Passing the Music Therapy Board Exam: The Music Therapy Intern’s Declassified Survival Guide, Part 3

by Annie Roberson, MT-BC

*Heart and Harmony is not affiliated or endorsed by the Certification Board for Music Therapists. This is simply a collection of tricks I found useful when studying for the board exam.

Welcome to the third and final installment of a three-part series on music therapy internship tips! The first two posts covered finding and applying for internships and making the most of your internship experience.

This post will give you tools and advice for passing your board exam.


Let’s get started!

Passing the Music Therapy Board Exam


You’ve completed your undergraduate or master’s level equivalency coursework, completed 1200 hours of clinical training in your internship, and now it’s time for the biggest test yet: passing the Certification Board for Music Therapists’ board exam.


What’s the first step?

Before you can take the exam, you must apply for examination through CBMT. Be sure to check the Candidate Handbook for the most recent and complete details about the board exam. As of April 2019, the application requirements listed on the CBMT Candidate Handbook were:

  • A completed and signed application exam available at the end of the CBMT Candidate Handbook
  • Official transcript of your Music Therapy degree sent directly to CBMT offices
  • Exam fee

The exam fee for first-time test takers is $325, broken down, $275 examination fee and $50 processing fee. Students retaking the test will pay only the $275 examination fee.


What is the exam like?

According to CBMT,

“The CBMT Board Certification examination consists of a 150 question multiple-choice test. There are two forms of the examination and they are reviewed and updated annually to reflect new content. The exam is administered by computer at over 200 Assessment Centers geographically distributed throughout the United States and abroad. Examinations are administered by appointment only Monday through Friday at 9:00am and 1:30pm with the exception of some holidays. There are no application deadlines and candidates that meet the eligibility requirements for an examination may apply at any time.”


So, the exam is 150 multiple-choice questions administered on a computer. Since the exams are given at various testing centers, everyone’s experience will look a little different. Here’s what my testing experience looked like:

I took the exam at a testing center about 20 minutes from my home. When I arrived, I had to place my keys, wallet, and everything else in a locked bag until my test was finished. The room I took the test in had about 40 computers at partitioned desks, and there were probably around 15 other people taking various tests in the room with me.


When I sat at my desk, I was provided with a pencil and a scratch piece of paper. The testing company was kind enough to provide earplugs, which are not guaranteed at every location but were very helpful for me!


There was a program tutorial already loaded on the computer as well as some practice questions that let me get used to the way the testing program worked. Once I was finished with the practice questions, the exam began!


You are allowed three hours to take the exam. I finished in just a little over an hour and a half, and took another 10 minutes or so to review my answers before clicking submit.


Once I submitted my test, I reported to the proctor and waited for my score report to print. My proctor was very kind and chatty, and asked me about the test and how I thought I did. She asked if I wanted the score report sealed or if I wanted to look at it then and there. I chose to look at it then, and got the happy news that I passed!

Preparing for the board exam

The board certification exam is written by a group of music therapists from various philosophical backgrounds. There will be some questions that test your basic knowledge of music theory, music history, psychology, and music therapy concepts, and some questions that ask you to apply that conceptual knowledge into therapeutic situations.

When answering these applied scenario questions, it’s important to remember that the exam is not wanting to know what you, the individual music therapist, would do in that situation. Instead, you’re being tested on your knowledge of philosophical frameworks and how a music therapist would apply that philosophy in a session.

The catch?

The scenario will not say “When operating in a behavioral framework, how would you react to this situation?” It’s up to you to recognize the buzzwords and language associated with these different philosophies and determine which one to use when answering the question.

Review your intro textbooks and class notes to refamiliarize yourself not only with the processes, but also with the language associated with cognitive, behavioral, biomedical, neurological, humanistic, holistic, and psychodynamic therapies.

Chances are that you have some idea of where your strengths and weaknesses as a music therapist lie already. To get a clearer idea of specific topics to focus on, review the Board Certification Domains in the Candidate Handbook to get a firm grasp on concepts you need to review.

What should I study?

Now that you’ve got a loose plan of attack, here are some resources I found helpful when studying for my board exam:

1. The Self-Assessment Examinations offered by CBMT

CBMT offers two different practice tests that you take online. You not only receive the answers for each question, but a detailed explanation of why each answer was right or wrong. You also receive a copy of the test emailed to you once you finish, which you can continue to review even after you’ve taken the practice test.

I took both self-assessment examinations and personally felt that Examination B was the closest to the version of the actual test that I took – there are several versions of the board exam being administered at any given time. These are the only practice tests created and endorsed by CBMT.

2. This Quizlet

This is not a quizlet endorsed by CBMT, but I found it to be pretty good overview of the material that was on the exam.

3. The MT-BC Study Group

Again, not a function endorsed by CBMT, but there is a very helpful community of music therapists, interns, and students all working together to help each other study for the exam! It helped me to look through the discussion and see different perspectives of what was easy, what was challenging, and what tips others had.

4. Old Class Notes

I took digital notes throughout my undergrad which made this a lot easier, but I flipped back through all of my old music therapy class notes, particularly the end of course summaries and exam study guides to brush up on various concepts. I also looked over my notes for my Intro to Psychology and Abnormal Psych classes as well as music theory and music history – I found questions from all of those subjects on the actual board exam.

5. Reviewing the Candidate Handbook, domains, and all other material on the CBMT website regarding Examination:

You can review study tips, listen to the examples of others, but there’s really no substitute for information straight from the source when you’re trying to learn more about what the test is and how the questions are structured. In particular, look over the domains listed on the Candidate Handbook and match them with the questions on the Self-Assessment Examination. I found that helped me get inside the minds of the test writers and see what they were actually asking about.

While you’re taking the test:

One feature I found very helpful was the ability to mark questions to revisit later. If I wasn’t 100% sure of an answer, I marked it just in case and reviewed all of marked answers at the end of the test before submitting.

Use your scratch paper! I sketched out a guitar fretboard, a grand staff, outlines of psychology theories, and general notes and information I wanted to remember as I started the test. I even drew outlines of my thought process when working through some trickier questions! It helped to get my process on paper and detangle my thoughts.

Rely on your test taking and coping skills! I’ve never been one to get too much test anxiety, but I stopped periodically throughout the test to do some deep breathing and stretch my hands. I’ve heard people talk about using mantras, memorized short meditation scripts, etc. Whatever helps keep you focused and calm, do it!


There are 130 scored questions and 20 questions that don’t count towards your score, but are used to test new examination questions for future editions of the exam, however, you don’t know which questions are scored and which aren’t. Treat every question like it counts when taking the exam, but give yourself some grace before clicking that “submit” button. Chances are, at least one of those questions you’re stressing over won’t count toward your final score.

What if I don’t pass?

According to CBMT:

“The current pass rate is 74% for those taking the exam for the first-time. Since April 1, 2018, 797 candidates have taken the exam for the first time, and 588 candidates have performed successfully.”

Not everyone passes the exam the first time, and that’s okay! As of April 2019, you can take the exam as many times as you want, but you do have to wait a month in between tests, and you will have to pay the $275 examination fee again.

And the good news? Even if you don’t pass the first time, you’ll have a much better handle on what to expect and how to study for the second time around!

Study hard, finish strong, and take a deep breath.

If you’ve put in the hard work to get your degree and finish your internship, chances are, you’re going to make a great music therapist.  

Please let me know if you have any questions, concerns, or anything you would add to this guide. Happy studying, future music therapist!

Annie Roberson, MT-BC

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