Ultimate Guide to
Passing the MBLEx
The Massage & Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx) is the current standard licensing exam for massage therapists in the US. Most state massage boards require that massage license applicants successfully pass the MBLEx before they are issued a license. The main purpose of the massage exam is to determine if an applicant has the knowledge and competency to be able to safely and effectively provide professional massage therapy services to the public.
This guide explains what you can expect to find on the massage licensing exam, and how to prepare to take the test in 2023. It was written for massage therapy students, recent graduates, and anyone who needs to pass the FSMTB 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, what obstacles to watch out for, and how to develop an effective study strategy. When you’re ready to start preparing for the massage exam, check out our MBLEx practice tests and MBLEx Prep Course. The content covered on the massage exam and in our test prep materials is based on what an entry-level massage therapist needs to know to provide safe and effective treatments for clients.
How to prepare for the MBLEx
Preparing for a comprehensive exam like the MBLEx takes time, and should begin well 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 massage exam. 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 focus on preparing for the massage exam, 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 massage licensing exam in mind, you will be ready to take the 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. The following is a 5-step process to help you prepare for the MBLEx in 2023.
5 Steps to Prepare for the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam
1. Find out what’s on the FSMTB MBLEx
The first thing you need to do is figure out what you need to know. By this I don’t mean trying 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. The FSMTB is the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, and they are the organization that administers this massage licensing exam. We have provided additional information about the MBLEx for your convenience, and also put together a list of MBLEx frequently asked questions and answers.
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, knowledge of how to safely assess and treat clients without causing harm, and a solid foundation in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology and pathology. 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. One mistake that many MBLEx candidates make is to underestimate the importance of certain content areas of the exam. For example, students often spend the vast majority of their time studying only A&P, kinesiology and pathology, while overlooking the ethics, client assessment and professional practice sections. These three content areas alone represent 48% of the MBLEx! So it is important to allocate some study time to each of the 7 content areas.
2. Reflect on your current test readiness
Take a personal inventory of your knowledge base so far. Consider how rigorous your massage training is / 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 very comprehensive 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 massage exam 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 MBLEx study plan more effective:
- Keep it realistic. If you think you will need 1 month to adequately prepare, but already have a busy schedule, then give yourself 2 months.
- Write your plan down and review it regularly. Keep it posted in a conspicuous place so you see it several times per day. 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. Willpower tends to get depleted by the end of the day too.
- Space out your study sessions. Time between your study sessions is important! This is when your subconscious 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.
The man who chases two rabbits catches neither.Confucius
4. Use the most effective study strategies and active learning 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 for the massage exam. 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 that you can use:
- Take plenty of MBLEx 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 content area quizzes 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 terminology, health and other industry-specific terms. You can make your own flashcards or try our free MBLEx 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, try closing your books and drawing the knee joint. Include as much detail as possible. Then open your books and compare your drawing to the illustrations in the book. After studying these images again for a few minutes, close your books again and redraw the knee joint on a clean piece of paper 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. This technique is especially useful for massage therapists who must visualize the deeper structures with their “mind’s eye” when working on client.
- 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, how a reflex loop in the nervous system works, or the steps of a new client intake and assessment process. Using muscle tables to learn muscles of the body (origin, insertion and action) is a good way to group and categorize the muscles, which makes memorization easier.
5. Tips to get the most out of your MBLEx 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.
While we teach, we learnSeneca
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 different types of massage contraindications, and memorize 10 common examples of each type.
Focus on your weakness and not your strengths
People often make the mistake of spending more time reviewing topics that find the most interesting and they are the best at. However, to increase your chance of passing the massage exam, 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 pathology sounds interesting, then go for it. Just avoid going over the same content area every study session and neglecting other topics.
Take frequent breaks to relax your mind and body
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. Be sure to get the blood moving and do some stretches during your study breaks.
Create an environment that is conducive to learning
Remove all distractions before starting a study session. Alert notices on your phone can easily break concentration and reduce the productivity of your study session, so be sure to turn the alerts off. Some people find background music helpful since it can drown out background noise and be relaxing.
Use positive reinforcement techniques
Strengthen your good study habits with positive reinforcement. When you think about it, everything you do in life reinforces some habit. So do as many things as possible to strengthen the habits you want.
If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.Albert Einstein
Need to pass the MBLEx?
When you’re ready to start preparing for the massage exam, check out how MBLExGuide can help. We offer a comprehensive MBLEx review course as well as MBLEx practice tests and quizzes.
Check out our complete MBLEx Prep Course!
MBLExGuide’s complete massage exam course provides massage students and therapists with an organized and comprehensive review of all 7 content areas of the MBLEx. This course along with our practice tests and quizzes provides a convenient and structured test prep solution for the massage licensing exam.
Common obstacles to passing the massage exam
There are some common problems and challenges that students face 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 exam.
Problems before test day
These problems all result in one thing: failure to sufficiently learn the material for the exam. Most of these mistakes can be attributed to poor time management, inadequate study plan, or lack of focus. Here are a few culprits to watch out for:
Sometimes the problem is simply getting started and creating some momentum. 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, try to 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 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 skill that will help in many areas of life. Activities like meditation can help to increase focus and concentration.
Your time is valuable. This is why using time is referred to as spending or investing time. Once it’s gone you can never get it back. So invest it wisely by making an efficient and effective study plan and sticking to it. Be sure to include the strategies mentioned in the guide to passing the MBLEx. There is an enormous volume of material you could be studying, but spend your time on the most relevant material. MBLExGuide has created a comprehensive MBLEx Prep Course to help you save time and cover all of the required exam content. Also, check out our article on time management tips for massage therapy students.
4 Ways to save time when preparing for the massage exam
Cut back on the television
One of the best ways to save time is to simply to turn off the TV and keep it off. When it comes to time management, productivity and success, what we don’t do is just as important as what we do. 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! Image what you could accomplish in 1,825 hours!
Reduce time browsing online
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.
Take a vacation from social media
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.
Check email less frequently
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 MBLEx test day
The following are obstacles to passing the massage exam, 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 self-care 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 and expensive, but you can take the test again if necessary.
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, how long it will take to get there, and what you need to bring. Try to arrive about 30 minutes before your scheduled time. This will alleviate some stress too.
4 Strategies to improve your MBLEx scores and test taking skills
The following is a list of specific test-taking strategies you can use on test day that can help to improve your chance of passing the massage exam.
1. Read every test 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 the question 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. You are likely to see a few questions that are a little ambiguous and can be interpreted different ways. In these instances, just select the best option and move on.
2. Read all of the answer options before selecting your answer
The first answer option may seem right, but remember that you are looking for the best answer. There’s no way of 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 the answer order, because there are none.
3. Don’t waste time on questions that your don’t know
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 rest of the questions.
4. 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.
Pass the MBLEx in 2023!
Save time, money and frustration by starting your MBLEx test prep early!