The ABA Certification Guide

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is a treatment approach that focuses on the science of behavior—including the circumstances and consequences that govern it. This discipline teaches individuals how to change their behavior in order to achieve more desirable social outcomes and lead improved lives. It may be helpful for a range of clients, however, it is often used in the treatment of individuals with intellectual disabilities or autism.

In order to provide ABA therapy services, you’ll need to be board-certified. There are several levels of ABA certification designated by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB), a nonprofit organization that sets national standards of practice. This guide will provide an overview of the different certification options available.

Registered Behavior Technician (RBT)

A Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) is a paraprofessional within the field of ABA, meaning they work directly under the supervision of an RBT supervisor or an RBT requirements coordinator. RBTs assist in delivering ABA services to a variety of individuals, in addition to performing tasks such as data collection. You may find them in early childhood development centers, schools, medical centers and even mental health facilities. They typically meet certain eligibility requirements that include the completion of a 40-hour training course and the passing an examination. RBTs may also meet benchmark requirements to maintain their certification.

How to Become an RBT

There are several common steps you typically meet to become an RBT, according to the BACB’s Registered Behavior Technician Handbook [PDF, 1.8 MB], though the path you take may differ. Applicants are typically at least 18 years old or older and hold a high school diploma (or equivalent). You may also pass a background check. As previously stated, you’ll typically complete a 40-hour training course. Training may teach you necessary skills and competencies in areas such as measurement, assessment, skill acquisition, behavior reduction, documentation and reporting, and professional conduct.

Training is often overseen by a supervisor who meets BACB qualifications. The BACB does not provide training, but some agencies provide in-house training to new hires. There are training programs that are available online and in-person. Some universities may offer coursework that embeds RBT training into the curriculum, which may help you to meet training requirements. You may provide documentation of your training before taking the RBT competency examination.

The RBT Exam

To become a certified RBT, you typically take and pass the RBT certification examination. The exam is based on national standards set by the BACB. The test assesses knowledge of aspiring behavior technicians, and consists of multiple choice questions, which you’ll be given 90 minutes to complete. Exams are given at Pearson VUE test sites, and applicants may pay a $50 application processing fee and a $45 exam appointment fee.

RBT Exam questions are based on material covered in the 40-hour RBT training, and cover topics related to six key content areas—measurement, assessment, skill acquisition, behavior reduction, documentation and reporting, and professional conduct and scope of practice.

Test results will be given on-site upon completion of the exam.

Maintaining the RBT Certification

To maintain your RBT certification you may meet certain requirements that help ensure you remain proficient in performing key skills. You often maintain supervision requirements, adhere to the RBT code of ethics, meet self-reporting requirements, and complete an annual RBT renewal application.

You typically also take and pass the Renewal Competency Assessment [PDF, 348 KB] every year in order to keep your certification active. The exam is usually completed within 45 days of the RBT certification expiration date and can be administered in-person, online, or through recorded videos. The exam is often given by a qualified, BACB certified professional who has completed the necessary supervisor training requirements.

Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA)

The Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) is an undergraduate-level certification in the field. BCaBAs provide a range of behavior analysis services to clients under the supervision of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). Though BCaBAs are not permitted to practice without supervision, they are permitted to supervise RBTs, which may be part of their role. BCaBAs provide services such as collecting and analyzing data related to patient behavior, creating intervention plans, and implementing treatment. BCaBAs use scientific approaches from ABA to help patients lead more fulfilling lives by changing their behavior.

How to Become a BCaBA

There are several common steps to become a BCaBA. The BACB will be implementing changes for eligibility requirements beginning on January 1, 2022, so if you plan to become a BCaBA after that date, it’s important to research whether or not the changes will affect your eligibility. The requirements discussed in this guide are based on current BACB guidelines for becoming a BCaBA.

Common steps to become a BCaBA involve education and supervised practice in the behavior analysis field and an examination. Applicants typically have earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. You’ll typically complete behavior-analytic coursework that meets requirements set by the BACB. Coursework is part of BACB’s Verified Course Sequence (VSC). If you don’t know if your coursework meets these requirements, you can request a preliminary coursework evaluation carried out by the BACB.

The path to becoming a BcaBA also requires you to complete supervised practice in the behavioral analysis field, and that is typically documented and approved by the BACB. After meeting these eligibility requirements, you may then take and pass an examination.

The BCaBA Exam

Become a certified BCaBA, typically involves taking and passing the BCaBA certification examination. The exam is based on national standards set by the BACB in its Fourth Edition Task List [PDF, 1.3 MB], and comprises three main sections—Basic Behavioral-Analytic Skills, Client-Centered Responsibilities, and Foundational Knowledge.

The test consists of 140 multiple choice questions which you’ll be given four hours to complete. Exams are given at Pearson VUE test sites, and applicants pay a $175 certification application fee as well as a $125 exam appointment fee.

Maintaining the BCaBA Certification

To maintain your BCaBA certification, there are several common steps. You may complete ongoing continuing education, which may help you expand your knowledge and stay up to date on developments in the field. Continuing education requirements include completing at least 20 continuing education units within each two-year recertification cycle.

Additionally, you typically adhere to the BCaBA code of ethics and meet self-reporting requirements. The fee for a renewal application is $145 as of September 2020.

Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)

A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) is a graduate-level certification in the field of ABA. BCBAs are practitioners who work independently, to provide a range of services to clients in order to help them modify their behaviors, meet behavior-related goals, and improve their overall quality of life. BCBAs are permitted to supervise RBTs and BcaBAs—acting as a supervisor may be part of their everyday responsibilities depending on the role and employer.

BCBAs may provide services and implement treatment plans for children, adolescents, and adults suffering from behavior issues. They may work in a range of settings including schools, hospitals, group homes, and assisted living facilities, and they may also advise caregivers on how best to implement behavioral changes.

How to Become a BCBA

To become a BCBA, there arel common steps to help ensure you are prepared for a career in the field. As of January 1, 2022, the BACB will be changing some of its eligibility requirements. The requirements discussed below reflect the current BCBA guidelines, so if you plan to become a BCBA after January 1, 2022, be sure to look into any changes that may affect your eligibility.

Becoming a BCBA may require you to have obtained a graduate degree in applied behavioral analysis, education, or psychology from an accredited university. You may typically complete appropriate coursework in line with the Association for Behavior Analysis International’s Verified Course Sequence. If you aren’t sure if your coursework qualifies, you may request a preliminary coursework evaluation prior to submitting an application for this certification. You may also complete supervised practice in the behavioral analysis field which may be documented and approved by the BACB. After meeting these eligibility requirements, you may take and pass an examination.

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There are two other potential pathways to becoming a BCBA. One includes having an acceptable graduate degree and at least three years of experience as a full-time faculty member at an accredited university, teaching and researching behavioral analysis. The other includes having at least 10 years of post-doctoral experience in the field.

The BCBA Exam

Once you’ve met the eligibility requirements described above, you may take and pass the BCBA certification examination. Much like the exam to become a BCaBA, the test consists of three main sections—Basic Behavioral-Analytic Skills, Client-Centered Responsibilities, and Foundational Knowledge.

You will be given four hours to complete 160 multiple choice questions. Exams may be taken at Pearson VUE test sites, and applicants may pay a $245 certification application fee as well as a $125 exam appointment fee.

Maintaining the BCBA Certification

To maintain your BCBA certification, you may meet several requirements to help ensure you remain proficient in key skills and competencies necessary to practice effectively. You may complete ongoing continuing education, which may help you expand your knowledge and stay up to date on developments and best practices in the field. Continuing education requirements include completing at least 32 continuing education units within each two-year recertification cycle.

If you will be supervising BCaBAs, RBTs, or trainees pursuing certification, you may complete specific ongoing supervisory training as well as complete certain continuing education units related to working in a supervisory capacity.

Additionally, you may also adhere to the BCBA code of ethics and meet self-reporting requirements to apply for renewal every two years.

Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral (BCBA-D)

The Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral (BCBA-D) is a doctoral-level certification in the field. Though the designation of BCBA-D may be given to those with doctoral degrees in behavioral analysis, it’s not a separate certification from BCBA and it does not grant those with the certification any additional privileges beyond those of a BCBA. BCBA-Ds function in the same capacity as BCBAs, meaning they work as independent practitioners who provide behavior-analytic services.

How to Become a BCBA-D

Some common steps to become a BCBA-D may include active BCBA certification and meeting one of the three additional requirements detailed below.

  • First certification pathway: Complete a doctoral degree from a program accredited by the Association for Behavioral Analysis International.
  • Second certification pathway: Complete a doctoral degree from a non-accredited program and conduct a behavior analysis-related dissertation. If you pursue this pathway you may also have either completed four or more courses related to behavior-analytics, received formal advising or supervision from a faculty member who meets requirements set by the BACB, or may have published at least two peer-reviewed journal articles that are behavior-analytic in nature.
  • Third certification pathway: Complete relevant postdoctoral experience and to have published at least two peer-reviewed journal articles that are behavior-analytic in nature.

Maintaining the BCBA-D Certification

To maintain your certification as a BCBA-D, you may meet the same recertification requirements as a BCBA. You may pay an additional $75 on top of the fee associated with renewing a BCBA certification. You may change your certification from BCBA-D to BCBA at the time of renewal by contacting the BACB.

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Last updated: October 2020.