Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Updated for 2021
Massage & Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx)
The MBLEx is the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Exam. It is the test that massage therapists take in order to get a license to practice therapeutic massage in the United States (at least in most states). In addition to taking the massage licensing exam, therapists must also apply for their massage state license directly at the massage board or other regulatory agency in the state in which they wish to practice. The license itself is issued by the individual state. Currently 46 states require a license to practice massage therapy. 48 states recognize the MBLEx and include it as a requirement for licensure.
The MBLEx is an entry-level licensure examination. This means that the questions are limited to the core content that beginning massage therapists needs to know to do their job. Even though there are no questions that require advanced specialty training, the MBLEx is still considered by many new therapists to be a challenging exam. This is because it is a comprehensive exam and covers a large volume of content. The overall MBLEx pass rate is 67.0 percent.
The purpose of requiring massage therapy license applicants to pass the MBLEx is to ensure that they meet or exceed the minimum standards of knowledge in order to provide safe, competent and effective therapeutic massage services to the public.
The overall MBLEx pass rate is 67.0%. The first attempt pass rate is 73.4%. These percentages are reported in the most recent FSMTB Annual Report printed October 2019. It was calculated based on test results from July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019.
|Exams Taken||Exams Passed||Percent Passed|
|First Exam Attempt||17,937||13,163||73.4%|
The MBLEx is currently accepted as part of the massage therapy license application process in 46 out of the 49 regulated states in the US. This includes the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. For initial licensure or “license by examination”, the MBLEx is required in these states. There may be other procedures for licensing in some of these states including license by endorsement or reciprocity, if you are already licensed and practicing in another state. Learn more about getting a massage therapy license in your state.
As of 2020, states that do not accept the MBLEx include New York and Hawaii. Unlike the MBLEx which can be scheduled for any time at Pearson Vue centers, the Hawaii massage exam is offered only 4 times per year, and the New York massage exam is offered only twice per year.
You will find out your MBLEx results immediately after you finish taking the massage exam. After you leave the testing room, the proctor will hand you a paper with your results. There are no longer numeric scores on the MBLEx. So you won’t be able to find out what you actually scored (this has been in effect since July 1, 2017). According to the FSMTB, since the MBLEx is a computer adaptive test (CAT), numeric scores have the potential to be misleading or misinterpreted. CAT exam performance is calculated differently because of the different levels of difficulty of the questions.
The test report will simply say Pass or Fail. If you failed the MBLEx, there will be additional information about your performance on each of the 7 content areas. The description of your performance in each MBLEx content area will be limited to Good, Borderline, or Poor. This will give you some guidance on where to focus your study so that you will pass next time. You will not receive this performance report if you pass.
A computer-adaptive test (CAT) is a responsive test designed to adjust the level of difficulty of the questions based on the test taker’s performance.
Computer-adaptive tests are considered to be on the leading edge of testing technology. Computer-adaptive tests are able to assess a student’s abilities more precisely, and often with a fewer number of questions.
During the test, when you answer a question correctly, the computer will follow up with a more difficult question. Likewise, if you miss a question then the computer will present you with an easier question. The algorithm that determine the level of difficulty continues this process throughout the exam to determine the test taker’s understanding of the subject.
Scoring of a CAT is determined based on both the number of correct answers and the difficulty level of those questions. Therefore a raw score of the number of questions answered correctly would not be meaningful or useful information.
The MBLEx has an application fee of $265. Payments may be made by credit card, certified check or money order. Personal checks are not accepted. This payment must be submitted at the time of application. It generally takes the FSMTB about 5 days to process a completed application. The FSMTB does not issue refunds.
You can also expect a $20 testing fee from Pearson Vue.
If you have to retake the MBLEx, you will have to pay the $265 application fee and the $20 testing fee again.
- Submit a completed MBLEx application
- Have your massage school send your education records (transcript) directly to the FSMTB. (You can apply for the MBLEx before graduating)
- Sign that you agree to the FSMTB policies
- Make sure you meet all application requirements
- Pay the $265 application fee.
Yes. According to the MBLEx Candidate Handbook issued by the FSMTB, as long as your school is approved and the students have received some education and training in each of the 7 content areas, then they can apply to take the MBLEx.
The middle of page 13 of the current MBLEx Candidate Handbook (published July 2020) says:
“Please note that MBLEx applicants do not need to graduate from a massage therapy education program prior to applying for the MBLEx.”
Then it also says (on page 12, under the Massage Education Policy):
“Enrollment in and having received education and training in all subject areas of the MBLEx Content Outline from an approved massage therapy education program” OR “Graduation from an approved massage therapy education program”
You must still complete all application requirements including having your massage school send your education records directly to the FSMTB. Keep in mind that once you receive your Authorization to Test (ATT) letter by email, you must take the MBLEx within 90 days.
And depending on your state, you will likely still need to graduate from your massage therapy training program before you can apply for your massage license.
Most states require a massage therapy license in order to practice legally, and offer massage therapy to the public for compensation. In order to qualify for a massage therapy license, most states will require you to pass the MBLEx or similar exam. Hawaii and New York do not require or accept the MBLEx. However they have their own version of the massage licensing exam to assess applicant competency.
There are a few states where massage therapy is not yet regulated on a state level (Kansas, Wyoming, Minnesota, Vermont). However many cities and other local jurisdictions in these states will require some form of license to practice. This may include requiring that license applicants have successfully passed the MBLEx.
Some states still accept the massage licensing exams that were previously offered by the NCBTMB, if they were taken by license applicants back when they were available. Those exams included the NCETMB, NCETM and NESL. Those exams were discontinued in February 1, 2015.
Here is a summary of the application and testing process for the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Exam:
- Apply for the MBLEx online or by mail
- The FSMTB receives and processes the application, payment, and school records. This takes about 5 business days.
- Receive your Authorization to Test (ATT) letter by email. Must take the MBLEx within 90 days of the date on the ATT.
- Schedule your testing appointment at Pearson VUE either online or by phone.
- Receive a test appointment confirmation by email.
- Test candidate receives unofficial results at the testing center, immediately after completing the exam. The FSMTB will send test results to selected state board within 24 hours.
Once your MBLEx application and payment has been received, processed and approved, you will receive an email from the FSMTB at the email address that you provide. In this email you will find your Authorization to Test (ATT) that will be attached as a PDF. Print this document and hang onto it because you will need to bring it with you to the testing center when you go take your exam.
Be sure to look over the document to make sure that everything is correct, like the spelling of your name and your address. Also make sure your name matches the name that is on your driver’s license and any other identifying documents that you plan on taking with you to the testing center.
You will see on the ATT two dates: Start date and Expiration date. You must take the MBLEx sometime within this 90-day window.
There are also instructions on the ATT about how to schedule the MBLEx. You can do this online or by phone. They recommend that you schedule your test as soon as possible (but after 24 hours) so that you get the date, time and location of your choice.
The MBLEx is offered at Pearson VUE testing centers. There are testing centers all over the country, so there is a good chance there’s one in your city or a neighboring city.
Once you are approved to take the MBLEx and get your Authorization to Test (ATT) letter, you will have 90 days to take the exam. On your ATT you will see a date labeled “ATT Expiration Date”. You must schedule your test before this date. The FSMTB recommends that you schedule the MBLEx as soon as possible in order to get the test date, time and location that you want.
Upon arrival at the Pearson VUE testing center, you will have to check in. They will ask to see your Authorization to Test (ATT) letter and TWO forms of identification. Acceptable forms of ID will be listed on your ATT.
After checking in and filling out any forms that they have, you will wait in the waiting room until it is your scheduled time and they call you back to take your massage exam. They will provide for you a small locker and key, because you have to take everything out of your pockets before going into the testing room.
When it’s time for your test, they will double check that your pockets are empty and confirm your identification. They will also give you earplugs in case you get distracted easily and need them. And they will give you a piece of paper and pencil, or a small white board. Since there’s no math on the MBLEx, you shouldn’t need those.
There is a bathroom and water fountain that you can use during the exam if you need to. Just follow all of the test proctor’s instructions because the procedures may vary a little between facilities.
You will have a small cubicle with a computer to take the exam. When you’re finished, the test proctor will guide you out. They will give you your MBLEx results at that time. Remember that the MBLEx does not provide scores any more. Your test results page will only indicate PASS or FAIL.
Then you can collect anything that you put in the locker, and you’re done!
You will need to bring your MBLEx Authorization to Test (ATT) letter, and TWO forms of identification. Details about what forms of identification are required will be on your ATT letter.
Therapists taking the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx) have just under 2 hours (110 minutes) to complete the 100-question exam. Is this means you will have a little over 1 minute per question. You will have up to 5 minutes to read and sign the exam security and confidentiality agreement. And 5 minutes to take a survey. This brings the total test time to 2 hours.
The MBLEx only has multiple choice questions. You will not be allowed to skip questions or to go back and review previous questions.
The Massage & Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx) contains questions from 7 content areas. The topics and level of difficulty are based on what an entry level massage therapist needs to know to be able to provide safe and effective therapeutic massage treatments to the public.
Anatomy and Physiology
Pathology, Contraindications, Areas of Caution, Special Populations
Benefits & Physiological Effects of Techniques that Manipulate Soft Tissue
Client Assessment, Reassessment, & Treatment Planning
Ethics, Boundaries, Laws, Regulations
Guidelines for Professional Practice
You will receive your MBLEx results from the staff at the Pearson VUE testing center, immediately after completing the massage exam. The results will only indicate PASS or FAIL.
However if you did not pass, there will be an additional performance report that indicates how you did in each of the 7 content areas of the exam. This report will show Good, Borderline, or Poor for each section of the MBLEx. The purpose of this is to help guide your study plan so that you can improve your performance on your next attempt.
The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization (NGO) that developed and maintains the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx). The FSMTB was established in 2005, and is governed by a board of directors.
The FSMTB currently has 43 member states, plus the territory of Puerto Rico. The mission of the FSMTB is to support all of its member boards in their efforts to ensure that massage therapy is provided to the public in a safe and effective manner, and by competent, licensed therapists.
No. The MBLEx is a licensing exam that you use to get your massage therapy license. Once you pass the MBLEx, you shouldn’t have to take it again. At some point you may decide that you want to move to a different state. If this is the case, all you have to do is contact the FSMTB and request that they send your test results to the new state. If you have already received a massage license, then you will probably be applying through a process called “license by endorsement”. Each state has different requirements and processes. So be sure to research the massage board’s website for any state you are planning on moving to.
No. Passing the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Exam is just one part in the licensing process. States usually have several other requirements that could include things like:
- Background check
- Letters of reference
- CPR or first aid training
- State jurisprudence exam
- Health certificate or TB test
- Practical exam
No. The MBLEx is a licensing exam. This means that it is used in the state licensing process. Passing a licensing exam proves that you have successfully demonstrated entry-level competency in your profession. A certification exam is one that tests your proficiency in advanced or specialized training. Getting additional certifications is voluntary. Some massage therapists choose to become certified because of the personal and professional challenge, to be able to offer specialized treatments to their clients, or because they believe it will demonstrate increased competency, credibility and commitment to their profession.
After becoming a licensed massage therapist, you can take additional training to become certified in numerous specialties such as sports massage, medical massage, lymphatic massage, trauma massage, cancer massage, equine massage, infant massage, etc. There are several organizations you can get your training and certification through. The requirements, quality of training, and actual benefit to your practice will vary. One of the most well known certification boards in the US is the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB). The NCBTMB used to offer licensing exams for massage therapists. But as of February 2015, they stopped offering them and currently focus on offering certification exams.
Most healthcare professions, as well as other industries offer opportunities for specialization and certification. For example, a physician may graduate medical school and get a medical license. Then he or she may go on to get specialized training such as orthopedics or neurology. If the physician passes the board certification exam, he will then become a board certified specialist.
Currently, passing the MBLEx is a licensing requirement by 46 out of the 49 stated in the US where the profession of therapeutic massage is regulated.
The MBLEx is a licensing exam. It stands for Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination. This means that the purpose of the exam is to demonstrate that you understand how to provide safe and effective therapeutic massage. It also shows that you meet or exceed the minimum competency level to begin working as a massage therapist.
The NCBTMB is an organization that offers certification exams. A massage therapist can choose to get advanced training in a specialty, such as medical massage, sports massage, and numerous other specialties. The therapist would then take a certification exam to prove competency in this area of specialization.
No. You will receive your results immediately after completing the exam. This will be in the form of a printout that states either PASS or FAIL. If you were unsuccessful at passing, you will also receive a Performance Report that indicates Good, Borderline or Poor performance in each of the MBLEx content areas. This is intended to help those needing to retake the exam structure their study plan.
The length of time a massage therapy student or graduate should study for the MBLEx will vary based on many factors which include:
- How long and rigorous was your massage education program?
- How well did you do on your massage exams in school?
- Did you have good study habits in school? Or did you cram for tests the night before?
- How long ago did you graduate from massage school?
- How many hours per day are you planning on committing to preparing for the MBLEx?
- Are you planning on using resources like study guides and practice tests? Or are you going to re-read your textbooks and school notes?
These are just a few things to consider when making your MBLEx study plan. The material is not very hard. However since this is a comprehensive exam, it covers a large volume of information. The typical student who successfully and recently completed massage therapy school, and plans on studying at least 1 hour every day should easily be able to prepare for this exam in 1-3 months.
The best way to prepare for the MBLEx in 2021 is to start by first finding out what’s covered on the MBLEx. Research the MBLEx and develop your study plan. Determine how long it should take you to prepare for the test. Then gather all of the resources you think you should study. This should include your notes and books from massage school. You should also consider getting a study guide or two.
I would recommend that you also get a copy of the study guide offered by FSMTB (the people that created the MBLEx). They currently offer it for $29.95, and you can order it from their website. Your massage school may even have a copy of it. This study guide gives you a good idea of what you need to study. However, it does not go into the content itself. For example, it will say that you need to understand common conditions of the circulatory, lymphatic and immune systems, e.g., hypertension, atherosclerosis, lupus, inflammation and varicose veins. But it does not give any information on those topics. There is (1) 100-question exam in the back of the guide.
Research shows that repeated practice testing is one of the best ways to learn. So I would strongly recommend taking as many practice tests as you can. These can either be full-length tests or shorter quizzes. Take the time to review how you did and look up what you got wrong. If you had to guess on something, look that up too. You should also use a technique called spaced repetition. This basically means don’t do a couple marathon study sessions. Do shorter sessions and take breaks. Give your brain time to absorb and process the information.
You cannot make any changes to your scheduled testing appointment without losing your $20 testing fee.
The FSMBT has a 30-day waiting period for candidates who have to retake the MBLEx. That’s 30 days from the previous examination appointment. If you do need to retest, you must reapply either online or by mail, and pay the application fee ($265) and the testing fee ($20) again.
The purpose of the waiting period is to discourage MBLEx candidates from retaking the exam before having time to adequately study and prepare for any areas of the exam that they had deficits on during their first attempt.
First of all, don’t panic. Failing the MBLEx can feel frustrating and may delay your short-term plans, but it’s just a setback. Remember that you can pass the MBLEx! Try to keep this positive outlook and commit to doing whatever you need to do to pass.
Start by looking at the exam report that you received after taking the MBLEx. It will tell you how you did in each of the exam content areas (GOOD, BORDERLINE, or POOR). There may just be a couple of areas that you need to improve on.
Then create an organized study plan that focuses on the content areas that you struggled on during the first attempt. Ideally this means spending a couple of hours every day. Try to be consistent with this. Use whatever strategy works best for you. Also brush up on your test-taking skills. I would strongly recommend taking some practice tests before attempting the actual MBLEx again.
The FSMTB does not limit the number of times that you can attempt the MBLEx. Your state licensing board may however require that you pass the MBLEx within a certain number of attempts.
I highly doubt that you will receive any of the same questions if you have to retake the MBLEx. The exam questions are rotated to maintain exam security and to keep a candidate who has to retake the exam from receiving the same exam. And because the MBLEx is a computer-adaptive test (CAT), the questions you receive will change depending on which ones you get right and which ones you miss.
The MBLEx consists of 100 multiple-choice questions. The breakdown of how many question are in each content area is as follows:
- Anatomy & Physiology (11 questions)
- Kinesiology (12 questions)
- Pathology, Contraindications, Areas of Caution, Special Populations (14 questions)
- Benefits and Physiological Effects (15 questions)
- Client Assessment, Reassessment & Treatment Planning (17 questions)
- Ethics, Boundaries, Laws, Regulations (16 questions)
- Guidelines for Professional Practice (15 questions)
The Massage & Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx) consists of 100 multiple choice questions. The questions are fairly straight forward and are not designed to trick you. Some of these questions may present a scenario that tests the massage therapist’s understanding of safe and effective practice.
No. The MBLEx is a computer-adaptive test (CAT) which does not permit you to move on to the next question until you answer the current one. Even after answering all of the questions you will not be able to go back and review your answers.
The questions on the MBLEx are based on what an entry-level massage therapist needs to know to provide safe and effective treatment for the public. The questions are not intended to trick the test taker.
How hard the questions seem will depend on how familiar you are with the subject. I’ve written an article that goes into more detail on this, answering the question, how hard is the MBLEx?
No. The MBLEx draws questions from a large pool of possible questions. It is a computer-adaptive test (CAT) which means that the test will adapt while you are taking it, to determine which question to give you next, based on whether or not you answered the previous question correctly.
To better prepare students for the MBLEx, massage therapy instructors should be familiar with contents of the massage licensing exam. Ensure that your school’s curriculum reflects the content on the MBLEx. The FSMTB will provide massage schools with free printed copies of the MBLEx Candidate Handbook upon request. The FSMTB will also provide schools a performance report that shows how test candidates from their school did on the MBLEx. This can help the program director and instructors to modify their curriculum to better prepare students if needed. Some schools offer test prep workshops during the final months of their program, or simply direct their students to a MBLEx Test Prep resource like MBLExGuide.com.
The Anatomy & Physiology content area of the MBLEx covers the structure (anatomy) and function (physiology) of 12 body systems:
- Special Senses
The A&P section also covers the topic of tissue injury and repair, and concepts of energetic anatomy. You can get a better idea about the type of anatomy & physiology questions you will see on the MBLEx by reviewing our A&P flashcards.
MBLEx candidates should have a strong understanding of the muscular system and the interaction of muscles. The MBLEx Study Guide states that you will not be required to name the attachment sites, innervation and action of every muscle. But since you won’t know which ones you do need to know, you should know all of the major muscles, at a minimum. It is less likely that you will see questions about smaller muscles, like the intrinsic muscles of the hands and feet, or muscles of facial expression or swallowing. And since this is a multiple-choice exam, it only requires you to learn something to the point where you can recognize the correct answer.
There are no modality-specific questions on the MBLEx related to the application of Asian theory or energy work. You may however see a question or two that ask about key terminology related to these topics. These questions and possible answers should be presented in a big-picture format, with little chance for confusion as long as you have at least a basic understanding of Asian theory and energy work. For example, you may see questions like:
- “What are meridians in Asian theory?”
- “What does Chi refers to in energy based bodywork?”
- “What bodywork modality uses points on meridians called Tsubos?”
You will NOT see questions like, “What meridian has pressure points used to treat emotional imbalance and headache?”
On the MBLEx exam content outline, the only mention of topics related to Asian theory are “Concepts of Energetic Anatomy” in the Anatomy & Physiology section.
The kinesiology content area is 12% of the MBLEx and covers the following topics:
- Components and characteristics of muscles
- Concepts of muscle contraction
- Locations, attachment points (origin and insertion), action and fiber directions of muscles
- Joint structure and function
- Range of motion (active, passive and resisted)
To get a better idea of the kind of questions you will see in this MBLEx content area, check out our free kinesiology flashcards.
The pathology section of the MBLEx represents 14% of the exam, and covers the following topics:
- Recognize pathological and contagious conditions of the skin
- Understand common musculoskeletal conditions (sprains, strains, trigger points, etc.)
- Understand concepts of pain: acute, chronic, somatic, referred
- Be familiar with common pathologies related to the nervous system: MS, CVA, Parkinson’s disease, just to name a few
- Understand other common pathologies and how they effect a massage therapy treatment plan. These could include: HTN, COPD, arthritis, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and others
- Understand key concepts related to contraindications such as local vs. systemic
- Know the areas of caution, where massage is more likely to cause injury.
- Special populations
- Classes of medications
Learn more about what kind of questions you will see in the pathology content area of the MBLEx. Check out our free pathology flashcards.
The Benefits and Physiological Effects of Techniques That Manipulate Soft Tissue content area of the MBLEx covers the following topics:
- Understanding of the physiological effects of massage on each system of the body. How normal soft tissue responds to palpation. The effects on adhesions and abnormal tone.
- Be familiar with the psychological effects of massage and touch. Basic pain theory as it relates to massage. The effects of chronic stress on the body.
- How massage and bodywork effects specific client populations, including: elderly, pregnant, and ill.
- Understand the basic concepts behind common soft tissue techniques such as Swedish massage, MFR, deep tissue massage, and craniosacral therapy. Also understand the effects of different strokes (effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, vibration, compression, etc.). Sequence of application.
- Hot and cold applications.
- Overview of massage and bodywork modalities
To learn more questions similar to what you will see in the pathology content area of the MBLEx, visit our Benefits & Effects flashcards section
The answers provided on this FAQ page were acquired primarily from information that the FSMTB openly provides on its website. Our goal is to provide convenient and relevant information to assist you in the massage licensing process. Every effort has been made to present accurate and up-to-date information on this page. However, MBLEx applicants are encouraged to visit the FSMTB website or contact the FSMTB directly for questions. MBLExGuide is not affiliated in any way with the FSMTB, any state massage boards, or any other regulatory or licensing agencies.
Practicing simulated quizzes and full-length exams will increase your understanding of the subjects as well as your confidence in yourself.
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The content on MBLExGuide was created by a health and wellness professional, experienced in massage therapy, physical therapy and online education.