Mock Exams for BCBA® Exam Prep - Tackling the Test Series
Students of behavior analysis have a seemingly unquenchable thirst for mock exams. In social media forums, questions about which exist, which are free, and which are best abound. But what is the function of mock exams? How are students using them, and is it helping? This blog will address some of these questions and others to help guide you on your study path.
By definition, true mock exams are exams that mimic the “real thing” in terms of what is asked (content), how it is asked (question types and difficulty), exam structure, and time limits. In this way, mock exams are intended to have a singular-assessment function, allowing students to determine how they may perform on a high-stakes exam without risk. In reality, however, these types of exams often serve multiple functions for students studying for certification exams in behavior analysis
Main function An Assessment Tool
First, let’s dive into the intended function of mock exams, that of an assessment tool. As stated previously, a quality mock exam will provide students with an experience as close to the real thing as possible so they can determine their level of performance given the content and conditions.
What score did you get on mock exams before passing the real thing?
Many students do want to know where they stand and use mock exams as an assessment tool to determine their readiness to test, identify strengths and weaknesses, and as a confidence measure. This is an appropriate use of mock exams, assuming the exam is truly a mock exam. If it is a good quality mock exam and is taken under exam-like conditions, the score received should be a good estimate of true exam performance. However, there are many assumptions and ways in which mock exams fail to meet this most basic function.
For a mock exam to serve a true mock-assessment function, the mock test should match the real test by having the same number of questions, the same type of questions, and similar difficulty of questions, and match the exam blueprint for content. These physical features of the mock exam are important, but the similarities should not end there. To be a true mock assessment, the time allotted and the environmental conditions should also be mimicked as closely as possible.
Some Mock Exams Fall Short as an Assessment Tool
Mock Exams go wrong in their main function as an assessment tool when they fail to match the real thing along some dimension. This may be an issue of the actual exam construction or in how the student takes it. Regarding structure, the failure here most often lies in providing the wrong type or difficulty of questions.
Exams should be created based on an exam blueprint that specifies the number and type of questions in each content area. For example, according to published BACB exam information, there are six questions (3.43%) from content area A of the TL or Test Content Outline, 32 questions (18.29%) from content area B of the TL, and so on. True mock exams will aim to match this blueprint and provide the same type of questions as displayed on the actual exam. Now this second point is tricky because exam questions are not released, at least not intentionally, and exam writers/reviewers practically swear a blood oath of secrecy. If anyone tells you they have actual exam questions, they are either lying to you or engaged in illegal and unethical behavior to get them. However, the fields of education and psychometrics, along with the task list, give insight into the type of questions one may encounter on an exam, and mock exams should attempt to mimic these types of questions. Some mock exams do this well. Others focus on quantity over quality and provide students with questions that are generally unhelpful in determining exam readiness.
The problem concerning the effectiveness of a mock exam as an assessment tool may also lie in how the student consumes or uses the exam. Few students sit down to take a mock exam with particular attention to truly simulating the testing conditions. How one can respond to 10 items presented on one’s phone may be significantly different than performance in a test center while trudging through 175 questions across four hours. Thus, the mock-to-actual exam score correspondence will likely be low and thus fail to function as a true mock assessment. Some mock exams aim to control for this by at least encouraging students to take the exam in a single, uninterrupted sitting and on a computer.
Secondary Function a Learning Tool
What mock exam did you take? I need one that helped you pass the real thing.
In my experience, many, if not most, students of behavior analysis use mock exams as a study tool. They take a mock exam and then review the questions to identify the errors they made. Mock exams can be helpful to help students learn content. However, mock exams can only function effectively as learning tools if they provide immediate, detailed, quality feedback. If this is not true, then the exam can only serve an assessment function, or students are left practicing the same errors again and again. Yikes!
Feedback also must be used appropriately. Students should use mock exam feedback (scores and written, specific-item feedback) to identify the types of errors they are making. Students should not be reviewing incorrect item feedback to understand why a specific question is wrong but rather to identify the type of errors and the content that needs reviewing (e.g., difficulty discriminating EOs from Sds). That information should then be used as a guide for what to study.
Where Mock Exams Fall Short as a Learning Tool
Mock exams fall short as learning tools if feedback is not provided or is not clear and complete. However, the biggest issue is in how the feedback is typically used. Unfortunately, students often review item feedback and stop there. Let me be clear. Mock exams are NOT meant to teach one all they need to know about a topic! After taking a mock exam, you should return to source materials (i.e., course materials, textbooks, SAFMEDS) to learn the content!
A Third Function Building Testing Skills
Any suggestions on how to keep stamina for 175 questions?
Guess how often you will be presented with a multiple-choice test question when performing your duties as a behavior analyst. For most of you, the answer is ZERO. That is not the job. It is not the actual skill used daily by behavior analysts. However, it is a necessary skill as a multiple-choice test is the last gate for entry into the profession.
For this reason, one needs to know how to answer multiple-choice test questions. Analyzing questions is a skill set. Skills are built. Mock exams can help by allowing practice at this skill. They can also help build testing stamina and reduce reactivity (anxiety) when presented with exam questions.
All Mock Exams Are Not Created Equally
A true mock exam is designed to mimic an actual exam. It should be equated in terms of content (blueprint), question types or structure, and difficulty. These structural characteristics should be met, but for a true “mock” experience, the exam should also allow for approximations to the exam experience, including format (i.e., digital vs. paper-and-pencil), exam time limits, etc. Unfortunately, many mock exams fail to approximate the “real thing.” Though some mock exam experiences may be beneficial, others may, at best, be a waste of time and money. At worst, they may result in students repeatedly practicing errors and even poorer performance.
From Whom Are You Learning?
I nailed it. I got amazing results on my Nth attempt. If you need to pass, I have what it takes for you to succeed.
As normal as it is to feel comradery with others who have struggled to pass the exam, be careful from whom you are LEARNING. BCBAs who struggled to pass the exam and required three, four, or seven attempts to pass may have some valuable insights about what doesn’t work, but their track record of personal performance should cause you pause when it comes to learning from them. Though they are now certified, remember that this only means they met the minimum competence for certification. It doesn’t mean they are an exam, test prep, or behavior analysis expert. Quite the opposite is likely true.
Similarly, if you take the exam and fail, reflect on what you did to prepare, as you will likely need to do something different before the next attempt. Continuing to do the same things time and again will likely lead to the same result.
Parting Tips for Mock Exams
Ask yourself why you are taking a mock exam. Identify the function each time you complete one.
Select mock exams that are a good match for the function.
Unless taking the exam purely for the assessment function (score), select exams that provide detailed, corrective feedback for every question.
If you take multiple mock exams, track your progress using this free tracker.
Use feedback appropriately and go back to source materials for real learning.
Quality over quantity. Don’t practice on crappy content.
Be aware of free and cheap items. Exam writing is hard. Good feedback writing is very hard. If it is cheap or free, be skeptical about the quality.
Expertise matters. Take tests written by experts. Learn from those who are good at what they do. Don’t mistake empathy and understanding for knowledge.
There are many ways to prepare for the BCBA® or BCaBA® exam. Mock exams are but one tool and there is much to consider when selecting and using mock exams for exam prep. A good understanding of their purpose, proper use, and an eye on quality will aid you in your study efforts.
To learn more about ABA Tech BOOST test prep products, including mock exams, practice question packages, free resources and more, visit our website or join our BOOST Facebook group.