BACB Task List 4th vs 5th Edition: Identifying Changes for the BCaBA/BCBA Level

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) oversees certification of professionals in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). This includes Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs), Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts (BCaBAs), Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs), and Doctoral Level Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA-Ds). The BACB task list is a document published by the Board to ensure professionals obtain competency in the wide variety of skills required to be successful in the field. This list provides a foundation for supervision and training for the highest levels of certificants.

In an effort to keep up with the ever growing and changing needs of the field of ABA, the BACB updates this task list frequently. There are some important differences between the 4th and 5th editions of the BACB task list that you should be aware of. These changes will be in effect January 1, 2022.

Follow along by downloading your copies of both task lists:

BACB Task List, 4th Edition

BACB Task List, 5th Edition

For changes to the RBT task list read our post 3 Steps to Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) Certification.

Structure of the BACB Task List

The BACB simplified the structure of the task list. The 4th Edition offers 3 sections while the 5th Edition provides just 2. These changes reflect changes occurring within the field as the items in the 5th Edition apply to a broader application of behavior-analytic principles.

4th Edition5th Edition
Section 1Basic Behavior-Analytic SkillsFoundations
Section 2Client-Centered ResponsibilitiesApplications
Section 3Foundational Knowledge

The BACB further simplified the task list by reducing the number of subsections from 11 in the 4th Edition to only 9 in the 5th Edition. In total, the board eliminated 20 items from the list, moving from 115 items in the 4th Edition to 95 in the 5th Edition.

During this restructuring, the BACB removed some of the redundancy that occurred in the 4th Edition. For example, understanding and using verbal operants appears in both Section 1 and Section 3 of the 4th Edition, each as a distinct item. Yet in the 5th Edition they appear jointly as 1 item (B-14).

In the 4th Edition, the Board focused on skills needed for applying behavioral technology when providing service to clients; however, the 5th Edition seems to broaden that focus to include other applications. The structure of the 4th Edition flowed through what one might expect to be the life-cycle of a client, but the structure of the 5th Edition appears to follow the life-cycle of the field or at least of a professional within the field.

In the 5th Edition, the board tasks professionals with understanding the science behind the field to a far greater extent than in the 4th Edition. The entirety of Section A in the 5th Edition is new to the task list. Whereas the 4th Edition focused on applying, the 5th Edition combines application with understanding., a highly important distinction.

Impacts of the Changes

The primary impact of the changes to the BACB task list lies in supervision (read our post How to Find a Great BCBA Supervisor to learn more about BCBA supervision). If you structure your supervision to ensure you cover each item in the task list, you need to adjust your structure to reflect the changes. Many of the basic skills that you need to cover remain the same; however, the 5th Edition weighs more heavily in philosophy and core principles than the 4th Edition.

How the Board will present these changes during the exam will be seen by those in the first exam cycle following the release of the updated task list. Regardless of the changes to the exam, the changes in the Task List reflects an important evolution in the field. New certificants must understand the science behind the methods they use in order to continue to move the field forward.

Using the BACB Task List

BCBA candidates should use the Task List as a guide for studying for the certification exam. Candidates must know which task list their exam will be based on, otherwise they risk missing some important materials. If their supervision experience has not covered a component of the task list, the candidate must take the initiative to ensure they address this with their supervisor. Find resources and ask questions about the items not yet covered during supervision. Taking an active role within your supervision experience provides you with a strong foundation for your future career.

BCBA supervisors use the BACB task list to plan and structure supervision of BCBA candidates and BCaBAs. The Board publishes the Task List as a resource for candidates who will be taking the certification exam, so this is your guide to helping candidates successfully complete the exam. Ensure that the candidates you supervise understand each item on the task list in order to give them the best chance of experience success, not only on the exam but also out in the field.

Choose whether to follow the sequence of the Task List or to create your own sequence based on what makes sense to you and your candidates. The structure of the 5th Edition seems to lend itself more to a fluid supervision structure than did the 4th Edition. Continue to refer to the Task List to make sure your supervision is on track.