Preparing for the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx) can be a daunting task. It covers information that takes most massage therapy programs 6-12 months to cover. So studying for this comprehensive exam without feeling overwhelmed will require an effective MBLEx study plan.
What is a study plan? A study plan is an organized plan or strategy that helps you manage your time and focus your study sessions to prepare for an exam. An effective study plan is especially important for a big comprehensive exam like the MBLEx, because of the large volume of content that it covers.
Follow these steps to create a MBLEx study plan:
- Find out what topics are on the exam
- Assess your current knowledge level
- Establish your time frame
- Determine your preferred learning style
- Structure and schedule out your sessions
- Stick to your plan, taking frequent quizzes to assess your progress
This post gives details about what you should include in your study plan, how to structure it to fit your individual needs, and how to stick with it.
Why you need a study plan for the MBLEx
A detailed study plan is important because the MBLEx is a comprehensive exam that covers a large volume of information. It would be very easy to overlook key content areas of the massage exam without a study plan to guide you.
Time management is a challenge for most of us. It can be a juggling act to coordinate a full schedule of classes, work, extracurricular activities and social responsibilities. A study plan will keep you organized and efficient.
Without a study plan, students tend to spend too much time studying topics that aren’t as important, or topics that they already know well enough. A plan will guide your study sessions and turn a vague and random approach into an organized and effective system.
Having a study plan that outlines what and when you are going to study will keep you from having to remember where you left off. And it will save you from having to decide what you should study today.
Here are a few additional benefits of having a study plan and schedule to prepare for the MBLEx:
- Helps you see how you spend your time
- Makes sure you study each content area thoroughly
- Improves consistency and keeps you on track, so you will be ready by your scheduled test date
- Gives you a sense urgency and reduces procrastination
- Increases confidence and keeps you from feeling overwhelmed
Is there a difference between a study plan and a study schedule?
Not really. These are just two sides of the came coin. As I see it, a study plan is everything you intend to do and study to pass the MBLEx. This includes what materials you plan on studying. It is also your strategy for how you will prepare for the exam, based on your current level of readiness.
Your study schedule is when you will cover all the items in your study plan. It is how you plan on fitting all of these study sessions into your normal daily schedule.
Preparing for the MBLEx while still in school
If you are still school and reading this, congratulate yourself on being proactive and planning ahead. Preparing for the MBLEx is much easier when you have it in mind throughout your massage education. Especially if you are just starting your massage therapy program.
Here are some MBLEx study tips if you’re still in school:
- Be prepared for each class. You will get more out of each class if you do some reading before hand. Don’t let yourself get behind with the reading assignments because it can be hard to catch up.
- Actively participate in class. It’s easy to sit back and be a passive student. But you will learn and retain more by participating in the discussions and asking questions.
- Take good notes in class. You will need these notes when preparing for class quizzes, final exams, and of course the MBLEx. So if you’ve been slack in taking notes during class until now, go ahead and start this good habit today. You’ll be glad you did!
- Rewrite your notes immediately after class. Sometimes notes from class can be barely legible, as you try to keep up with the teacher’s presentation. And at times, lessons are presented in an order that doesn’t make sense to you. Take the time immediately after class to re-write your notes, making them more organized and legible. Include emphasis on key concepts and terms. Add some illustrations if that would help. Include the page numbers for relevant textbook references if needed. And include some space so that you can add notes later. By doing this now, you will understand the material better, and decrease the amount of time needed to study this later. Rewriting your notes now can also reveal if there are any specific concepts that you still don’t understand from today’s class, so you can ask the teacher about it.
- Group study sessions are much easier to organize while you are still in school. It is easier to find a study buddy while in school. You should be able to access an unused classroom for your group to meet, and use the learning tools like the skeleton or whiteboard.
Components of an effective MBLEx study plan
There is no single “right” way to create a study plan. Any plan that works for you and helps you achieve your objective is a good plan. Still, you probably want to make the best and most effective study plan that you can.
Here are 4 components of an effective MBLEx study plan:
1. Establishes how much time you have
An effective study plan considers how much time you have to prepare for the MBLEx. This includes your total time frame from now until your planned test date. And it includes the amount of time you have each day and week that you can devote to studying.
A good study plan is realistic. It should be something that you can stick to without feeling overwhelmed and burning out. Just like an effective diet plan or a workout plan, your study plan will only work if you can stick with it.
*Remember that your objective is not to cram in as much studying as you can, but to pass the MBLEx the first time so that you can move on and start your new career.
Consider when you want to schedule the MBLEx exam. The more time you give yourself, the more relaxed pace your plan can be. Most students take between 1 and 3 months to prepare for the MBLEx.
How much time can you study each day and each week? What other commitments do you need to schedule around?
2. Includes assessments to track your progress
A good study plan should include an initial assessment to check your baseline. For the MBLEx, this means taking a full-length simulated exam, or taking a few quizzes in each of the seven content areas.
Your plan should should also include periodic assessments to check your progress and make sure that you are still on track to reach your goal of being ready for the massage exam by your scheduled test date.
Once you have assessed how well you currently understand the material, and identified any knowledge gaps, you can structure your study plan accordingly.
The contents of the MBLEx for 2019 are outlined in the table below:
|Anatomy & Physiology||11%|
|Benefits and Physiological Effects of Techniques||15%|
|Client Assessment, Reassessment & Treatment Planning||17%|
|Ethics, Boundaries, Laws, Regulations||16%|
|Guidelines for Professional Practice||15%|
3. Plans study sessions based on what you need to know
Structure your study plan with the MBLEx in mind. This means organizing your individual sessions based on the content outline provided by the FSMTB. Keep in mind that the purpose of the exam is to assess entry-level competency as a massage therapist. And to see if you know how to provide massage therapy and bodywork treatments safely to the public.
The more specific a study plan is, the more effective it will be. Be specific about the topics of your study sessions, and what study methods you will include. These methods could include reviewing your notes, weekly group study sessions, using practice quizzes, making your own flashcards, studying your textbooks, etc.
Use your study plan to allocate your study time based on any knowledge gaps you have, and what content is prioritized on the actual exam. It is tempting to spend too much time studying anatomy and physiology, and neglect other sections. But you can see from the table above, the anatomy and physiology content area of the MBLEx is the smallest component of the massage exam.
4. Uses diverse and proven learning strategies
Your study schedule will be more effective if you include multiple proven strategies. There’s a lot of research that provides insight on the most effective learning strategies. Use the strategies below as a guide when creating your study plan.
Active learning utilizes engaging learning activities. You will increase your understanding of the material faster using active learning than you will using passive learning strategies. An active learning strategy is one that forces you to think.
Examples of active learning strategies that you could include in your massage exam study plan include:
- Paraphrasing passages in your notes or textbook
- Drawing and labeling anatomy or kinesiology concepts from memory
- Teaching a classmate or study group member a concept
- Taking practice quizzes then reviewing the results, looking up anything you miss
- Creating your own flashcards for each of the MBLEx content areas
- Practice client assessment role playing scenarios and develop treatment plans
Keep the study sessions short. Research shows that the ability to focus and concentrate diminishes after 1-2 hours of study. So it is better to break up any marathon study sessions into shorter sessions.
The Pomodoro Technique is a popular time management method that you can use to maintain your focus during your massage exam study sessions. Basically you study for 25 minutes, then take a break for 5 minutes. After repeating this four times (2 hours), take a longer break.
Spaced repetition or spaced review technique. Spacing out your study sessions over a longer period of time and including some repetition will improve long-term recall of the material. For example, if you have to learn something that takes 12 hours, it’s better to do (12) x 1-hour study sessions over a period of several days, than (1) marathon 12-hour session, or (2) 6-hour sessions. This learning strategy is sometimes called distributed practice.
The space between your study sessions gives your brain time to sort through the information, categorize it, file it in the right place, and create links with other things you already know. Then when you go back and review the material, you will reinforce what you previously learned and fill in any knowledge gaps or areas of confusion.
Repetition is the mother of all learning
Interweaving, or interleaving, involves covering a few separate topics within each study session. For example, instead of spending 1 hour on the circulatory system, spend 20 minutes on the circulatory system, 20 on the respiratory system, and 20 on the muscles associated with breathing. Mixing up the topics can help you learn how the systems are related to each other. And it can keep you from getting bored. It is actually harder to interweave your study topics like this. But this additional challenge will force your brain to work harder and it will end up being a more productive study session.
Retrieval practice. This is the process of going over the information without the assistance of your notes, books or other study materials. For example, challenging yourself to name and describe each bone of the hand. Drawing from memory is another form of retrieval practice. Practice testing, which is one of the best ways to retain information, also utilizes this learning strategy.
Retrieval practice is the reason why teaching someone else is such a good learning strategy. Teaching a classmate or massage study buddy the details of a concept without the use of study materials will get your brain functioning at full capacity as you sort through what you know about the topic and structure your presentation of it in a clear and meaningful way to to your classmate. A similar strategy is reciprocal questioning, which is where you and your study buddy take turns asking each other questions.
Tips to improve your MBLEx study plan
Now that you know the components and characteristics of an effective study plan, I want to share some tips to help you make your personal your study plan as effective and practical as possible.
1. Start by determining your available time
Many people will easily be able to schedule their study sessions into their normal weekly routine. However, if you’re trying to prepare for the MBLEx on a tighter deadline, have a busy schedule already, or have been out of school for a while, it can be more challenging.
Start creating your study plan by first determining when you have time available to study for the MBLEx. Look at what is on your current weekly schedule that is fixed and cannot be moved. These are things like class times, work schedule, sleeping and meal times.
Find times during the day where you could fit in a 30-minute to 2-hour study session. There are probably several times during your daily routine where you could squeeze in a quick review, or even full study session if you had to.
You could turn your commute time (if you’re not the one driving) into a quick review session. Or while you’re waiting for your laundry to dry. Here are some ideas of what you could do during an impromptu study session:
- Review 2-3 pages of notes from your previous study session
- Go through 10-20 flashcards
- Take a 10-question quiz and review the answers
- Or if you don’t have any supplies with you, pick a bone and think of every aspect of it: what other bones it articulates with, and type of joints, the shape and landmarks, what muscles attach to it, etc.
If you are having trouble squeezing in study time, are there any current, non-productive activities that you can cut out of your schedule?
2. Use one calendar for everything
Use only one calendar to schedule everything. This includes your study sessions, school, work, and everything else. It can get confusing and overwhelming to have some things on one calendar and other things on different calendar.
*Using more than one calendar makes it easy to accidentally double-book yourself.
You don’t have to put every detail from your MBLEx study plan on your calendar. Just put something like “A&P: skeletal system; Kinesiology: types of joints”. Then when it’s time to start your session, pull out your study plan and look up the details of everything that you need to cover in this study session.
Either a physical calendar, like a wall calendar, or a digital calendar will work. Whichever works better for you. A big calendar on the wall is convenient because you can see all of your upcoming study sessions without having to open up a digital calendar.
But organizing your study schedule on a digital calendar in the cloud is useful because you can access it from anywhere. And it’s easy to modify a digital schedule too.
I’ve found that using a combination of a large physical calendar on the wall, and writing the sessions on colored post-it notes works well. This way I can move things around if I need to and still keep everything neat and organized. I use different colored post-it notes for different types of events.
3. Structure your plan for consistency
People are more likely to stick with a plan if it is consistent. Like having a workout schedule where you workout every morning at 6:30. Or a daily meditation schedule. After a few weeks this becomes a habit that is an enjoyable part of our daily routine.
So much of what we do on a daily basis is dictated by our habits. This includes good habits and bad habits. Our good habits can carry us towards our goals, and our bad habits can keep us from ever reaching them.
Until you pass the MBLEx, make your study sessions a habit, and a part of your daily routine. Ideally, this means studying the same time every day. And during a study session, have the habit of focusing on the task at hand.
Treat your study sessions as you would your class time, with the same level of importance. Don’t let yourself miss a study session unless you are sick or have an emergency. While you are studying, turn off all notifications on your phone and computer. Every time you are distracted it takes a long time to get back in the zone. Having a dedicated place to study that is uncluttered and free of distractions will help.
4. Use study methods that work best for you
Emphasize your preferred learning style. Everyone has a preferred style or mode of learning that works best for them. This means that when they process information in this way, they are most likely to comprehend and recall it. The most effective study plans include all modes of learning, but are personalized according to the learner’s individual preferences. The 3 main learning styles are:
- Visual. These people learn best by watching demonstrations or seeing graphics like pictures, illustrations, diagrams, and flow charts.
- Physical or kinesthetic. This group prefers to “learn by doing”. These are the tactile learners that like to learn with hands on practice. This might be you if you love working with the clay manikin models and tinkering with the skeleton and box of bones after class.
- Auditory or aural. People who prefer this style like to learn through listening. One strategy that would work well for this group is to record yourself reading some of your notes, then play it back. You could use listen to this while commuting or doing chores at home.
People with any of these preferred learning styles can further be classified as a social learner or solitary learner. Social learners prefer a stimulating learning environment like a classroom or group study sessions. While solitary learners get distracted by this and learn best by studying by themselves.
Even if you prefer one style of learning of the others, it is best to include at least some elements from all styles. It’s like if you are right handed. It doesn’t mean that you never use your left hand. You still use both and need both.
Learning is not attained my chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.Abigail Adams
5. Keep each study session specific and focused
When creating your study plan, be as specific as possible with the topics of each session. So on your study plan, don’t just put “Anatomy”. Be specific, like a teacher who goes into each class with specific concepts that he/she intends to teach during that class period. For your study sessions, you are your own teacher.
Here is an example of a specific MBLEx study session agenda:
(90 minutes total) 5 minute break every 25 minutes
Review all of the areas of caution, using textbook and class notes.
Re-write these in table form, for easy review later.
Study an illustration of each area for 2 minutes then close the book and sketch each area. Include vulnerable structures, and label them.
Open the book and review the sketches. Make improvements.
Create 1 flashcard for each area area of caution.
Complete (1) 10-question quizzes on pathology section. Review any missed questions.
6. Consider your personal needs and preferences
Consider your current study habits. Over the past 6 months, how have your study sessions gone? Were they effective for you? Did you find yourself getting distracted? Did you have trouble with procrastination? Did a certain time of day work better for you?
During each study session, study the most important topics first, when your energy level is highest.
7. Build some flexibility into your study schedule
Recognize that you may need to change your study plan at some point. Plans rarely work out exactly as we initially hope. You may need to adjust how you allocate your time, or which study methods you use most.
Also try to leave some open spaces in your weekly schedule. This will give you some flexibility and breathing room that will keep you from feeling overwhelmed.
Create some rules or guidelines for yourself. For example, decide ahead of time what you will do if you miss a planned study session. Will you make it up at the end of the week? At the end of the month? Or just let it go?
Include some rest and relaxation time, too. The most effective study plan will consider all aspects of your life. It will not take away from your rest and relaxation time.
Make sure to include activities that help you stay healthy, reduce your stress level, and keep your energy and motivation high. Keeping some sense of balance in your life will make you much more likely to stick to your study plan and achieve your goal.
8. 5-Minute review before lights out
Doing a quick review of your notes will give you subconscious something to mull over and process while you are sleeping. And if you find a particular subject boring, like Laws and Regulations for example, this may help put you to sleep!
(Maybe avoid reviewing pathology before bed. It may give you bad dreams.)
Strategies to stick to your study plan
Once you’ve created your study plan using some of the ideas listed earlier in this article, you must stick to it for it to work. Fortunately there are some tips and tricks that will help you stick with your plan and reach your goal of passing the MBLEx.
Stay positive and optimistic
Being optimistic and having a positive outlook is one of the main factors that determines success at anything. Research shows that optimists have a better biological response to stress that includes having lower cortisol levels. This is something that will benefit any student preparing for a comprehensive exam.
One way to strengthen your optimism about your MBLEx study plan is to reward yourself for sticking with your plan. You can do this by reviewing your performance for each study session.
Right after completing each study session, take 30 seconds to assess your focus, discipline, and if you completed the study session as planned. Give yourself from 1 to 5 stars. Draw out these stars on your study calendar so that you can see them. This small reward can be enough to encourage consistency. Or you could give yourself whatever reward motivates you.
Keep your reason WHY in front of you
“How” to do something is the easy part. But it is your “Why” that keeps you going. Your why is what motivates you. Having a strong reason why you want something can keep you from getting discouraged and wanting to give up. It will help you do what is hard that moves you towards your goals, rather than just do what is fun and easy then feeling like you let yourself down.
Maybe your reason why you must pass the MBLEx and become a massage therapist is that you believe it is your calling. Or maybe you believe that this is the best career for you to provide for your family and do meaningful work. Whatever your reason why is, write it down and keep it in front of you.
Increase your accountability and have a study buddy
Including 1 or 2 sessions with a study buddy or study group every week can provide opportunities for discussion and keep you accountable. This is only valuable though if you can keep the study sessions productive and avoid letting it turn into just a time to socialize.
Some topics will be more useful to study in a group than others. Try to keep the group small, 2-3 people is ideal. Make sure each member in your group is committed to having a productive study session, and is not likely to distract the group. Have a definite start and stop time. 2 hours is a good duration, with a few short breaks. Have a specific topic that you plan on covering that everyone agrees would be a good group study topic. Meet in a neutral place, away from distractions.
Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.Mahatma Gandhi
How long should I study for the MBLEx?
The answer to this will vary a lot depending on individual circumstances. Factors that can influence this include:
- How long you have been out of school
- How thorough your massage education was
- How well you studied and participated in school
- How well you do on tests
- How good you are at sticking to a study plan
Most students who graduate from an accredited massage therapy school fairly recently can pass the MBLEx with between 1 to 3 months of preparation time. This is at a fairly relaxed pace of between 30 – 100 hours total.
Can I take the MBLEx if I have not finished massage school yet?
According to the MBLEx Candidate Handbook issued by the FSMTB, as long as your massage school is approved and you have received some education and training in each of the 7 content areas, then you can apply to take the MBLEx. The answer to this question and many others are covered on your MBLEx FAQ page.
Here are a couple of excerpts from the MBLEx Candidate Handbook (2019):
“Please note that MBLEx applicants do not need to graduate from a massage therapy education program prior to applying for the MBLEx.”
“Enrollment in and having received education and training in all subject areas of the MBLEx Content Outline from an approved massage therapy education program.”MBLEx Candidate Handbook