Pre-Professional Experience Through Practicum and Field Experience

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One of the qualities of BCBA®-holders that makes them so appealing to potential clients and employers is the fact that they have demonstrated their ability to practice applied behavior analysis in the real world as a fundamental component of the certification process.

Pepperdine University
Online Master's in Applied Behavior Analysis
Simmons University
MS in Behavior Analysis online
University of Dayton
Online Master of Applied Behavior Analysis program
Capella University
MS in Applied Behavior Analysis
Saint Joseph's University
Online Bachelor's or Master's Behavior Analysis Degrees and Certificates
Regis College
Online Master of Science in Applied Behavioral Analysis

This is due to the experience requirement established by the BACB (Behavior Analyst Certification Board) for certification:

For BCBA® (Board Certified Behavior Analyst):

  • Supervised Independent Fieldwork – 1500 hours made up of 1-month supervisory periods with 2 supervisor contacts/observations per period – 5% of hours must be supervised


  • Practicum – 1000 hours made up of -month supervisory periods with 4 supervisor contacts/observations per period – 7.5% of hours must be supervised


  • Intensive Practicum – 750 hours made up of 1-month supervisory periods with 8 supervisor contacts/observations per period – 10% of hours must be supervised


  • Combination – An equivalent combination of practicum and fieldwork experience that would be subject to evaluation prior to being eligible to sit for the BCBA® Exam. Total hours permitted per 1-month observation period applies to all hours of all experience types combined. The percentages shown above still apply.

For BCaBA® (Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst):

  • Supervised Independent Fieldwork – 1000 hours, with a 1-month supervisory period and 2 supervisor contacts/observations per period – 5% of hours must be supervised


  • Practicum – 670 hours, with a 1-month supervisory period and 4 supervisor contacts/observations per period – 7.5% of hours must be supervised


  • Intensive Practicum – 500 hours, with a 1-month supervisory period and 8 supervisor contacts/4 observations per period – 10% of hours must be supervised


  • Combination – An equivalent combination of practicum and fieldwork experience that would be subject to evaluation prior to being eligible to sit for the BCaBA® Exam. Total hours permitted per 1-month observation period applies to all hours of all experience types combined. The percentages shown above still apply.

Applicable to Both BCBA and BCaBA

You will have to accumulate this experience, and have it certified by a current BCBA®-holder, before you will be allowed to take the National Behavior Analysis examination, which  is the final step to acquiring your credential.

Each 1-month period must consist of at least 20 hours, but no more than 130

It’s important to note that hours accumulated in any of these positions that are not behavior analysis related will not count against the total. Staff meetings or other similar activities, for example, are not counted.

At least 50 percent of the total time should be spent on activities that involve the direct implementation of behavior analysis therapy. The experience should be well-rounded and provide exposure to all aspects of working as an applied behavior analyst.

In the event you complete a certain number of hours that you believe should be counted, but your supervisor is unwilling to sign off on them, there is a provision to contest the service hours and have your experience evaluated by a neutral party at the BACB.

Hands-on Experience Under Qualified Supervision Prepares Students for Professional Roles

The rationale behind pre-certification fieldwork is that it allows you to accumulate experience while still under the careful supervision of an experienced BCBA®. This allows you to find your feet in the field without it being a sink or swim experience.

With all three types of pre-professional experience, you will be providing hands-on services identical to what you will be expected to deliver after certification. This includes:

  • Conducting assessment activities to determine the need and type of behavioral intervention required
  • Designing, implementing, and monitoring behavior analysis programs
  • Overseeing the implementation of behavior analysis programs by others
  • Attending planning meetings for clients
  • Conducting research into behavior interventions and the efficacy of particular techniques
  • Discussing behavior analysis programs with prospective clients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals
  • Maintaining accurate records and creating reports as required to comply with ABA standards of practice

You might even be asked to supervise other practitioners as part of implementing a behavior analysis program.

Although the specific services delivered will vary according to where the fieldwork is performed (ABA services performed at a school will vary considerably from services performed in an inpatient mental health facility, for example) the overall experience should closely mimic the average responsibilities of a professional ABA position.

Practicum and Intensive Practicum Experience Are Part of a Degree Program

Practicum exists as a component of some degree programs. It is a credited class that you enroll in like any other course in the program, but involves working directly with patients in real-world settings, such as clinics or schools.

Depending on the university, you may or may not have to look for practicum opportunities. Some colleges will assign you to appropriate placements, while others rely on you to locate opportunities. Almost all colleges have arrangements with various providers who have suitable positions and can provide placement assistance, however.

The class will be graded like any other and for the hours to count toward certification, you will have to complete the practicum with at least a C grade.

You are not usually required to take a practicum course, even if it is offered, if you have other options for acquiring the necessary experience. However, many programs arrange their practicum courses to align carefully with other coursework, designed to reinforce the learning experience.

The fewer number of hours required of an intensive practicum reflect the more focused level of supervision involved. With more direct training, you are expected to accumulate useful experience in fewer hours than with a regular practicum. Many schools only offer intensive practicum options as a way to conform with course timelines.

Supervised Field Experience is Independent Work Outside of an Educational Program

Supervised field experience differs from practicum in that it is fulfilled outside the scope of an academic program. You might fulfill supervised field experience by applying for and accepting a job as a behavior analyst, for example (in one of the states where licensing requirements do not prevent this), with the understanding that your hours will be accumulated toward obtaining your BCBA® after a year or so. Or you might apply for an internship or externship that many ABA providers offer as a way to help candidates fulfill certification requirements.

In most cases, supervised field experience is paid work. You will be meeting the needs of the provider by filling a legitimate treatment position as well as fulfilling your own needs in acquiring experience in the field.

Because they are not offered through schools, you are responsible for lining up your own supervised field experience positions. The BCBA® Certificant Registry can be a useful way for locating current BCBA®-holders in your area who may be able to fulfill supervisory requirements.

Supervision Requirements for Pre-Professional Experience Hours

During the experience period, you will have to have a qualified supervisor. The qualification they must meet entails:

  • Holding a current BCBA® or BCBA-D® or being a licensed or registered psychologist certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology in Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology.
  • Passing an 8-hour competency-based training on supervisory responsibilities.
  • Obtaining at least 3 hours of continuing education on supervision responsibilities during each certification cycle in addition to standard CEU in ethics required of all certificants.

The role of the supervisor extends beyond day-to-day interaction and offering advice in specific cases. The supervisor is also expected to be observing the student and making careful observations and assessments.

It’s considered good practice to have more than one supervisor over the course of your pre-professional experience to provide a broader exposure to multiple techniques and perspectives.

At the end of each supervisory period, your supervisors will have to fill out a BACB Experience Supervision Form. Both you and the supervisor will keep copies of this document; you will not have to submit the form unless the BACB specifically requests it, however.

On the form, the supervisor will have to attest that you have completed all the required hours for the type of experience you are accruing. They will also be expected to evaluate you on your performance in several different categories, including:

  • Timeliness – You will be expected to be on time for meetings and appointments.
  • Professionalism – Dress, speech, behavior, communications, and other expectations of medical professionals will be assessed.
  • Self-analysis – Part of working in behavior analysis includes self-assessment; you will be judged on your own ability to evaluate your skills and to request assistance when needed.
  • Sensitivity to non-behavioral professionals – Interaction with relatives and other healthcare providers is an important part of most ABA positions; your supervisor will assess your bedside manner with these people and rate it.
  • Skills-acquisition – Were you able to learn the skills you were being asked to practice at an acceptable rate and level of expertise?

In every category, the supervisor will compare your performance to the BACB’s Professional and Ethical Compliance Code, so it’s a good idea to review that before you begin your period of experience.

The BACB also encourages both supervisors and students to keep a close eye on the BACB website’s Upcoming Changes section and on the BACB Newsletter to stay abreast of current developments in the profession, which may be incorporated into experience expectations.

At the end of your practicum or fieldwork, the supervisor will be required to fill out the Experience Verification Form, which will confirm that you have completed the hours necessary to fulfill your experience requirement. One of these will be required from every supervisor you practiced under.

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