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Passing the BCBA Exam on Your Second Attempt

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

Woman frustrated looking at computer and grabbing her hair.

If you didn't pass the Board Certified Behavior Analyst® (BCBA®) exam the first time, you are definitely not alone! Passing the “big test” can be not only challenging, but daunting!

I’m here to soothe your fears. Many people retake the test, so don't be discouraged about your failed attempt. I have some tips of good study habits, resources, and strategies that you can implement into your preparation for the real test. Getting into this mindset and using these tips will help you pass the BCBA® exam on your second try!

These are my very top tips to pass the exam:

  • Download the ABA Wizard Study App: If you're familiar with the ABA field, you may have heard of ABA Wizard. The ABA Wizard study app is a popular and valuable resource for BCBA® exam preparation (if I do say so myself!). You can take it wherever you go (or wherever you take your phone). You can track your progress and “favorite” certain quizzes that you’d like to review later.

  • Utilize ABA Wizard's Mock Exams: Mock exams are a great way to practice for the actual BCBA® exam! Our ABA Wizard mocks were written to imitate the real test by utilizing similar time constraints of 4 hours and the same amount of questions (185).

Smartphone with ABA Wizard study app
ABA Wizard Study App

Here are some of my other tips and tricks to pass the exam:

  • Create a study schedule: Dedicate some time to study, whether that is daily or a few days a week. Some students use flash cards or an ABA study app to study during their lunch break or commute to work for a few minutes each day.

  • Break it down: Dividing your study material into smaller, manageable chunks can help to make it easier to digest (and way less scary to deal with than all at once!). Luckily, the BACB® has a task list that already breaks up the sections for you! And ABA Wizard’s study app has quizzes in each category, so you can easily pinpoint your weaknesses and strengths in each aspect of ABA.

  • Practice with sample questions: Familiarize yourself with the question format and practice answering sample questions to build confidence and improve test-taking skills.

  • Treat Yo’self!: Behavior analysts are ALL ABOUT the rewarding of good behavior! Why not reward your completion of study sessions with your preferred reinforcer? Eat a candy after each 15-minute interval (or ask a friend or family member to reward you if you have no self-control, like me!).

  • Create a Distraction-Free Zone: I always think more clearly and can focus better in a clean, quiet environment. My wife doesn’t mind a little clutter but I honestly can’t relax unless my desk is clean!

  • Use Multiple Resources: Besides the ABA Wizard app, there are many study materials available to you. Dubbed “The Cooper Book” by many, Applied Behavior Analysis is a popular textbook (maybe even considered the Bible of ABA). There are some companies that offer full online courses for an in-depth study.

ABA textbook Cooper book
Applied Behavior Analysis Textbook

  • Review Regularly: Don't cram all your studying into the last few weeks. Retention is important—as you have to actually practice behavior analysis after the test!

  • Seek Support: Join study groups, whether in-person or online, where you can discuss concepts, ask questions, and share insights with peers. Your supervisor is also most likely a very good resource in this regard! Sometimes it’s just better to discuss with other people who also eat, sleep, and breathe behavior.

  • Simulate Exam Conditions: I always recommend that people take our BCBA® mock exam under similar conditions to the real thing, like taking it on a desktop computer instead of your mobile device, and take it in a quiet environment with minimal distractions.

  • Stay Positive: Maybe it’s cliché, but keep your head up! You are intelligent and wonderful. You can do hard things! A positive mindset will help with your overall confidence.

  • Take Breaks: Don’t overload your brain! Burnouts are no bueno.

  • Vary Your Study Techniques: Mix it up! If you usually do a lot of reading, try watching videos or listening to podcasts on those same topics. There are lots of free resources out there to take advantage of. I have a podcast too! Check it out!

  • Study the Correct Task List: Not taking the test till the next task list is released? Make sure you are studying the correct task list! The BCBA® exam is based on that list, so it is definitely your friend.

  • Stay Informed: Join ABA Facebook groups where other behaviorists join together to discuss current ABA events or subjects. Maybe someone will post ABA news that you wouldn't otherwise hear about!

  • Don't Procrastinate: I actually get a lot of messages from people panicking because they’re taking the test in a couple days and haven’t taken their mock exam yet. Avoid the temptation to postpone studying. Give yourself enough time to absorb the material thoroughly.

  • Feed Your Body Real Fuel: Sometimes it can be difficult to be working as well as studying full-time to try to break into a new career! Make sure you are taking care of yourself, including fueling your body with scientifically proven brain foods that help with your energy levels, to help you perform at your best during the BCBA® exam. The antioxidants in blueberries, omega-3s in fish, or endorphins in dark chocolate can boost your moods and concentration while you study. They’re called brain foods for a reason! My sister still swears that bananas helped keep her awake when she had to stay up late studying. Feed your body good food. Your brain will thank you!

Healthy brain food with omega 3s
Feed yourself some brain food!

Remember that everybody studies and retains information differently. Feel free to adapt these tips to suit your individual learning style and needs.

Like I said, if you didn't pass the exam on the first try, you are definitely not alone. Passing the BCBA® exam on your second attempt is achievable with the right strategies and resources. Establishing good study habits, utilizing the ABA Wizard study app and its mock exams, and fueling your brain with nutritious foods can significantly enhance your preparation and performance. Remember to stay focused, maintain a positive mindset, and leverage the lessons learned from your first attempt. Passing the BCBA® exam is totally possible, even if it’s your second (or third!) attempt.

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