Massage & Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx) is the current standard licensing exam for massage therapists in the US. Most state boards require that massage license applicants successfully pass the MBLEx before being issued a license. The main purpose of the massage exam is to determine an applicant’s competency to provide professional massage therapy services to the public.
This guide will explain what you can expect to find on the MBLEx and how to prepare for the test. It was written for massage therapy students, recent graduates, and anyone who needs to pass the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam.
Like any comprehensive licensing exam, the MBLEx can be challenging to prepare for. This helpful guide will show you exactly what you need to study, and help you develop an effective study strategy. When you’re ready to start preparing for the exam, check out out MBLEx practice test and quizzes.
The content covered on the exam is based on what an entry-level massage therapist needs to know to provide safe and effective treatments.
How to prepare for the MBLEx
Preparing for a comprehensive exam like the MBLEx takes time, and should begin before graduating from massage school. Ideally, a massage student would start their massage and bodywork training program with the licensing exam in mind. This means attending all classes, keeping up with reading assignments, and taking good notes.
However, sometimes even doing all this may not be enough to pass the MBLEx. As with most cumulative tests, there is an enormous volume of material to review and it isn’t always clear what to focus your time and energy on.
For recent massage school graduates, preparing for the MBLEx likely takes top priority. Because being able to get a job and start earning money working as a massage therapist depends on having a license. So during this period, some other things may need to be put on hold temporarily. This will help you to focus on preparing for the MBLEx, and prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.
If you’re still in massage school, congratulate yourself for starting to prepare for the MBLEx ahead of time. By creating your study plan and studying for school tests with the MBLEx in mind, you will be ready to take the licensing exam soon after graduating from your massage program. Plus, since you’re still in school, you have access to teachers who are available to answer your questions.
I’ve created the following 5-step process to help you prepare for the MBLEx in 2021.
5 Steps to Prepare for the
Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam
1. Find out what's on the MBLEx
The first thing you need to do is figure out what you need to know. By this I don’t mean try to find a copy of the test. But rather get an accurate description of the topics that will be covered.
Start by researching the content of the MBLEx on the FSMTB website. I’ve provided additional information about the MBLEx for your convenience.
Get a good understanding of the depth or difficulty level of the content too. It helps to understand that the purpose or intent of the MBLEx is to assess the massage student’s competency to provide safe, entry-level massage therapy services.
This means you need a thorough understanding of basic massage skills, and how to safely assess and treat clients without causing harm. This also means that advanced assessment and treatment techniques, and knowledge of the finer details of microbiology (for example) are beyond the scope of this exam.
2. Reflect on your current readiness
Take a personal inventory of your knowledge base so far. Consider how rigorous your massage training is (or was). Also consider how well you did on tests and quizzes in your training program. If you barely got by, or if your massage education program wasn’t very thorough, then it’s a good idea to take some extra time to prepare for the MBLEx.
However if your massage program was challenging and you attended all classes, studied regularly, and did well on all exams, then preparing for the MBLEx should be fairly quick and painless. Check out this article to determine if you’re ready to take the MBLEx.
3. Create a comprehensive study plan
A good study plan should be realistic and written down. The length of study should be based on the results from your previous reflection on your current readiness (#2).
Here are a few tips to make your study plan more effective:
- Keep it realistic. If you think you will need 1 month to adequately prepare, but have a busy schedule, then give yourself 2 months.
- Write your plan down and review it regularly. You will be much more likely to stick with a written study plan.
- Schedule your study sessions and stick to your schedule. First thing in the morning is often the easiest time of day to control your schedule. By the end of the day you will be tired and have likely been pulled a dozen different directions, which can make focusing on studying difficult.
- Space out your study sessions. Time between your study sessions is important. This is when your brain continues to process and catalog all the new information you put in your head.
- Schedule your study periods at regular intervals. Keep individual sessions between 30 minutes and 2 hours, depending on your ability to stay focused and how much time you have available.
When creating your study plan, write down one specific goal related to passing the MBLEx. This will help you stay focused and inspired. An example goal could be: “I will follow my study plan and pass the MBLEx on [date] so that I can begin my new career as a massage therapist on [date]”. Having one clear goal and staying focused is a powerful strategy that will help you in many areas of your life.
4. Use the most effective study strategies and techniques
Unless you have loads of time, there’s no need to re-read your textbooks from massage school. While reading will always be an important part of learning, re-reading textbooks is probably the least efficient way to review for a test. Reading is also a fairly passive way to learn.
Instead, focus on active study strategies. Active learning is more engaging and interesting. It forces you to think about the material in front of you, and make decisions about it, such as asking yourself “Is this important for me to know right now?”. Active learning is also a much more effective way to understand and retain information.
Here are some active study strategies you can use:
- Take practice tests and quizzes. These require you to think about the content rather than just skim over words. Also important but often overlooked: include time to review your results. Especially review the questions that you missed. The MBLExGuide practice quizzes for members are kept short (10 questions each) to remove any barriers to reviewing your quiz results. Make a note of the topics that are the most difficult for you. Then adjust your study plan if needed to emphasize strengthening those weak areas.
- Flashcards are an excellent way to quickly test your mastery of specific subject areas. They often require a deeper level of understanding because the open-ended question format requires you to come up with an answer on your own rather than just select from a list of possible answers. Flashcards are also an excellent way to build your vocabulary of massage, health and other industry-specific terms. You can make your own flashcards or just use the MBLExGuide flashcards.
- Create outlines and lists to organize content to help identify relationships between concepts.
- Drawing from memory is a great technique for subjects like anatomy and kinesiology. This uses principles of psychoneuromotor learning to enhance understanding of spatial relationships. For example, close your books and draw the knee joint. Try to include as much detail as possible. Then open your books and compare your drawing to the illustrations. After this, close your books again and redraw the knee joint and label all of the structures. After doing this a couple of times, you will have a much better understanding of the structures at this joint and their relationship to each other. This will produce better results than simply reading about the knee and looking at a picture.
- Create diagrams and flowcharts for MBLEx content areas like physiology, client assessment and treatment planning. These topics involve a series of processes rather than something static. For example, you could create a diagram or flowchart of how blood moves through the heart or through the complete vascular system. Or show how food moves through the gastrointestinal system, how inspired air makes it to the alveoli, or how a reflex loop in the nervous system works.
5. Tips to get the most out of your study sessions
Participate with study groups
Study groups are a great way to make a study session more engaging and productive. However not all study groups are equal. Avoid ones that tend to get sidetracked easily and become unproductive. Once or twice per week is often enough to participate with a study group. Hold everyone in the group accountable to stay on task.
Try active study sessions where you practice and quiz each other on massage techniques, A&P, kinesiology, ROM, client assessment skills, etc.
The process of teaching someone else is one of the best ways to learn. People in a study group will have different strengths. Let’s say your study group has 4 people. Each member can select a topic or two that they understand well that other members need help in. Then research your topic(s) and at the next study group session, teach your study partners what you learned and share copies of your notes.
Have an agenda for each study session
Begin each study session with a specific agenda. So instead of just starting a 2-hour study period with the intention of “studying for the MBLEx”, write down 1-3 things you really need to go over and then focus on these topics. This will also help prevent you from feeling overwhelmed. Always begin with the most important thing. For example:
- (60 minutes) Study the basic structure of synovial joints and look at specific examples.
- (60 minutes) Learn the normal ROM of the major joints, and ideal position to assess this.
Focus on your weakness and not your strengths
People often make the mistake of spending more time reviewing topics that are the most interesting and they are the best at. However to increase your chance of passing, focus on your weakest areas. This will raise your score the most. Also reviewing any topics that you miss on practice quizzes will help you strengthen any areas of weakness.
It’s ok to pay attention to your current mood too. If you don’t feel like studying massage ethics and laws tonight, but think diving into contraindications and pathology sounds interesting, then go for it. Just avoid going over the same content area every study session and neglecting other topics.
Take frequent and relaxing breaks
Some people like the Pomodoro technique. This involves focusing on a task for 25 minutes then taking a 5-minute break. Do 4 of these then take a longer break. Strive for a total of 2 hours per study session. Practicing this strategy will also prepare you for the 2-hour MBLEx test.
Create an environment conducive to learning
Remove all distractions prior to starting study session. Alert notices on your phone can easily break concentration and reduce how productive your study session is.
Some people find background music helpful since it can drown out background noise and be relaxing.
Use positive reinforcement
Strengthen your good study habits with positive reinforcement. When you think about it, everything you do reinforces some habit. So do as many things as possible to strengthen the habits you want.
Need to pass the MBLEx?
Common obstacles to passing the MBLEx
There are common problems that students make when preparing for a comprehensive exam like the MBLEx. These obstacles can be broken down into 2 categories: Problems that occur before test day, and problems that occur during the test.
Problems before test day
These problems all result in one thing: failure to sufficiently learn the material for the exam. Most of them can be attributed to poor time management, inadequate study plan, or lack of focus. Here are a few culprits to watch out for:
The best way I’ve found to overcome this is to focus on prioritization. Always put the most important thing first. So in the time leading up to taking the MBLEx, let this be your top priority and focus. Find a way to develop a sense of urgency, which will help you stay motivated. After passing the MBLEx, your top priority will change to something else, like getting clients.
Lack of focus
When you’re studying, be present. Don’t try to multitask. Research on multitasking shows that we aren’t good at it. Actually, the brain can’t really multitask. Rather, It switches back and forth between tasks rapidly. The problem is that every time you have to switch and re-focus on a different task, you lose a time and become more fatigued. This is called “switching cost”.
It is far more efficient to remain focused on one task. Focus and attention are things that can be built with practice. It is an enormously valuable asset that will help in many areas of life. Activities like meditation can help to increase focus and concentration.
Your time is valuable (hence the phrase spend or invest your time). Once it’s gone you can never get it back. So use it wisely by making an efficient and effective study plan and sticking to it. Be sure to include the strategies listed above. There is an enormous volume of material you could be studying, but spend your time on the most relevant material.
4 Ways To Save Time
Turn off the TV. A recent Nielsen report showed that the average American watches an average of 5 hours of TV per day. That’s 1,825 hours per year!
It’s so easy to get on YouTube and waste time with videos designed to entertain or instructional videos for skills you don’t really need. Figure out which websites you are wasting time on. There are several apps and tools available to block or limit the time you spend on specific websites or social media platforms.
Although a great way to connect with people, social media can be a huge distraction if you let it. Notifications and updates can be a source of constant distraction. There are many great articles online with strategies on how to limit your time on social media.
Like social media and other things constantly vying for our attention, email can be a big distraction. Not only that, but for some people stress levels can increase as the inbox fills up. Like other people putting more stuff on your to-do list. The easiest way to handle email is to check it only at scheduled times, and never first thing in the morning.
Problems on test day
The following are obstacles to passing the MBLEx, that can occur on test day. Most of these can be overcome easily with a few simple steps.
The best way to relieve test anxiety is to be thoroughly prepared, well ahead of time. Taking several full-length practice exams will not only let you know when you are ready, but will increase your confidence and concentration needed to focus for a 100-question test.
Work on decreasing your general stress level in the days leading up to the exam. Try techniques like: positive self-talk, visualize passing the exam, exercising, and oh yeah, getting a massage.
Also know that if you don’t pass the first time, it’s not the end of the world. It may be disappointing, but you can take the test again.
Inadequate planning for test day can make it hard to do well even if you were disciplined in your studies. This is an easy problem to avoid.
Ideally schedule your exam time for the morning, when your brain is less fatigued. Get plenty of sleep the night before, and eat a healthy breakfast.
Be sure you know how to get to your testing center, and how long it will take. Try to arrive about 30 minutes before your scheduled time. This will alleviate some stress too.
How to improve your test taking skills
The following are specific strategies you can use on test day that can help to improve your chance of passing the MBLEx.
4 Simple Strategies to
Improve Your MBLEx Test Scores
Read every question carefully
A common mistake many test takers make is to misread the question. This problem can occur when trying to read too quickly, or not reading it completely because you assume you know what it is asking.
Also pay attention to specific terminology used in the question stem and answer options. Misreading little prefixes and suffixes like ad- and hypo– can completely change the question. As can skimming over key words like “except”, “the least”, or “all but the following”. The questions on the MBLEx are generally well-written and the FSMTB states that they are reviewed for accuracy. But you will still need to read each question carefully.
Read all of the answer options
The first answer option may seem right, but remember that you are looking for the best answer. There’s no way knowing which answer is the best without reading all of the options.
Remember that the FSMTB states that all possible answer choices are “plausible”. The distractors may only be right in certain circumstances. But there should be one answer option that most practicing therapists would agree is correct.
Be careful not to look for patterns in answers, because there are none.
Don't waste time
Even if you are well prepared, there may be a few questions that you have no idea about. In these instances, try to eliminate a couple of answer choices that you think might be wrong. Then take your best guess and move on.
Wasting time on any questions that you really don’t know the answer to won’t help. In fact it will probably just add to any anxiety or self doubt that you may have. Save your time for the other questions.
Re-read the question after selecting the answer
This easy tactic is almost guaranteed to earn you a few more correct answers per test. Simply re-read the question with your answer selection in mind to see if your answer still makes sense.
You may occasionally notice when doing this, that you initially misread the question, and your answer doesn’t make sense. You may have initially overlooked a word like “not” or “except” which completely changes what the question is asking for. For a test like the MBLEx where the questions are not very long, there should be plenty of time to use this technique.