Becoming a BCBA

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

bSci21Media, LLC

As a fresh cohort of newly minted Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) celebrate their passing of the certification exam, knowing where to even start on the journey to becoming a BCBA can be confusing.   While a few pathways exist for gaining the credential, for our purposes we will assume you have a Bachelor’s degree and are looking to start a Master’s program and course sequence for the BCBA certification.  The latter is what the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) calls “Option 1.”

Pursue an acceptable graduate degree. The first thing you need to do is pursue an acceptable graduate degree from a university accredited by the Council for Higher Education.  If your institution is outside of the U.S., the institution must meet equivalent requirements.  According to the BACB, three degree types are approved: behavior analysis, education, and psychology.  Behavior analysis programs must state “behavior analysis” in the name or be accredited by the Association for Behavior Analysis International.  Education and psychology degrees must similarly state “education” or “psychology” in the program name, and meet other requirements.

Complete particular coursework in behavior analysis. Coursework must come from a qualifying institution whose content covers the Fourth Edition Task List. Generally, coursework comes from a Verified Course Sequence, and the BACB keeps a directory of all such institutions around the globe, in addition to exam pass rates for each institution to help you make an informed decision about which program to pursue.

Complete supervision hours. Next, you need a period of supervised practical experience in order to apply for the exam.  Supervisors can be found online by visiting the certificant registry.  Supervision is also commonly provided by ABA agencies to their employees.  If you currently work as a front-line staff, check to see if your agency provides such services.

The supervision process is outlined in the Experience Standards, which are available in several languages.  The Standards outlined required pre-experience training, supervisor qualifications, the supervision contract, and various aspects of supervision itself.  Overall, there are three types of supervision, of varying intensity levels.  For example, Supervised Independent Fieldwork requires 1500 experience hours, and at least one meeting every two weeks with your supervisor.  By contrast, Intensive Practicum is only 750 hours, but requires two meetings every week.

Apply and pass the BCBA exam. To take the exam, you have to apply.  In order to apply, you have to let the BACB know you have an acceptable degree, have completed acceptable coursework, and have completed your supervision hours.  The exam itself is offered four times a year at a variety of Pearson testing sites.  The exam currently has 150 multiple choice questions, and ten “pilot” questions, over 11 content areas.  A variety of companies offer exam preparation tools to help ensure that you will pass the exam the first time around, which can be found through a quick Google search.

But finally, a disclaimer.  This article is only meant as a way to point you in the right direction.  We cannot possibly cover all of the intricacies involved in the process of becoming a BCBA here.  Everyone’s situation is unique, their program and supervision experiences will all differ from one to another.

Moreover, the BACB regularly updates their certification requirements and it is up to you to stay updated.  For example, in 2022, any graduate degree will be acceptable in pursuit of BCBA certification.  Additionally, more supervision hours will be required across categories before you are eligible to sit for the exam.

Disclaimer: The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (“BACB”) does not sponsor, approve or endorse bSci21Media, Verbal Beginnings, the materials, information or sessions identified herein.

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which owns the top behavior analytic media outlet in the world,  bSci21Media aims to disseminate behavior analysis to the world and to support ABA companies around the globe through the Behavioral Science in the 21st Century blog and its subsidiaries, bSciEntrepreneurial, bSciWebDesign, bSciWriting, and the ABA Outside the Box CEU series.  Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar.  He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues.  Dr. Ward has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Ward is passionate about disseminating behavior analysis to the world and growing the field through entrepreneurship. Todd can be reached at [email protected]

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