Break the Pattern:​ BCBA Exam Retake Rates and BCBA Test Preparation

Whenever a BCBA or BCBA student tells me they don't know what to do other than autism services, it both saddens and frustrates. And when this happens, I typically offer a list of how much they can do as a skilled Behavior Analyst. Unfortunately, many BCBA students don't realize that they're only being taught small pieces of Applied Behavior Analysis as part of programs which too often emphasize 'autism services' (or 'ABA') over the field.

Many graduate programs in behavior analysis and/or course tracks towards eligibility for the BCBA exam are not training the field of Applied Behavior Analysis but 'autism services' and/or the pet peeves of senior directors/department chairs (still often connected to autism). As one point of observation, consider how many courses across degree programs or test eligibility tracks have 'autism' in their title. Why?

How many folks who have completed such coursework mainly to write redundant skill acquisition programs are now unable to or extremely uncomfortable with assessing and writing individualized behavioral instructional (intervention) plans? This is exactly a complaint and a concern I've heard from a great many folks who've called me for services after tripping over the BCBA exam once; twice; four times..or more.

If you are poorly prepared to assess and then write individualized comprehensive behavioral instructional/intervention plans, you are much more likely to fall into the BCBA exam retake cycle. It is this failure by so many programs to first train their students as Clinical Behavior Analysts rather than 'autism experts' that's among the primary reasons why first time - and retake - pass rates on the BCBA exam remain poor.

There are also a great many who don't realize there are no behavioral or instructional strategies/interventions unique to persons with autism. That is, there are no interventions/'treatments' which are only used when there is an autism diagnosis. Instead, what's consistently needed is individualized assessment, instructional and behavioral program development based on the field of Applied Behavior Analysis where the diagnostic category (at least when it has been correctly diagnosed) is only minimally informative at best.

Those who continue to compartmentalize Applied Behavior Analysis; who more often have been (mis)taught to see 'ABA' as a unique autism service model rather than actively pursuing and understanding the comprehensive field of Applied Behavior Analysis also have a greatly reduced probability of passing the BCBA exam then falling into a cycle of exam retakes.

A BCBA student trained and experienced as a Clinical Behavior Analyst FIRST - rather than as an 'autism specialist' or a yet to be agency 'founder' or CEO - will not only bring a much stronger probability of first time success on the exam but will also be a much stronger, highly diversified and highly employable BCBA.

And it is towards this deeper knowledge and understanding of Applied Behavior Analysis that I offer my BCBA Test Preparation and online Supervision services.

When folks who contact me identify such a history; when folks talk about ineffectual/limited previous BCBA supervisors; grad programs with 'nothing to offer' (as more than one Supervision and Test Prep client has so identified); limited opportunities to practice and apply clinical learning - more - scheduling retake after retake on each cycle is most unlikely to increase probability of success.

Another generic mock exam, rereads of text chapters and reviews of countless flash cards will not 'Break the Pattern' of BCBA exam retakes. Mock exams written as poorly as the BCBA exam which do not offer explanations of correct or incorrect responses will not only not be helpful but are far more likely to replicate the stress and frustration already experienced in earlier tries at the BCBA exam thereby sustaining the cycle of BCBA exam retakes. In fact, I typically do not recommend use of any online mock exams which do not routinely offer feedback and explanation.

Stop doing the same thing while expecting a different result.

Rebuild knowledge and capacity; get to know the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (it has a great deal to offer); relearn and better understand theoretical concepts and how they apply; practice with and on the non-content aspects of the BCBA exam...'tying it all together'...is how I can help.

Passing the BCBA Exam? Five Keys to Success. Review Strategies Matter...I Can Help

How many of you reading this, for instance, know that stimulus equivalence theory is a fundamental aspect of verbal operant training? Knowing the definition of stimulus equivalence theory is great but not understanding this basic connection and how it actually works not only reduces the likelihood of passing the exam but will minimize the clinician's subsequent ability to individually correct/revise verbal operant training which is not working for a given child.

So many folks who have had to repeat the BCBA exam - sometimes more than once or twice - all have the requisite zillion flash cards. And between retakes, so many basically return to reading and rereading those cards; retaking already frustrating mock exams; rereading Cooper and Bailey chapters as if it were a novel.

If these strategies have already not worked, why do so many highly motivated and hard working folks continue locked into this ongoing and deeply frustrating pattern?

So...rather than just rereading each Cooper chapter already read as if a novel (unless, of course, you are having trouble falling asleep at night!), I ask folks to start by reviewing chapter summaries and putting the information into three categories. That is...

  1. Information you know well and, for testing purposes, believe you will get correct no matter how related questions are worded or presented.

  2. Information you generally do - kind of - know but, for testing purposes, believe it will matter how related questions are worded or presented with regards to getting it correct. As a quick example, if an individual doesn't realize that that intensity of a reinforcer is the same as its magnitude...their probability of success will depend on the wording or presentation of the related question.

  3. Information you really don't know and/or just aren't really clear about which means, for testing purposes, the probability of being incorrect no matter how it is worded or presented is very high.

The next step of how to organize, develop and use this information is embedded in my BCBA Test Prep service model. And as a point of information, I also routinely include test preparation as part of BCBA Supervision and course mentor-ship/tutoring.

While having as many core definitions and concepts learned to a point of automaticity is very important so, too, is understanding how to use and combine these definitions into treatment and instructional planning. Rote memorization will neither pass the exam nor make a strong clinician.

And BCBA students who are unable to 'tie it all together' are also far less likely to pass the exam followed by falling into the stressful and expensive retake cycle.

While the BCBA exam often has a smaller number of 'definition' questions, most of the exam - and correctly so - expects a fundamental core behavioral analytic knowledge which is then tested by applications to and understanding of broader vignettes and concept questions. I've also had more than a few of my Test Prep students say they were surprised that 'autism' does not appear in BCBA exam questions. I always point out that the two 'As' in Applied Behavior Analysis do not stand for 'autism.'

With this, another first step for those with whom I work is to review Section 3 of the 4th Edition Task list which we then more actively address both during sessions as well as in my original mock exam process which I offer now only to my Test Prep students.

I work with many folks who have already had to schedule multiple retakes. So many tell me they want to ‘Break the Pattern’ in which they’ve been trapped. But 'Breaking the Pattern' means doing things differently to include differentiated test prep services which are individualized and structured for YOU.

And this is exactly what I do...

Effective BCBA Test Preparation must also and absolutely prioritize the many non-content aspects of the BCBA exam to include being able to select the correct answer when all, or most, seem correct...or incorrect; carefully reading each question without being sure you 'know' the answer BEFORE even looking at answers offered; recognizing the SPECIFIC question asked/response being requested; being able to narrow down to a correct answer when not certain; effectively reading and prioritizing different vignettes; being better able to pick out 'cue' words in vignette and scenario questions....and more...

Prepping for the BCBA Exam is More Than Content; Memorizing Alone

I will help you ‘Break the Pattern’ but may need more than a few weeks. I can and have offered important support over more abbreviated time periods with the least, so far, being two days before a scheduled exam. But having a bit more time is also important whenever that is possible.

Many of the folks who contact me to talk about test prep services have already tripped over the BCBA exam. Some of the folks who contact me then get frustrated, unfortunately, when I sometimes actively suggest they skip the next text cycle for additional time in our sessions and for guided study...to better understand and truly 'Break the Pattern.'

I can't specifically correct for weaker grad programs which have resulted in content and concept gaps; commonly held problems with experimental design/measurement; previously limited/less able BCBA supervision; inadequate practice/clinical application opportunities; sometimes more idiosyncratic learning styles; folks for whom English is not their first language; multiple attempts to pass this exam...more...in just a few weeks.

Why Do So Many First Time BCBA Test Takers Fail: What’s Going On

We need to figure out what's going on together; what you need individually to pursue; your most effective learning style and any relevant learning history; to be better able to calm very understandable and potentially interfering test anxiety.

As would any teacher, I need time to get to know you in order to better individualize and differentiate my services and instruction to you....to sometimes be able to help you catch up on content areas ranging from experimental design and measurement to behavioral concepts/systems and supervision.

I also actively support international and non-native English speakers working to pass an exam which, at best, can be confusing and for whom use of online mock exams and generic study materials can be still even more challenging.

'Breaking the Pattern' also means considering the background and depth of experience held by the BCBA supervisor; the BCBA test prep provider. Do you know who - exactly - is writing the online mock exams now being used? I bring 40 years of clinical experience across a huge range of human need and cultural priorities...and autism. I also have years of experience as college faculty; in developing curriculum and individual courses, providing comprehensive professional training and BCBA supervision and support.

If this is your first exam or if the basis for your retake is more immediate and/or acute, I can still help in the shorter term. But also remember that the goal is to pass; to get your BCBA over and DONE successfully…rather than becoming still more frustrated and stressed while spending money for the same mock exams and, then, for yet another retake.

I schedule weekly or biweekly for online sessions of about 90 minutes each and work to identify and address your specific content AND non-content needs. I remain available by email and/or text for questions/thoughts and feedback between sessions. I individualize and differentiate for EVERY test prep student while providing my own study materials to include PPTs, specific readings and other learning resources depending, of course, on the individual need of each test prep student.

Since this level of BCBA Test Prep review can come to a great many hours on and off line, I charge a very competitive 'block fee' with a base rate at $60 for 90 minute live weekly sessions and $90 for 90 minute live biweekly to include everything identified above. I am also available for and have scheduled more than one session per week for individuals by request. For twice per week sessions, my base block rate is $110. As always, I am open to discussion when individual circumstances and need exists.

I offer Test Prep services in much the same way I provide clinical behavioral services; that is, one student at a time!

Since our first conversation is without charge or obligation, there is no reason not to schedule a time to talk. Contact me through LinkedIn or my website and let me know when you'd like to schedule a first conversation by phone or video. I typically use VSee for sessions and will send you an 'invite' if you don't already have it on your computer.

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