How to Become an Applied Behavior Analyst in Tennessee

The Applied Behavior Analyst Licensing Committee (ABALC), under the Tennessee Department of Health, is responsible for issuing licenses to applied behavior analysts in the state.

To be eligible for ABA licensure, you must earn a committee-approved national certification, have at least a master’s degree in behavior analysis, education, psychology or a closely related field, and complete a period of pre-professional supervised experience. Certain graduate schools include approved supervised experience as part of their behavior analysis master’s program curriculum.

The ABALC has designated the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) as being the national organization that sponsors the credential you must earn to be eligible for licensure:

The ABALC also licenses assistant behavior analysts, requiring them to hold a bachelor’s degree and the Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA®) credential.

Follow these steps to become licensed in Tennessee:

Earn a Master’s or Higher Degree in a Behavior Analysis, Education or Psychology
Complete an Approved Period of Supervised Experience
Pass the BCBA® Certification Exam
Apply for Licensure with the Applied Behavior Analyst Licensing Committee

Step 1. Earn a Master’s or Higher Degree in Behavior Analysis, Education or Psychology

Qualifying to take the BCAB certification exam starts with earning a master’s or doctorate degree in a BACB-accepted area of study: Behavior Analysis, Education, or Psychology.

Meeting BACB’s curriculum requirements would involve completing a program that:


  • Meets the BACB’s Course Content Allocation requirements (programs without a pre-verified course sequence (VCS) must undergo a syllabus evaluation through BACB to verify the required coursework was included)

Once you’ve been admitted to a master’s in behavior analysis program you will study topics that include:

  • Legal issues
  • Behavior change theories and methodologies
  • Single subject research designs
  • Ethical issues
  • Skinner’s writings on applied and theoretical behavior analysis
  • Conducting behavioral assessments
  • Applied behavior analysis introduction
  • Advanced behavior analysis

The most comprehensive ABA master’s programs require a thesis and include a practicum. In your thesis you develop a unique concept based on your cumulative learning and field experiences.

Master’s Program Prerequisites

Some behavior analyst master’s programs accept a bachelor’s degree in any field, while others may require you to have an undergraduate degree in a related field like:

  • Education
  • Counseling
  • Psychology
  • Special education
  • Social work

Examples of undergraduate course prerequisites include:

  • Research methods
  • General psychology
  • Applied behavior analysis
  • Conditioning and learning
  • Developmental psychology

Grandfathered Applied Behavior Analysts

If you have been working as an ABA in Tennessee on or before July 12, 2012 then you can substitute BACB certification for approval you may have already recieved through the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD). Under theses circumstances, ABAs would meet DIDD education requirements rather than the BCBA®’s requirements.

Education Requirements for Assistant Applied Behavior Analysts

Assistant ABAs must earn the BACB’s Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA®) credential by passing the BCaBA® exam. Qualified exam candidates hold a bachelor’s degree in behavior analysis, psychology, or education.

Undergraduate degrees must adhere to the BACB’s coursework requirements.

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Step 2. Complete an Approved Period of Supervised Experience

The BACB also requires you to meet its supervised experience requirements to qualify for the BCBA® exam.

Qualifying supervised experience will include these elements:

  • Development of performance expectations
  • Behavioral skills training, observation, and delivery of performance feedback
  • Modeling of ethical, professional, and technical behavior
  • Guidance of behavioral case decision making, conceptualization, and problem solving
  • Review of written materials like reports, behavior programs, and data sheets
  • Evaluation and oversight regarding the effects of the behavioral service delivery and supervision
  • Up to half of the supervision can be conducted in small groups
  • The supervised experience must be conducted according to a written contract pre-established between you and your supervisor
  • The supervised experience must be well documented, including hours and activities

Master’s programs that incorporate BACB-approved practica Practica and intensive practica are two defined types of supervised experience that meet the BACB’s requirements. These are included as part of the curriculum in many ABA master’s programs, and must meet these minimum guidelines:

  • Practicum – 1,000 hours (automatically included in master’s programs with a BACB-approved practicum)


  • Intensive practicum – 750 hours (automatically included in master’s programs with a BACB-approved intensive practicum)

Supervised Independent Fieldwork – This is another method for satisfying BACB’s supervised experience requirements. If you attend a master’s program with a practicum that is not already pre-approved by the BACB, then you must document 1,500 hours of independent fieldwork to be eligible to sit for the exam.

Alternatives to supervised experience – You would also be eligible to take the BCBA® examination if you meet either of these conditions:

  • You have a qualifying graduate degree and a full-time research/teaching faculty position in behavior analysis
  • You’ve had a doctoral degree for 10 years and have 10 years of practical experience in behavior analysis

Supervised Experience Requirements for Assistant Behavior Analysts

The standards enforced for supervised experience for assistant behavior analysts are the same as those for applied behavior analysts.

Completing any ONE of the following will qualify you to take the BCaBA® exam:

  • Practicum – 670 hours of experience
  • Intensive practicum – 500 hours
  • Supervised independent fieldwork – 1,000 hours

BCaBA®s are required to be supervised for two percent of all behavior-analytic service hours performed each month throughout their career, and for five percent during the first 1,000 hours of post-certification practice.

Step 3. Pass the BCBA® Certification Exam

Once you have an appropriate graduate degree and fulfill the experience requirement you will be eligible to take the BCBA® examination.

You can apply for the exam online with the BACB. The exam is proctored through BACB’s partner Pearson VUE, and you’ll also need to register with them. This includes selecting an examination date, and choosing a testing location.

There are seven Pearson VUE testing centers in Tennessee:

  • Brentwood near Nashville – 5200 Maryland Way, Suite 360
  • Nashville – 545 Mainstream Drive, Suite 410
  • Chattanooga – 5726 Marlin Road, Suite 402
  • Knoxville – 135 Fox Road, Suite C
  • Memphis – 6055 Primacy Parkway, Suite 130
  • Memphis – 2670 Union Ave. Extended, Suite 820
  • Johnson City – 121 Boone Ridge Drive, Suite 1006

Board Certified Behavioral Analyst (BCBA®) Exam Content

You’ll have four hours to complete this computer-based exam. It is comprised of 150 graded multiple-choice questions with four possibilities per question. Questions cover two main areas and are divided into these categories:

Basic behavior analytic skills

  • Fundamental elements of behavior change – 26 questions
  • Measurement – 15 questions
  • Specific behavior change procedures – 15 questions
  • Experimental design – 11 questions
  • Behavior change systems – 8 questions
  • Behavior change considerations – 3 questions

Client centered responsibilities (includes at least two ethics questions per section):

  • Intervention – 23 questions
  • Problem identification – 14 questions
  • Management, implementation, and supervision – 14 questions
  • Assessment – 12 questions
  • Measurement – 9 questions

Examination Requirements for Assistant Behavior Analysts

The process of applying for, scheduling, and taking the BCaBA® exam, are similar to those for the BCBA® exam. You are eligible for this once you complete your requisite education and supervised experience.

Grandfathered Applied Behavior Analysts

If you have been working as an ABA in Tennessee on or before July 12, 2012 then you are not required to take the BCBA® exam if you are using approval by the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) to qualify for state licensure.

Step 4. Apply for State Licensure with the Applied Behavior Analyst Licensing Committee

The current process of becoming a behavior analyst is relatively new, with the Applied Behavior Analyst Licensing Committee (ABALC) being created by state law in 2014. While the regulations establishing this licensing process for behavior analysts has been firmly established by legislation, the exact procedure of submitting an application is in the process of being finalized by the Tennessee Department of State.

All Applicants – Applied Behavior Analysts and Assistant ABAs

Currently you are instructed to contact the ABALC for any updates on the license application. Once an application form is available you can download from its website or request a copy to be sent to you:

Applied Behavior Analyst Licensing Committee

665 Mainstream Drive, 2nd Floor
Nashville, TN 37243
(615) 741-5735

The content of your behavior analyst license application has already been established by law, and will include:

  • Recent passport-style photograph
  • Copy of your birth certification showing you’re at least 21 years old
  • Request the BACB to submit proof of your current certification to the committee – ABAs approved by the DIDD on or before July 12, 2012 can use their DIDD approval to substitute for BCBA® certification
  • 2 recent professional references
  • Criminal background check
  • Attestation of any criminal behavior or convictions
  • Those applying for an assistant behavior analyst license must also submit proof of ongoing supervision by a BCBA® or BCBA®-D

Out-of-State License by Reciprocity

If you are an applied behavior analyst or assistant ABA licensed in another state you can be eligible for a Tennessee license if the requirements in your home state meet the requirements specified for licensure in Tennessee. You are not required to obtain two letters of recommendation if you are applying for a license based on reciprocity.

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License Renewal – ABAs and Assistant ABAs

All licenses are valid for two years. The ABALC will mail you a renewal form before your license expires. To be eligible for renewal you must have maintained a clean criminal record and ethical practice history. Assistant ABAs must show proof of ongoing supervision.

You must also show proof that your BACB certification – BCBA®, or BCaBA® – is current. That means renewing your BACB license every two years through that agency. Doing this requires completing the following amounts of continuing education bianually:

  • Applied behavior analysts (those with BCBA® certification) – 32 units of approved continuing education
  • Assistant behavior analyst (those with BCaBA® certification) – 20 units of approved continuing education and maintenance of supervision requirements

At least four hours of continuing education must relate to ethics. Approved continuing education can include:

  • College and university coursework
  • Scholarly activities
  • Retaking and passing the certification exam
  • Education from approved providers
  • Teaching or instruction activities

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