The final step to becoming a licensed massage therapist in most states is to pass the MBLEx. This massage exam is challenging for many new therapists. Around 30% of massage therapists fail the MBLEx on their first attempt. And for those who have to retake the test, nearly 70% fail the massage exam.
It can be a discouraging and expensive experience to fail the MBLEx. Failing also delays being able to get a massage license and starting work by at least 30 days.
The good news is that the reasons why test candidates fail the massage exam usually comes down to just a few common problems. And each of these can be overcome with some minor changes to their study plan and strategy.
We’ll also give some tips on how to improve your massage exam results.
Here are 4 common reasons why massage therapists fail the MBLEx:
- Lack of good study strategies
- Poor time management habits
- Weak test taking skills
- Inadequate initial massage education and training
Now let’s look into these reasons a little further, and come up with some practical strategies to overcome these common stumbling blocks and pass the MBLEx.
1. Lack of good study strategies
Many massage therapists fail the MBLEx because they simply did not put in enough time to prepare for the massage exam. However, some failed the massage exam the because they haven’t learned effective study strategies that work well for them. Here are three tips to help you create more effective study sessions.
Arrange your study sessions so that they are optimal for you
People usually have a preference of learning styles, whether it’s visual, auditory, kinesthetic, or social. Think back over the times you’ve successfully studied for tests in the past. Did you learn and retain more by reading, listening to a lecture, by doing a task, or by participating with a study group?
Maybe your current MBLEx study strategy involves reading in a quiet place, but you actually learn better when you study in a group.
Or maybe you have always reserved the last hours of your day for studying, when you actually retain more information when you study first thing in the morning.
Spend the majority of your study sessions using the method that benefit you the most.
Set a goal for each of your study sessions
Pick 1 to 3 specific content areas of the MBLEx such as postural assessment, palpation assessment, and range of motion. Compile all of your notes and focus all your attention on only these areas for the entire study session.
This is called the interweaving study strategy. It will make your study sessions more productive because it forces your brain work harder. Interweaving your study materials increases recall and understanding relationships between concepts.
Keep working on mastering the topics of your study session until you can apply the information to a practical scenario. Once you understand something well enough to apply it, you will be able to answer questions correctly regardless of how they are phrased on the massage exam.
Be sure to include a few practice quizzes at the end of each study session, leaving time to look up anything you miss. Once you’re done with the study session, be sure to take a break so that your brain can process everything you just learned.
Test your understanding and recall frequently
Some massage students only read their textbooks, rather than testing themselves with practice exams and flashcards. Reading is important, but it can turn into a passive method of study. For example, it’s easy to read a page and look back over it and not understand or remember what you just read.
Taking practice tests is one of the best ways to learn the material as well as test your current level of readiness. However it’s very important to go back to your notes and review any questions that you miss.
Some MBLEx candidates who failed were likely over-confident, and thought they were ready when they actually weren’t. Taking a few practice exams will help to determine when you are ready.
Commit to understanding each topic. Some students can develop I-can-just-look-it-up syndrome. The Internet and textbooks are great resources to find answers, but some students can fall into the trap of depending on them rather than committing the information to memory. Real life is an open book test, but the MBLEx is not.
Students who passed their tests in massage school by cramming are less likely to have gained a real understanding for the exam content and remember it for the MBLEx. If this was you, then give yourself a few extra weeks of study time when preparing for the MBLEx.
Check out our Ultimate Guide to Passing the MBLEx.
2. Poor time management habits
Some massage students who fail the MBLEx have not learned to practice good time management techniques. Two key elements of good time management are prioritization and taking action. So as you begin your new career, be sure to put the most important things first.
Time management is not just about what you do, but what you don’t do. Committing to something means saying “No” to other things. Distractions are everywhere. There are always “urgent” things that come up, but those are rarely important. What distractions are wasting hours of your time every day?
To succeed at anything important, you must be able to say “no” to things that pull you away from your goal.
You must also have a compelling reason motivating you to pass the MBLEx. It is difficult to put in the time and energy into achieving anything if you’re not motivated. Take some time to review why you are committed to becoming a massage therapist. Maybe it’s because you are excited to go build your massage business and start getting massage clients.
Procrastination is something we all face at times. Like most animals, we tend to prefer doing what is quick and easy instead of things that are hard and take self-discipline. Our modern society has only reinforced our innate desire for immediate gratification. It can be painful to develop good study habits, but it is worth it.
Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.Jim Rohn
Some additional massage exam prep tips:
- Create a MBLEx study plan to help yourself get organized
- If you’re stills in school, try re-writing your notes after every class
- Have shorter study sessions so you can maintain full concentration and focus
- Choose your study group carefully. Make sure all people in the group are also committed to doing well
We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The pain of discipline weighs ounces, while the pain of regret weighs tons.Jim Rohn
3. Weak test taking skills
Other test candidates fail the MBLEx because they have not yet learned good testing skills. Thorough preparation for the massage exam is by far the biggest indicator of success. But poor performance on test day can make the difference between passing and failing.
The biggest two factors that are responsible for success on test day are mindset and strategy.
Mindset refers to your mental preparation for the exam. Many students suffer from test anxiety, which hurts their performance. It’s easy to get worked up to the point where fear of failing prevents you from doing as well as you should.
There are a few techniques you can use to increase your ability to stay calm and focused on the test. I recommend practicing these techniques before and during practice tests too. This way it will become a ritual and be even more effective.
Practice positive self-talk. We all have an inner monologue. The process of “thinking” is just mental self-talk, including asking and answering questions in our head. The point is that you want to be in control of your own inner conversation.
Learn to replace negative and self-defeating comments like “I hate tests. I’m going to fail the MBLEx. I can feel my mind going blank already…” with “I’m ready for this test, I already aced 7 practice tests this week”.
Don’t let self-doubt creep in. Many students start to second-guess themselves because they feel like they don’t know everything. Especially when they encounter a couple questions they are unsure about.
Just remember that no one knows everything. Expect to miss a few questions. You don’t need 100% to pass the MBLEx.
Test taking strategy
A good test-taking strategy will make a big difference in your test results. Be sure to practice your strategy before attempting the actual MBLEx. There are also some specific strategies for taking multiple choice tests that you should be aware of. Consider including the following in your own MBLEx strategy or plan:
- Read each question carefully and all of the possible answers before selecting one. Many questions are missed due to failing to read the question correctly.
- The questions on the MBLEx are straightforward, and NOT designed to trick you. Be careful to avoid reading too much into the questions.
- Focus on what each question is really asking for.
- For each question, there are probably 1 or 2 answer choices that you can rule out. This will increase your odds of selecting the right answer.
- Remember that the purpose of the exam is to ensure that you know how to provide safe and effective massage and bodywork treatments. When in doubt, choose the “safe” answer.
- Don’t look for patterns. Just because the answer for the last 3 questions was “A” (or the first listed option), it doesn’t mean that the next question is less likely to be “A”.
Try your best to take the MBLEx within 3 months of graduating from your massage training program. This way the lessons your learned in the classroom will still be fresh in your head. Check out this article to see if you’re ready to take the MBLEx.
4. Inadequate initial massage education and training
Let’s face it, there are some less-than-stellar massage training programs out there. Some of these massage schools may not adequately prepare their students, which can lead to them failing the MBLEx.
They may have provided excellent training of hands-on massage skills. But they also could have omitted critical areas of content that are covered on the MBLEx.
One problem with many technical programs is that an instructor may be a skilled clinician, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are skilled at teaching what they know.
There are masters and doctorate degrees available in education, which shows that there is a lot to know to be an effective teacher. An incompetent teacher will be less effective at helping students learn. One way to compensate for this is to learn from as many sources as possible. This includes: multiple teachers, books, classmates and online resources.
Another potential problem with depending on your massage training program to prepare you for the MBLEx is that there is a lot of information to cover during the program.
Sometimes critical information may only be addressed once in the course of a massage training program. The problem is that it often takes several exposures to new concepts to have a full understanding of it. People tend to have low recall of information that they were only exposed to one time.
So take control of preparing yourself for the massage exam rather than hoping that you learned everything you need in school. For best performance on the MBLEx, commit to take accountability for your own learning and test results.