BCBA® Certification & Requirements: A Step-by-Step Guide

Behavior analysts specialize in applied behavior analysis and help provide therapy for patients with developmental disabilities such as autism. To take further their career, many behavior analysts pursue their BCBA® certification. Learn more about this certification and the steps it takes to qualify here.

What Is BCBA® Certification?

The Behavioral Analyst Certification Board (BACB) developed the BCBA® certification in 1998 to provide consumers with a basic credential that identified qualified behavior analysis practitioners.

These professionals are independent, graduate-level practitioners who provide behavior-analytic services and supervise the work of:

Today, the BCBA® remains not only a distinguished credential but a requirement for licensure in many states, and many more have established autism insurance mandates that require behavior analysts to hold the BCBA®designation for insurance reimbursement purposes.

Even in states with no national certification requirements, the BCBA® remains a highly sought-after credential for applied behavior analysts and a common requirement among employers.

How Do You Qualify to Take the BCBA® Exam?

The BACB recognizes three acceptable pathways to qualify to take the BCBA® exam and earn BCBA® certification:

  1. Coursework: Earn an acceptable graduate degree from an accredited university, complete acceptable graduate coursework in behavior analysis, and complete a defined period of supervised practical experience
  2. Faculty Position and Research: Earn an acceptable graduate degree, hold a full-time faculty position in behavior analysis that includes research and teaching and complete a defined period of supervised practical experience
  3. Postdoctoral Work: Hold an acceptable doctoral degree that was conferred at least 10 years ago, and have at least 10 years of post-doctoral practical experience

Read on to learn more about BCBA® requirements and how to become a BCBA®.

Earn an Acceptable Graduate Degree
Complete Experience Requirements
Pass the BCBA® Examination
Maintain BCBA® Certification

Step 1. Earn an Acceptable Graduate Degree

You must earn a master’s or higher degree in an acceptable field of study from a qualifying institution to qualify for your BCBA® certification.

Qualifying Fields of Study

The BACB recognizes three acceptable fields of study:

  • Behavior Analysis
  • Education
  • Psychology

All master’s and doctoral degree programs accredited by the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) meet this requirement, as do programs that include a BACB-Verified Course Sequence (VCS). (Note: All ABAI-accredited programs include the VCS).

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Qualifying Graduate Degrees

Acceptable graduate programs include master’s and doctoral degrees accredited by the ABAI or master’s and doctoral degrees and post-master’s certificate programs with a BACB-VCS. You must earn a C or better in your graduate-level courses to qualify for BCBA® certification.

You may also meet degree requirements by completing a BACB-VCS independent of your graduate program, provided the VCS is offered by the department in which your graduate program was housed and was included in the degree program’s official plan of study.

You may be able to satisfy the BACB’s educational requirements if the program you complete is not ABAI-accredited and does not include a BACB-VCS, provided you meet BACB course content allocation requirements and receive approval from the BACB. If you are unsure whether your program meets BACB requirements, you can request a Preliminary Review by completing an application for coursework evaluation.

The review process requires submitting the coursework at least 90 days before you submit your exam application. The cost of this evaluation is $100. All coursework used to qualify for BCBA® certification must be taken for academic credit.

If you don’t seek a preliminary review, your program will be reviewed by the BACB at the time of application.


Step 2. Complete Experience Requirements

You must accrue no less than 20 but no more than 130 hours (including supervisory hours) of experience requirements each month. The BACB strongly encourages BCBA® candidates to have multiple experiences, with different populations and in different settings.

Activities should include:

  • Conducting assessments related to behavioral interventions (functional assessments, staff performance assessments, stimulus preference assessments, etc.)
  • Designing, implementing, and monitoring behavior-reduction and skill-acquisition programs
  • Overseeing the implementation of behavior-analytic programs
  • Training and designing behavioral systems and performance management

The BACB recognizes three categories of acceptable experience for BCBA® requirements:

  • Practicum (part of a graduate program)
  • Intensive Practicum (part of a graduate program)
  • Independent Fieldwork (separate from a graduate program)

A combination of different experience types is acceptable.

Practicum/Intensive Practicum

Practicums/intensive practicums require explicit oversight and involvement by a VCS. These may only be offered through a VCS.

Both the practicum and intensive practicum require a passing grade (C or better) in all experience courses.

  • A practicum requires the completion of 1,000 hours of experience, with a one-month supervisory period during which you must have at least 4 contacts/observations with your supervisor.
  • An intensive practicum requires the completion of 750 hours of experience, with a one-month supervisory period during which you must have at least 8 contacts/observations with your supervisor.

Supervised Independent Fieldwork

If you complete a program that does not offer a practicum, or if you choose to complete an experience independent of your program, you must meet the requirements for supervised independent fieldwork.

  • A supervised independent fieldwork experience requires the completion of 1,500 hours of experience, with a one-month supervisory period during which you must have 2 contacts/observations with your supervisor.
  • In a supervised independent fieldwork experience, you are responsible for securing an appropriate experience and obtaining the necessary supervision.

An Important Note About Preparing for the Experience Requirements of BCBA®Certification

You cannot begin accumulating your experience hours until you:

  • Begin your qualifying coursework: You can begin your practicum/independent field experience as soon as your graduate program commences, and you attend your first class.
  • Review the BACB Experience Standards and Pass the Experience Standards Training Module: You must complete experience that aligns with the BACB’s Experience Standards. It is best to review experience standards with your supervisor before beginning your experience. This document includes the Experience Supervision Form, which must be completed at least once during each supervision period, and the Experience Verification Form, which must be completed after the experience is complete.
  • Secure a Qualifying Supervisor (Independent fieldwork only): When completing an independent fieldwork experience, you must ensure that your supervisor meets at least one of the following requirements:
    • BACB in good standing
    • An approved instructor of a BACB-VCS
    • A licensed psychologist certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology in Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology who was tested in ABA

You can view the Certificant Registry to locate BCBA®s under whom you can complete your experience requirements.

Step 3. Pass the BCBA® Examination

The BCBA® exam consists of 150 multiple-choice questions that are based on the BACB’s Fourth Edition Task List and the following content areas:

Basic Behavior Analytic Skills

  • Measurement
  • Experimental Design
  • Behavior Change Considerations
  • Fundamental Elements of Behavior Change
  • Specific Behavior Change Procedures
  • Behavior Change Systems

Client-Centered Responsibilities

  • Identification of the Problem
  • Measurement
  • Assessment
  • Intervention
  • Implementation, Management, and Supervision

The exam also includes up to 10 ungraded pilot questions. You will have four hours to complete the exam. Please also refer to the general examination rules provided by the BCBA® before your exam.

You will be notified of your test results within 45 days of the administration window through the BACB Gateway. You will only receive notice that you have passed the exam (no score is provided).

Retake the BCBA® Exam

Authorization from the BCBA® to take the exam is valid for up to two years after your initial application. If you do not pass the BCBA® exam, you can complete an application to retake the exam through the BACB Gateway during this two-year period.

The BACB will send email approval within 24 hours of completing the application and paying the $140 re-take fee. The $125 exam fee must be paid to Pearson VUE each time the exam is taken.

If you do not pass the exam during this time frame, you must submit a new application with the BACB.

Step 4. Maintain BCBA® Certification

Your BCBA® credential is based on a two-year renewal cycle. To maintain your BCBA® certification, you must:

  • Meet continuing education requirements
  • Complete necessary renewal forms, submit renewal fees, and complete all attestations and reporting requirements through the BACB Gateway
  • Adhere to the BACB’s Ethical Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts, which outlines the professional and ethical requirements for all BACB applicants.

Continuing Education Requirements for BCBA® Certification

Biennial certification requires the completion of at least 32 units of acceptable continuing education units (CEUs), 4 hours of which must be in ethics content. The cost of biennial renewal is $215.

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Acceptable continuing education can be satisfied through the following categories:

  1. College or university coursework (all CEUs can come from this type)
  2. CE issued by approved continuing education providers (all CEUs can come from this type)
  3. Non-approved events (25 percent of CEUs can come from this type)
  4. Instruction of Category 1 or 2 continuing education event (50 percent of CEUs can come from this type)
  5. BACB-issued CEU (25 percent of CEUs can come from this type)
  6. Pass the BACB® exam again (satisfies 100% of CE requirements) *
  7. Scholarly activities (25 percent of CEUs can come from this type)

At least 25 percent of the total CEUs must come from Categories 1 and 2. A maximum of 75 percent of the total CEUs can come from Categories 3, 4 5, and 6.

You may also take and pass the BCBA® exam in lieu of CEUs. Taking and passing the BCBA® exam meets all continuing education requirements. The cost of taking the exam for continuing education is $130.

Note: If you fail the exam at the end of your certification cycle, you will no longer be BCBA® certified.

At the end of each recertification cycle, you must enter the completion of 32 hours of acceptable continuing education, including at least 4 hours in ethics, along with all necessary renewal forms and the $215 renewal fee into your BACB Gateway account.

Frequently Asked Questions: BCBA® Certification and Requirements

While this step-by-step guide is comprehensive, you may still have questions about receiving BCBA® certification. Here are some of the frequently asked questions about this discipline:

How long does it take to get a BCBA® certification?

Because you need several years of both higher education and work experience to meet BCBA® requirements, the process can take between 6-10 years, depending on your undergraduate and graduate studies and relevant experience.

 How much is a BCBA® certification?

There are various costs associated with receiving BCBA® certification. Not including the cost of undergraduate and graduate studies (which can vary widely), the expenses you can expect include:

  • Application for coursework evaluation – $100
  • BCBA® exam application fee – $245
  • Cost of the exam – $125 (each time you take the exam)
  • Re-take fee (if necessary) – $140
  • Biennial renewal – $215
  • Cost of taking the BCBA® exam for continuing education (in lieu of CEUs) – $120

How many CEUs are needed for BCBA® certification?

Biennial certification requires the completion of at least 32 units of acceptable continuing education units (CEUs), 4 hours of which must be in ethics content.

What can you do with a BCBA® certification?

There are so many successful and rewarding careers in ABA you can pursue as a behavior analyst with BCBA®certification. Some of these careers and other jobs related to applied behavior analysis include:

  • Serving as a consultant for large corporations that provide services to children with autism
  • Supervising registered behavior technicians or direct-care therapists
  • Working with school districts to provide behavior analyses for children with special needs
  • Supervising or managing an organization that provides applied behavior analysis therapy
  • Working as an Insurance Care Advocate for an insurance company that focuses on this valuable therapy
  • Assist special education lawyers

Take Your Career Further with BCBA® Certification

If you are interested in pursuing a career as a behavior analyst, you can open more doors and pursue more career options with a BCBA® certification. Start your journey today to find an applied behavior analysis master’s program.