Becoming Certified in Applied Behavior Analysis

Becoming certified in Applied Behavior Analysis can be a confusing process to navigate and is one of the most frequent topics that come up.

Certification in Applied Behavior Analysis is overseen by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) and ensures a minimum standard of knowledge and compliance with ethical codes of conduct. When working with children or adults with disabilities certification, even if not required, can provide you with tools and credibility many others won’t have. Certification can improve your effectiveness, and open career options you may not have previously considered.

Frequently Asked Questions

There’s a lot of information available on the internet about becoming certified in Applied Behavior Analysis. But little of it walks through the process and helps candidates know which certification is best or how to obtain it.

*Note that we do our best to keep this information up-to-date but the BACB makes changes regularly and is the sole source for information. This information is provided because it can be difficult to find this information from the BACB directly and was updated in May 2021.

  1. Do I need to be certified in Applied Behavior Analysis?
  2. Is Applied Behavior Analysis a good field to get into?
  3. Where is the highest demand for people with ABA training?
  4. What career options are available if I become certified in Applied Behavior Analysis?
  5. What level of certification do I need for a career in Applied Behavior Analysis?
  6. Is it difficult to become certified in Applied Behavior Analysis?
  7. How much does Applied Behavior Analysis certification cost?
  8. What is a passing score for the certification exam with the BACB?
  9. How can I find a BCBA supervisor?
  10. The BACB website is confusing. What do I need to do to become certified?

Do I need to be certified in Applied Behavior Analysis?

Depending on the level of certification desired, certification in Applied Behavior Analysis can be time-consuming and expensive. Although becoming a Registered Behavior Technician can be accomplished pretty easily (all that’s required is a high school diploma, a 40 hour training, a competency assessment and the exam), certification as a BCaBA, BCBA and BCBA-D requires college-level education in addition to supervised fieldwork and an exam.

While certification isn’t always necessary, it can be beneficial even when it’s not required. However maintaining certification may not be possible if you’re not able to meet the supervision requirements for the certification level you pursue. Unless you plan to work directly with clients under the supervision of a BCBA, it is probably not necessary to become certified as an RBT or even a BCaBA. However, BCBA certification status can be maintained without the supervision requirement so if you’re looking to advance your career or increase authority with your clients this certification is a good option.

For more information about the levels of certification in ABA, see our post What Certification do I Need to Work in ABA?

Before pursuing certification carefully consider your career goals. In some cases simply obtaining training in ABA will be sufficient; in others a certification will be more valuable.

Training in ABACertification in ABA
Improve effectiveness in current positionPromotion to more advanced position or pay raise
Apply ABA knowledge as a business ownerIncrease credibility with customers/clients
Manage staff outside the field of ABASupervise others in the field of ABA
Unable to receive ongoing supervision, if requiredAble to receive ongoing supervision, if required

See What career options are available if I become certified in Applied Behavior Analysis? below for which careers require certification.

Is Applied Behavior Analysis a good field to get into?

With the rise in children being diagnosed with autism, the demand for individuals with experience and certification in Applied Behavior Analysis is at an all-time high. For someone who loves the science of ABA and data collection who also has endless patience and compassion for the individuals you serve ABA is a great career option.

The Behavior Analytic Certification Board (BACB) published a report in 2020 that shows staggering demand for Behavior Analysts (US Employment Demand for Behavior Analysts: 2010-2020) .

With the demand for BCaBAs more than doubling between 2017 and 2018, and the demand for BCBAs expanding nearly as much, there’s no denying that Applied Behavior Analysis is a field that is in-demand.

That being said, not everyone will enjoy a career in ABA. It’s important to consider these aspects of the field before deciding to proceed down the path of working in Applied Behavior Analysis:

  • Applied Behavior Analysis is data-driven and collecting the data required can be a tedious and arduous task.
  • ABA is a science. As such, there is a considerable amount of terminology to learn and some concepts may be difficult to understand for some people.
  • Children with autism can be wonderful to work with and the experience of seeing the real difference you make in each client’s life can be extremely rewarding. However, you may find yourself working in very demanding situations, potentially with individuals who might become violent. While these experiences are the exception you should be aware of this possibility when considering the field.
  • This profession often takes a considerable amount of patience, understanding and empathy.

Whether Applied Behavior Analysis will be a good career for you will depend on your personal goals as well as your affinity for learning the science. It takes a special kind of person to love not just the science and data behind ABA, but to also truly empathize with the individuals they support.

Where is the highest demand for people with ABA training?

Although the highest demand for BCaBAs and BCBAs is found in California, both Pennsylvania and Georgia are seeing the largest growth in demand for these professionals between 2019 and 2020. The BACB posted these results in their report US Employment Demand for Behavior Analysts: 2010-2020 :

What career options are available if I become certified in Applied Behavior Analysis?

The field of Applied Behavior Analysis is growing quickly. Although ABA is often associated with treating children with autism, the study of ABA can help you understand the science behind behavior and motivation in a way that opens many career opportunities you may not have considered. Some careers may require additional degrees and/or certifications but ABA can provide a solid foundation for any of these careers. An asterisk indicates when certification in the field is required or recommended.

  • Teacher/special education teacher
  • School psychologist
  • Registered Behavior Technician (RBT)*
  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)*
  • BCBA Consultant*
  • BCBA Supervisor*
  • Clinical director*
  • Clinical research*
  • University professor*
  • Social work
  • Business consultant
  • Leader/manager
  • Organizational behavior management
  • Entrepreneur
  • Behavioral gerontology (working with seniors)*
  • Behavior sport psychology*
  • Environmental stability
  • Parent coach
  • Wellness coach
  • Health and fitness coach
  • Financial counseling
  • Animal trainer

When you understand what motivates behavior, you can apply this knowledge in virtually any setting. While obtaining certification isn’t necessary for all these careers, certification can help you feel confident in utilizing these skills and will demonstrate to others your commitment to the ethical implementation of ABA strategies. However, carefully understand the certification requirements before moving forward as many of the levels require ongoing supervision. For more information about the levels of certification in ABA, see our post What Certification do I Need to Work in ABA?

What level of certification do I need for a career in Applied Behavior Analysis?

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board offers 4 levels of certification. These levels require varying degrees of education, training and supervision and are listed below from the level that requires the least training to that which requires the most:

  1. Registered Behavior Technician (RBT)
  2. Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA)
  3. Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)
  4. Doctoral-level Behavior Analyst.(BCBA-D)*

*This is a distinction, not a separate credential.

Certification as an RBT requires the least investment of time and money to achieve, however RBTs are generally hired as entry-level positions and require ongoing supervision. Conversely, BCBA certification requires a master’s degree but doesn’t require supervision once certification is achieved. For more information about the levels of certification in ABA, see our post What Certification do I Need to Work in ABA?

The below table compares the requirements for certification as well as employment options for each level of certification.

RBTBCaBABCBABCBA-D
Training/educationHigh school diploma, 40-hour training, competency assessment, examBachelor’s degree, supervised fieldwork, examMaster’s degree,supervised fieldwork, exam Master’s degree,supervised fieldwork, exam
Ongoing supervision required?YesYesNoNo
Continuing education required?NoYesYesYes
Common career(s)Work directly with children and adults with disabilitiesWork directly with children and adults with disabilities, supervise RBTsSupervises RBTs and BCaBAs and for BCaBA and BCBA candidates who are working to obtain their supervised fieldwork experience hours. Develops behavior change plans and trains others to implement them.Same as BCBA
Expected salary*$17/hour$71,000/year$87,000/year$94,000

*This is a guide. Actual salary varies widely by location and position responsibilities. Values are according to Zip Recruiter as of 2021: RBT , BCaBA , BCBA , BCBA-D

Is it difficult to become certified in Applied Behavior Analysis?

Difficulty is a relative interpretation. Applied Behavior Analysis is a science. For individuals with an aptitude for analytical and logical thinking, learning the concepts will be easier than for someone whose strength lies in creative areas. That being said, few find the certification process to be easy.

RBT Certification

Certification as a Registered Behavior Technician is the easiest level to achieve, and this exam that has the highest pass rate. According to the BACB, 84% of candidates passed the exam on the first try (BACB Annual Data Report results pictured below).

Comparison of RBT exam results from 2016 to 2020.  Pass rate is around 87%

The exam consists of 75 multiple choice questions broken down into the categories listed below. Candidates have 90 minutes to complete the exam. See the Examination section of the RBT Handbook for more information,

RBT Examination question breakdown

RBT candidates are required to take a 40-hour training, pass a competency assessment with a BCBA and pass the exam. Often the biggest challenge these candidates face is finding training that actually prepares them for the exam and locating someone willing to do the competency assessment with them. (see our posts Become an RBT: Choose the Best 40-Hour Course for You! and How to Find a Great BCBA Supervisor for more information on these topics).

With an 84% pass rate on the first try, if you invest in a course that adequately prepares you, and you enlist a reliable BCBA for your competency assessment you should be lined up to pass the exam.

BCaBA and BCBA Certification

Certification as a BCaBA and as a BCBA is much more challenging. Both require college-level education (a Bachelor’s degree for a BCaBA and a Master’s for a BCBA), plus supervised field experience. Even with this, both BCaBAs and BCBAs have pass rates only in the 60s:

Comparison of BCaBA exam results from 2016 to 2020.  Pass rate is around 65%
Comparison of BCBA exam results from 2016 to 2020.  Pass rate is around 65%

Both the BCaBA and BCBA exams encompass 150 scored multiple choice questions. Candidates have 4 hours to complete the exam. See the Examination section of the BCBA or BCaBA Handbook for more information.

One of the primary challenges these candidates face is quality fieldwork supervision that prepares them for the exam. Often candidates discover that their supervised fieldwork only covers a limited scope of what they need to know in order to pass the exam and work in the field. See our posts BCBA Supervised Fieldwork-Required Documentation and How to Find a Great BCBA Supervisor for more on these topics.

How much does Applied Behavior Analysis certification cost?

Many individuals pursue certification through their employer and therefore may not incur fees directly, or may be able to get their supervised hours as part of their job. Others, however, opt to become certified before finding a position, or choose to get some or all of their supervision outside of their employer. While RBT certification can be achieved for as little as $300, BCaBA certification could cost over $5,000 above the cost of an undergraduate degree, and BCBA certification can tack on almost $7000 to a graduate or post-graduate degree.

The table below lists the expenses you will incur for certification at each level. Costs can vary widely depending on your selections and these charges should be used only as a guide (fees can be found in the applicable handbook: RBT , BCaBA and BCBA and are subject to change, figures as of 2021).

Type of ExpenseRBTBCaBABCBABCBA-D
Training or College Degree$0-1500 (average is $99)Varies – Bachelor’s RequiredVaries – Master’s RequiredVaries – Doctorate Required
Supervision/Competency Assessment$60-500 75 hours @ $65/hour ($4,875)100 hours @ $65/hour ($6,500)100 hours @ $65/hour ($6,500)
Exam$45$125$125$125
Exam Rescheduling and Cancellation$27-32$59-69$59-69$59-69
Exam Retake Application$45$120$140$140
Certification Fee$50$175$245$245
Preliminary Coursework EvaluationN/A$100$100$100
Preliminary Degree EvaluationN/AN/A$100$100

What is a passing score for the certification exam with the BACB?

Essentially you will need a score of 80% or higher to pass the exam. This means for RBTs you must answer at least 60 of the 75 questions correctly,, and for BCaBAs and BCBAs you must answer at least 120 of the 150 questions correctly.

The BACB explains their scoring as a scaled scoring method to determine passing scores. This is defined on their website as:

Scaled scores are created when the number of questions that candidates answer correctly is mathematically transformed so that the passing score equals a certain point on a scale starting at 0 and ending at a number that equals the highest possible score. For BCBA and BCaBA examinations, the scale starts and 0 and ends at 500, with the passing score equaling 400. For RBT examinations, the scale is 0 to 250, with the passing score equaling 200.

How can I find a BCBA supervisor?

The Behavior Analytic Certification Board (BACB) has strict requirements regarding candidate supervision. Often candidates obtain the required supervision hours through their employer, however if you don’t have this option, or want to find additional supervision the BACB provides a search for BCBA certificants who are willing to provide supervision.

The BACB provides this table of qualifications on their website :

BACB Overview of Required Supervision Qualifications by Role

Often candidates are able to get supervision for free as part of their current job. But many choose to pay for supervision instead. Why? There are many reasons you might opt to pay for supervision, such as if your current BCBA supervisor:

  • Isn’t teaching you what you need to know
  • Is relatively new to the field
  • Has different career goals than you have
  • Doesn’t provide the feedback you need, or provides it in a way that is difficult to put into practice
  • Lacks consistent communication

The BACB also recommends receiving supervision from multiple BCBA supervisors to obtain a well-rounded experience and to understand different perspectives within the field. See our post How to Find a Great BCBA Supervisor for more on this topic.

The BACB website is confusing. What do I need to do to become certified?

The BACB has all the information you need to become certified, however the site itself can be difficult to navigate, especially if you don’t know what you need to find. The images below are the BACB’s visual representation of the requirements for certification for each level (links open in a new tab). These will help you know the best search criteria if you are uncertain of what to do at each step.

Note that these requirements are changing effective January 1, 2022. See the BACBs Eligibility Requirements for more information.

The table below links to the most relevant content for individuals seeking certification (all links open in a new tab).

RBTBCaBABCBA
RBT HandbookBCaBA HandbookBCBA Handbook
RBT Task ListBCaBA Task ListBCBA Task List
RBT Documentation and ResourcesBCaBA Documentation and ResourcesBCBA Documentation and Resources
RBT Examination SpecificsBCaBA Examination SpecificsBCBA Examination Specifics
RBT 40-Hour Training PacketBCaBA Supervision RequirementsBCBA Supervision Requirements

See our posts below for more information:

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