Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Road to the BCBA







This post is for my peeps :-)
 



I often publish posts on my blog that come directly from questions/comments I get via email (like my FAQ series). I feel that if 1 or 2 people have the same question, then its likely many other people are wondering the same thing and just didn’t ask. 
Lately I have been getting a ton of emails from ABA therapists working towards their BCBA certification, and wanting to know what to expect from the “Big Exam”. The exam is that last step on that long road towards becoming a BCBA, and walking closer and closer to it can understandably cause a lot of anxiety. I was certified in 2012, and I’m happy to share my experiences of preparing for the BCBA exam in the hopes that it can help someone else who is just starting the process.

The specific steps necessary for obtaining certification are provided in detail on the BACB website, but what many people want to know is “So….whats the test like???” The exam is the confidential property of the BACB, so the information found online about the exam will be vague, or speak in generalities. 

So, why pursue certification? You are a fan of data, the science of behavior, and you actually find pleasure in creating graphs. Or, your passion for this field and love of the work make ABA something you want as a career.  In your perfect world, ABA is what you would live and breathe.

If you are pursuing certification simply because you want to make a lot of money (there is great salary range, but a “high” salary isn’t necessarily guaranteed), you want to get away from “the table” (some companies require BCBAs provide direct therapy), you love working with kids with Autism (some BCBAs dont even work with individuals with Autism), or you think BCBAs just have desk jobs (I will explain this more below), then…..maybe this isn’t such a career path for you.
In addition to the requirements of the BACB, I also think that certain personality traits are necessary to be excellent at this job. To name a few: time management skills, excellent oral and written communication skills, creativity, leadership skills, ability to multitask, ability to work autonomously, problem solving skills, and attention to detail. To sum it up, I think many of the traits Type- A personalities tend to have would serve you well in this job.  Being a BCBA isn’t necessarily the cushy desk job some people think it is. It’s super difficult to describe a day in the life of a BCBA because depending on where you work, the population you serve, the ages you serve, etc., there will be much variability. 
So a hypothetical day for a BCBA could include providing direct therapy to clients, supervising direct staff and providing feedback, attending meetings, parent training, conducting workshops or trainings, conducting assessments or FBAs/FAs, school facilitation or observation, community outing skill training, and/or administrative tasks (at home or at the office) such as program development, creating materials, reading research articles, or looking for patterns and trends in collected data.

So now that you know what to expect from the job, here’s some tips for preparing for the exam. These tips may be helpful for you, and they may not. This is just what I found to be successful and helpful.



The BCBA Exam

-          Get into a great study group (either online or in person), that has a few BCBAs in it. It will be really helpful to have people present who have actually passed the exam.
-          Create study flashcards and visuals, and use these to build fluency.  When I study I need to do more than just read material. I made tons of flashcards of terms and concepts and reviewed them regularly, and for some of the cards I would tape them to the walls in my house so I was constantly looking at them. That visual cue was very helpful.
-          Dedicate time each day to reviewing material. Set a schedule for yourself and stick to it. Carve out time, and set a space in your home for studying. For me, I studied best first thing in the morning with no TV, cell phone turned off, and music playing softly. Do what works best for you.
-          Get the “White Book”. The Cooper ABA book is essential in this line of work, and it’s an amazing study resource. Don’t just read it though; study the definitions and terms, answer the end of chapter questions, and discuss the chapters in your study group. This is a book you will reference throughout your career, so it’s a good idea to go ahead and purchase it now. Another study resource that worked for me is the BDS modules.  They’re similar to what the actual exam is like, and present questions in content area modules (such as a Behavioral Assessment section). The modules are also timed, so this is great practice for answering questions under a time crunch.
-          Reference the BCBA exam Task List, to assess your strengths and deficits, such as Ethical Conduct Guidelines. You want to use your study time wisely…it isn’t time effective to spend an hour reviewing material you are strong in. Instead use that time to focus on your deficits. Put on your Behavior Analyst thinking cap: If you were teaching a skill to a child and they just weren’t getting it, would you spend the majority of the session asking them things they already know, or modifying your teaching for the areas they’re struggling in?
-           Try to gain experience in the content areas you struggle in. I know for me, I learn better by doing than by reading about something. If you are stuck on a particular concept or term, such as the difference between a mand and a tact, then discuss these deficits with your supervisor. Seek out opportunities to actually apply these behavior analytic concepts and make the terms “real”. There are many terms that I now understand better because I have  implemented them during a therapy session. Just reading about them wasn’t enough for me to fully grasp it. Speaking of your supervisor, USE THEM! I have provided supervision for people pursuing certification and a common problem I notice is not asking enough questions/not asking for enough help. Especially if you are paying for supervision  then you really need to take advantage of the professional sitting in front of you at your supervision meetings.
-           Lastly, but by no means least of all, what helped me prepare for the BCBA exam the most was Prayer. Lots and lots of prayer. I had so much anxiety about the exam, about being prepared and really doing well, and intense pressure may be necessary to make diamonds, but it’s horrible when trying to learn and process information. Optimal learning just can’t occur when the body is full of stress. Over analyzing and stressing over the exam on a daily basis will only make it that much more difficult when you are sitting down to take the exam.



*Resources:

-A blog with some great evidence based study tips: Mindful Rambles

-If you are unable to find a local study group, an online study group I can recommend is called Students of Applied Behavior Analysis, and it is on Facebook.  The group is a good mix of people at various stages of preparing for the BCBA exam, as well as experienced BCBAs who can share their experiences and tips. The group also has a resource library containing free study materials. 

-This blog post is a must read for all my peeps prepping to cross that line into BCBA status. PLEASE dont get those 4 letters behind your name and then become one of those condescending, egotistical, and just plain rude Behavior Analysts who give the field a bad name.


40 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for this post! I will not sit for the exam until May 2014 but I have already been so stressed. I contacted you at the beginning of my BCBA journey when I first discovered your blog. I am now more than halfway finished with my supervision hours. Your posts have been very helpful and this one is exactly what I needed to see today. Thanks for being such a great resource!

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    1. Hi Donyelle :-)

      You are almost at the goal, thats great! Try not to let the stress consume you, its not conducive to learning.

      Im glad the blog has been helpful!

      Delete
  2. Thank you! I just found your blog. I am finishing up a Masters in Special Ed and beginning a Masters in ABA soon. I am already looking up study ideas, flashcards and material for the exam.

    Caren Stocks

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    1. Hi Caren,

      Good luck in grad school! I think its an awesome idea to begin studying/preparing now, and becoming familiar with the Task List and Ethical Standards.

      Delete
  3. Tameika,

    Thank you for the encouragement and what to become familiar with.

    Caren Stocks

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  4. Hi, I just got my exam results and need to retake (I didn't pass by 11 points). I scored the lowest on Ethics and thought that I 'got it' when it came to ethics. Any advice? Thanks

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    1. Hi Mindy,

      I would say a great study group. There are many concepts on the Task List where reading and re-reading content just won't cut it. Ethics is one of those :-)
      Get in a great study group and have active, engaged discussion. Talk about real life situations, and how to navigate various scenarios based on the BACB ethical guidelines. Real life is rarely black or white, its those murky gray areas where developing a clinical ethical mindset is so important.
      If you cant find a great support group, utilize the Facebook resource listed in the post.

      Good luck to you,

      Tameika

      Delete
  5. Dear Tameika,
    Glad to have found your blog. It is so enthusiastic and encouraging. I live in north Texas and am having a difficult time finding someone to supervise my field hours. I have even requested some through the BACB website. Most do not reply, some reply to the first request then do not reply to the subsequent emails. It has been discouraging and made me wonder if I want to be part of BCBA's. It is not a good reflection on the industry. Any suggestions?

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  6. Hi and thanks for commenting,

    Glad you are liking the blog :-)

    Unfortunately, I have heard similar comments from other people before. I know how frustrating and discouraging that can be. The not replying at all I really dont care for, it doesn't take very long to reply just to say if you are available to supervise or not.....pretty unprofessional

    It really can be just a numbers game. You may need to contact many people before you find someone who 1) is interested, and 2) is a good fit. The Board is making may changes right now and adding requirements so it could be an issue of people not needing 1 more thing to do.
    Also, the average working BCBA doesn't really have time to supervise. I know in my current position I am busy enough with my staff and wouldn't be able to add on separate supervision on top of that. So you may want to look into a work site where you receive supervision as part of your job, versus hiring someone to supervise you separately.

    Good luck!

    Tameika

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  7. Yes. It can be difficult to get supervision. You may want to consider distance supervision. I had an horrendous time finding good supervision but I did. Now that I am certified I want to help others with supervision. Try distance supervision.

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    1. True, remote supervision can be a great option for people having difficulty finding a BCBA to supervise them locally.

      Delete
  8. The jobs I have been able to find I am supervised by LCSW's. I am really interested I learning more about remote supervision. It sounds like it could really be helpful for my situation. If possible could you provide a link or any additional information concerning getting connected? I have been so frustrated with this process I started to give up. :( But giving up is not what I do! Somehow this will get done. Thank you for your site - it has helped.

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    1. Hi Lynnette,

      Im glad the blog has been helpful!

      The BACB website has a directory where you can search for certificants, you would then need to contact them to see if they are available to provide remote supervision. The website is www.bacb.com

      Delete
  9. Outstanding Blog. Found it very refreshing that you included Prayer. Relationship are reinforcing so including this as part of the preparation and professional process was exceptional brave.
    NICE JOB

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    1. Prayer changes circumstances!

      Thanks for checking out the blog :-)

      Delete
  10. Tameika!
    Love your site! YOu are an Encyclopedia for ABA. I come form the BioMedical side of Autism and now work for a school for children and adults with Autism. Although I do not have a degree as others do. I am persuing the Registered Behavior Technician credential. Any advice or suggestions welcome! Keep up the GREAT work!

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    1. Thanks Audrey!

      The RBT credential is so new that I dont have many resources/tips about it, but I am (like many in the field) excited about it because it brings accountability, training requirements, and ethical standards to the direct line staff. This will make it much harder for "not so quality companies" to put people in the field without properly vetting them first. Which is a good thing!
      I also think it will really create a high demand situation for individuals who obtain the RBT credential, because its highly likely funding sources will start requiring direct staff must be a RBT.

      Glad you enjoy the blog :-)

      Delete
  11. Hi Tameika!

    I really enjoy your blog, especially since I'm finishing up my supervision hours and hoping to sit for the BCBA exam in February and am hoping/praying to pass. One thing I am curious about in your experience, is what happens once you pass the exam?

    I feel like there's no one to ask about what happens next. Particularly if you're in the field as a Therapist and once you pass you are considered a BCBA, but do you immediately apply for BCBA positions or do you still go forward in your current position?

    This might be an idea for a blog post, but how do you begin to build your career once passing the exam?

    Thanks,
    Ruby

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    1. Hi and thanks for commenting!

      By the way, good luck with your upcoming exam :-)

      Great idea for a post....I have actually thought about that, but the "What now?" post-certification process is so specific to the individual and where they live that it would be hard to generalize in a post. Even in the same state, funding sources and opportunities can vary greatly. And of course, where you choose to practice as a Behavior Analyst will depend on what your career interests/preferences are.

      What I would recommend to you (if you already haven't started doing this) is to connect with local BCBA's, including your state association for ABA. You are going to want to know: who funds ABA in your local area? What is the credentialing process to be in network with insurance companies? Is licensure necessary to practice ABA? What is the going rate for entry level BCBA's? --- understand that some companies consider you to be "entry level" for your first 1-3 years of being certified.

      Its really up to you if you want to stay in the direct staff role or move on to being a supervisor. Its typical for companies to immediately want you to take a caseload as a supervisor, because companies need someone overseeing those cases (its easier to find direct staff than certified staff). However, even this will vary depending on where you live, and how abundant BCBA's are. The more in demand BCBA's are in your local area, the more flexibility you will have in determining what you want your role to be.

      Good luck to you!

      Tameika

      Delete
  12. Hi Tameika,
    The BACB will bemail making changes to their Master's degree acceptance policy starting Jan 1st, 2016. They will no longer accept Master's degrees in counseling or Human Services. My MA degree is in counseling. However, my undergraduate degree is in psychology, therefore, I'm currently taking 4 pretty certified ABA courses and started my 1000 hrs of supervision for my BCaBA. Do you know any Master's level BCaBAs? Is it worth it? I'd honestly rather earn my BCBA but that would mean earning another Master's degree.

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    1. Hi Porche,

      Yes, I do! I have also worked with Masters level staff who aren't certified at all (and have no plans to be), as well as BCBA's who prefer to work direct only. Not everyone follows a straight path to certification and case management.
      It really depends on what your personal career goals are and what you want to do in a clinical capacity. No one else can answer that for you. I would also look at the career possibilities in your current area. What type of work opportunities are available for BCaBA's? What is the pay range? You want to avoid backing yourself into a position where you are stuck working in roles you are overqualified, and underpaid to do......for example, I worked as direct staff for years but my pay rate hit a cap at a certain point, because I wasn't certified.
      So definitely lots to think about as you make this decision.

      Good luck to you!

      Tameika

      Delete
  13. Hi Tameika,
    Thank you. Really appreciate the effort taken in pinning the details down. I am just about to apply for the ABA masters programme and looking forward to it. :) . I wanted to know
    1. Is it possible to work as an ABA therapist till the BCBA exams have been cleared?
    2. Is it possible to apply for license as a psychologist after the 1500 hours of work.

    Thank you :)

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    1. Hi & thanks for commenting!

      It is absolutely possible to work as direct staff while you are pursuing BCBA certification, in fact, that is what most people do. Depending on the employer you may need to obtain the RBT credential, so thats something you should ask about when applying for direct staff positions.

      I am not a licensed psychologist, so I can't comment on what the criteria is for applying for licensure, or how similar it is to the BCBA process.

      Good luck in your ABA program :-)

      Delete
  14. Hi Tameka,

    I just want to thank you as well for creating this amazing blog and giving back to the ABA community. With that said, I hope that I can pick at your brain a bit with a few questions.

    I'm not taking the conventional route to acquiring my BCBA in that I am already taking BCBA courses before I have completed my Masters in Special Education in June 2016. If everything goes according to plan, I hope to finish my coursework by the end of January 2017 an take my exam then. However, I know by then there will be so much changes within the requirements to sit down for the proctored BCBA exam!

    I just wanted to makes sure of these concrete standards, because I've been looking back as far as 2013 requirements and my brain is mush and my eyes are crossed.

    You must have obtained your masters degree BEFORE sitting down for the examination. You MUST complete 1500 supervised hours and the required ABA coursework from an accredited university, totaling roughly 250 hours.

    On the BACB website that lists the precise requirements for experiment hours there are two sub catagories concerning practicum and intense practicum for experiment hours. Do you know precisely what it is about? Also, I will be certified to teach once I receive my degree in June 2016. Is there any way to cross over the hours of students that can qualify for behavior intervention in my classroom to fulfilling my BCBA hours if I can get a supervisor? Is that even possible?

    I know these are a bit bizarre questions, but I sincerely appreciate your help.
    Looking forward to hearing from you!

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    1. Hi there!

      It is very important to direct specific certification questions to the BACB, and only the BACB. I have worked with people who found themselves in unfortunate situations because they listened to this person, or that person, and the information they had wasn't accurate. Trust me, this isn't a situation where you want any misunderstandings, as that can cost you time, money, and can delay getting certified.....especially right now, when there are lots of changes and revisions going on.

      The Board is very responsive to emails or phone calls (people email them questions all the time), and their contact information is on their website.

      Good luck,

      Tameika

      Delete
    2. Hi, Tameika! I am wondering if you have heard from any RBT who continued to BCBA and what they thought of the the BCBA exam? I know people struggle with it, and am hoping that the RBT coursework/exam will help me when I am ready to sit for the BCBA one day ;-) All of the new regulations are worrying me though! Some BCBAs are saying that they think pretty soon BCBAs won't be making much and you will need your Doctorate :-/
      Anyway, thank you so much for this site! It is so nice to have something like this to go to!

      Delete
    3. Hi there,

      There is a great group on Facebook of both ABA students and professionals that is constantly full of interesting and knowledgeable discussions about the field, certification, owning an ABA practice, clinical concerns, etc. I highly recommend it, here is a link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/139460776226228/

      The BACB changes regulations and requirements often; its really just part of the process of being in this field. What our role is and what we are expected to do to maintain our credentials will continue to evolve. I wouldn't worry about it too much, though. We are out there daily working and helping consumers and showing the value of the services we provide, and that does not go unnoticed.

      Delete
    4. I couldn't find this Facebook group. Do they have a group name, perhaps I can locate them that way.

      Delete
    5. Yes, the group name is Students of Applied Behavior Analysis.

      Delete
  15. Hi,

    I am about to take the exam for the first time in a couple of weeks. Would you happen to know how long I would have to wait to retake the exam if I were to fail it on my first attempt.

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    1. Hello!

      This information can be found on the BACB website. Here is a link:
      http://bacb.com/examination-information/

      Delete
  16. Hi Tameika,
    I love your bog! So much practical advice!

    I enjoyed for the link to the blog from BCBA/MOAC (mom of autistic child). I cannot tell you how many times my sons staff both at home &school over analyzed data and could not think the possibility that there was a medical condition that was causing my son to "be non compliant". Much wasted time in putting in "fba/bip" ... instead of teaching my son to verbalize that he was not feeling well. Luckily, I learned over time the pattern in behaviors that would occur when my son had a "flare up" of his medical conditions (GI issues, neuropathy etc). And when one sees SIB, the thought of investigating if the child suffering other internal physical should cross their mind.
    I am currently looking for a skilled ABA Therapist in NYC, high pay, but need s/o who can be compassionate yet firm and think "out of the box".
    Any suggestions?

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    Replies
    1. Glad you are enjoying the blog! :-)

      Medical rule out should always be obtained before behavioral interventions, as so often (particularly if the individual cant communicate) it can be difficult to distinguish if a behavior is due to pain, escape, under stimulation, etc. Just 2 weeks ago it was determined a child I am working with has had a bowel disorder for quite some time, that went undiagnosed.
      Just a tip for the future: if the staff conduct a through FBA, a "pain attenuation" function may be revealed. When I see those, I always recommend to the family to have a doctors visit to make sure everything is ok.

      Each state has an association for behavior analysis, in NY it is NYSABA. That would be a great place to start contacting individual providers/companies.

      Delete
  17. I enjoy the blog and have a quick question. I am working full time as a special education teacher and would like to get my bcba however I am worried I will not be able to fulfill the 1500 supervision hours without quitting my teaching job. Do you know if the special education classroom fits for meeting these hours? Thanks

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    1. Hello & Welcome!

      In my experiences I have found that educators have a hard time with the BCBA supervision portion of the certification process. Typically these educators did not have a BCBA on staff they could work under, so they had to hire a BCBA to supervise them.

      I know this is not everyone's experience, as I have worked with many BCBA's who were educators before and after certification.

      It isn't that your job itself would be an issue (see the www.bacb.com for a description of appropriate work site activities), its the fact that in order to be supervised you would need parent and school consent, plus the BCBA would either have to visit your classroom or observe you remotely working with students.

      Delete
  18. Hi Tameika,

    I came across your post and I had a quick question about BCBA. I currently hold a Master's of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) and I was wondering if you knew whether or not it was an acceptable Master's for BCBA. I know a Master's in Education qualifies, but mine does not have that title and I don't think they are interchangeable. I received the master's from USC (University of Southern CA) and it was through their School of Education.

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    1. Hi there,

      The BACB website lists the specific process/requirements for obtaining BCBA certification: bacb.com/

      Delete
  19. Thank you for your post! I am going to share this with my coworkers as many of them are RBTs, but seek to become BCBAs. We are going to post a link from our site to yours to spread this article! Quinn www.chicagoabatherapy.com

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  20. Glad it was helpful & thanks for checking out the blog!

    ReplyDelete