Self-Management Strategies for BCBA® Exam Prep - Tackling the Test Series

Part 3 


Part 1: Intro to the Series

Part 2: Mock Exams for BCBA® Exam Prep

Part 4: Study Methods that Work

Part 5: Beyond Rote Memorization

Part 6: Test Taking Strategies

BCBA® Exam Prep Planning

Preparing for the BCBA® exam can be a daunting and anxiety-producing task. However, with the right self-management strategies, test preparation can become more organized, efficient, and less stressful. This blog will explore essential, behavior-based, self-management strategies to help you optimize your exam prep and improve your performance.

Studying—It’s Behavior

You don’t need to be a highly motivated, brilliant, disciplined, and confident person to prepare for the BACB exam. Instead, you need to engage in BEHAVIOR to reach your goals. Remember, behavior is selected by the environment. When studying, build your environment to support the study behavior you want to see!


A man sitting at a laptop using BCBA Exam Prep

Self-management for BCBA Exam Prep

At its core, self-management is using behavior change strategies to change your own behavior. It can be daunting to create a self-management plan because there are many techniques you could use. As you follow the steps outlined below, remember to use your skills to individualize your study plan and create the best possible plan for you.

Assess—Get a Baseline Measure with a Mock Exam

Like when you start a case with a client, your first step in preparing for the exam is assessing your current behavior and skill. When used properly, mock exams are a great way to assess where you are. This is important because it will help you focus your studies and better utilize your exam-prep time. After getting a baseline measure, the next step is to make your study plan. Use our Creating a BCBA Exam Study Plan to help you create your own individualized plan!

Goal Setting for BCBA Exam Prep

Goals. Goal setting is an important self-management technique that helps narrow your focus. Likely, your ultimate outcome is to pass the BCBA® exam. This step involves breaking that ultimate outcome into smaller, measurable goals. You will want to set both study goals and performance goals.

Goals should be clear, measurable, and achievable.


Goals need to be just right. SMART goals are a good way to ensure your goals are clear, measurable, and achievable. Effective goals will change slightly from person to person, but your goals shouldn’t be too easy. Have you ever said, “It’s not that hard, so I’ll just do it later”? That might be fine for putting your dirty dishes in the dishwasher, but it won’t work well when studying for a major exam. Goals also shouldn’t be too hard. We’ve all become discouraged when we can’t meet some criteria, whether in school, sports, music, or a job. If the goal is too hard, your studying behavior will be put on extinction. Adjust your goals until you find the right balance for you.


Setting Study Goals. Your study goals will build the framework for your performance goals. While all goals should be adjusted as necessary, your study goals aren’t going to change much throughout your journey to the exam. An important study goal is going to be the time you spend studying. Look at your schedule and identify when and where you can fit in study sessions. Set a goal to study for a certain amount each day or week. After reviewing your schedule and baseline data, you might determine that the time matters less than the content you review during each study session. You might determine to review at least three content areas or reach a certain criterion before you end your session for the day. Your performance goals would specify how you get to these criteria, but these study goals are a good place to start.


“I will study 50 minutes per day, five days per week.”



What do you do if you’ve previously tried to set goals and can’t seem to get to where you want to be? This is when you need to use your behavior-analytic knowledge to modify your own behavior! Use reinforcement, behavioral momentum, or the Premack principle to get yourself there. Use your knowledge of behavioral principles to create contingencies that will set you up for success!


Setting Performance Goals. Performance goals let you know when you are ready to move on. A good performance goal should describe the ultimate outcome as well as sub-goals to get you there. Performance goals should specify the performance and the conditions under which that performance should occur. Based on your baseline measure, you could set goals to improve in some content areas and maintain mastery in others. Make sure the goals are individualized, based on your baseline measure, and that you are reevaluating them often.


“While studying, my goal was to score above 80% or higher on the mock exams and score 90% or higher in each content area study set.”

-Lindsay F.


Manage your time. Time is a valuable resource during test preparation. Efficient time management allows you to balance your study sessions with other responsibilities, reducing procrastination and last-minute cramming. Use tools like calendars, planners, or study apps to create a daily or weekly schedule, allocating specific time slots for different types of study or content areas. Stick to your schedule diligently and be consistent with your study routine.

A woman sitting at a desk in front of a laptop stacking pens while distracted from BCBA Exam PrepCreate a Study Environment


Engineer your environmentWhat does your study environment look like? We already know that changing behavior requires us to change the environment. When your goal is to change your own behavior, start by making any necessary changes to your environment. Set up the environment to make achieving your goals as easy as possible. Keep your textbooks nearby; make your lecture notes easily accessible. These are small adjustments that can have a big impact.

Eliminate temptations. During study sessions, it can be very easy to lose focus. Do what you can to anticipate and minimize distractions and temptations to engage in other activities. Put your phone in another room, and silence notifications on your computer. Shut the door, put on headphones, or do whatever you can to remove distractions from other people. Do everything you can to eliminate distractions from your study environment, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t create a completely distraction- and temptation-free environment.

Build in Accountability and Reinforcement

Recruit a PartnerAn accountability partner knows your goals and holds you accountable for meeting them. Many people use accountability partners for fitness goals, but they can also help with meeting study goals. Sometimes, an accountability partner will help uphold a contingency you’ve set up. If you aim to finish studying before scrolling social media, your accountability partner might hang onto your phone until you’ve met the goal. Accountability partners can also provide social reinforcement or feedback. You could text your friend daily to report on your goals and receive praise or corrective feedback. Either way, accountability partners can help you take your goals to the next level.


A man sitting at a laptop using with notifications popping up about BCBA Exam Prep

Public PostingPublic posting is a self-management method similar to an accountability partner. A goal is posted in a public place in this form of self-management. This could be a physical location, like a library, or an electronic location, like social media. Junaid et al. (2021) successfully used public posting on social media to improve fitness levels, but similar methods could be used with study goals. Many groups on social media, like BOOST ABA Study and Support Community, are dedicated to exam prep, and these provide a great opportunity for students to post their goals and receive reinforcement or feedback on their progress!


“Section D and I are going to become best friends.”

-Tiffany M.


Utilize technologyNot everyone loves having the social contingencies of an accountability partner, but there is an app for everything. Look to technology if you don’t want to recruit a friend, family member, or social media acquaintance to hold you accountable. Set limits for certain apps or websites, use notifications to remind you to study or find an app that allows you to earn rewards for staying off your phone. Technology can be a powerful temptation or an incredible partner on your study journey.


“I love self-management, but I hate having an “accountability partner,” and I never use this method personally.”

-Shauna C.


Track your progress. Collecting data on your progress is a great way to keep moving forward on your study goals. If you’ve followed our outlined steps, you already have baseline data. What good is baseline data if you don’t continue collecting data? This is a great way to practice your skills. Imagine you’ve been trying to study and feel like you’re not progressing. If you’ve been graphing your fluency, recall, etc., you’ll have the data to make changes. Maybe certain strategies worked when you studied philosophical underpinnings, but they aren’t working for concepts and principles. Time to try something else!


“I love graphing my progress as part of my self-monitoring. It’s so motivating and pretty!”

-Melissa N.


Preparing for the certification exam can be a long process. The other benefit of tracking your progress is seeing how far you’ve come. It’s easy to become discouraged when the exam feels so far off, or you aren’t meeting your goals. The ability to look at a graph and view your progress provides reinforcement on those long, hard days. When you need an extra boost, you can use tracking your progress in addition to an accountability partner, public posting, or another method to create the contingencies to keep moving toward your exam-prep goals.

Build in Additional Reinforcement for Meeting Goals

Along with social reinforcement contacted via public posting or from your accountability partner, increased performance (scores) will also likely reinforce your studying behavior. However, especially in the beginning, you may need to build in reinforcement for meeting studying and performance goals. Do you have a favorite treat? Is scrolling social media your favorite pastime? Maybe you have a favorite book or TV show. Allow access to these preferred stimuli after meeting a study or performance goal. It’s not lazy; it’s providing reinforcement!

Adjust to Real Life

Get a baseline measure. Plan your time. Make a plan. Build supports. Easy, right? Wrong! No matter how you slice it, studying for a high-stakes exam is not a walk in the park. It takes time, dedication, resources, and support. Most students are juggling competing contingencies and responsibilities. We can provide suggestions, but it is up to you to figure out how to best shape your environment to support the behavior that will lead you to your goals. What works for one person may not work for another. The support that student A has won't be the same as the support for student B. Each of you will need to assess your own needs, your own supports, and the specific contingencies in your own environment. Life may get in the way. You may have to revise your goals. That is okay! Needing to adjust your goals does not make you a bad student. This is your path, your story, your goals. Be kind and flexible with yourself while also being accountable to you.

You Managing You

Effective exam prep requires stepping back and viewing yourself as the client. Assess, make a plan, set up the environment to support the behavior you want to see; collect data, incorporate reinforcement, and revise the plan as needed. All of these are steps that we would follow with a client. They are no less important to our self-management for BCBA exam prep. It isn’t always easy, but using self-management techniques can help you make the most of your time and optimize your exam-prep efforts.


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