) before submitting their final responses. It may be more efficient to keep a coding system of which questions you are confident you don’t need to spend additional time on, and which questions you know you would like to return to before submitting your completed exam.
After the Exam
Regardless of the outcome of the exam, celebrate! Either you passed the exam and are an official BCBA®, or you have a printout of the domains within behavior analysis you can study for your next exam. Regardless, you’ve accomplished something. Take the rest of the day off from work and your other responsibilities and relax. You have earned it.