The Music Therapy Board Exam

The Music Therapy Board Exam: What Is It and How Do I Prepare?

by Karah Chappel, MT-BC

Disclosure: This post is a compilation of facts from CBMT’s website as well as advice from board-certified music therapists and is not endorsed by the Certification Board for Music Therapists.

Depending how you look at it, taking the board exam can be the best or worst part of becoming a music therapist: best because it’s the last step (!), or worst because tests –  especially ones covering such a large body of knowledge – can be intimidating. Read on for tips that worked for our music therapists to prepare for the board-certification exam!

Applying for and Scheduling the Exam

You’ve already knocked the big things off your to-do list: 

       ☑︎ Finishing your Bachelor’s or Master’s/Master’s Equivalency coursework

       ☑︎ Completing 1200 clinical hours during your internship

Your next step is:

      ☐ Applying for the exam.

Visit CBMT’s Board Certification Examination page for the most up-to-date information regarding applying for the board exam. As of May 2024, the requirements listed were: 

      ☐ Completing the Examination Application

      ☐ Submitting an official transcript to CBMT

      ☐ Confirming completion of internship via a letter from your internship site

      ☐ Paying the examamination fee

The Examination Application can be found within your portal once you create a CBMT account. The exam fee for first-time test takers is $325 (broken down as a $275 examination fee and a $50 processing fee). Students retaking the test will pay only the $275 examination fee.

Keep in mind that two forms will be required in order for a candidate to receive accommodations for the CBMT exam: (1) Request for Special Examination Accommodations, to be completed by the applicant, and (2) Documentation of Disability-Related Needs, which should be completed by the appropriate professional (like a doctor or psychiatrist) and sent directly from that professional’s office to CBMT. These forms can be found in the Candidate Handbook and both must be received by CBMT prior to scheduling your exam.

The Exam Itself

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.”

CBMT takes the integrity of the exam very seriously – and you will even notice this at your testing site. First, there will be a proctor, or a person administering the exam and monitoring the room, at the site. Second, you wiill be required to secure your phone, keys, and wallet in a locker with the proctor before going into the exam room.

You will have 3 hours to complete the exam, and you can take as much or as little of that time as you need.

Keep in mind that 130 of the 150 exam questions are scored. The other 20 are nonscored pretest questions which are interspersed throughout the exam. The catch is that you won’t know which questions are scored and which ones aren’t. 

Three people using computers.
Three people using computers.

The Content

The board certification exam is written by CBMT’s Exam Committee, which is made up of a group of music therapists from various philosophical backgrounds. The questions are all multiple choice. 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.

The conceptual questions will look like long answer math questions you used to see in high school: they will provide information about a patient or treatment situation and ask which of the multiple choice answers you would choose. Keep in mind there may seem to be more than one correct answer: it is up to you to decide which is the most correct. Our therapists also reported that it helped for them to evaluate which domain the question was assessing and to keep in mind only the information provided by the question without letting their brain fill in any “what if” information.

Resources for Preparation

Now that you’ve got a rough idea of how this is going to go, it’s time to prepare! Read on for some helpful resources:

1. CBMT’s Board Certification Domains 

So what are these domains we’ve been talking about? You’ve already seen them during assessments for practicum and internship! The Board Certification Domains are all the skills a music therapist should possess to be considered “competent” at our profession, as decided by CBMT. This could be a helpful place to start your prep: with a note taking tool, walk through the outline and rate your confidence in completing each skill. Your notes here can guide what topics you give the most time as you start studying.

2. CBMT’s Self-Assessment Examinations

CBMT offers two different Self-Assessment Examinations (practice tests) that you can take online. After taking them, you not only receive the correct answers for each question, but a detailed explanation on why each answer choice was right or wrong. You will also receive a copy of the test via email, which you can continue to review even after you’ve taken the practice test. This can help you identify which domains are your strengths – and which ones you need to give more attention. Also – keep in mind when utilizing these Self-Assessment Examinations that you can only take each exam one time. You might consider spacing them out during your period of preparation.

3. CBMT’s Self-Assessment Examination Bibliography 

The Self-Assessment Examination Bibliography is a reference list of books, journals, and other materials provided by CBMT to “familiarize you with some textbooks and reference materials available for practicing materials.” It is not an exhaustive list, but rather a jumping off point for reputable sources and relevant content.

Remember when we mentioned identifying which domains need extra prep? Once you do that, you could come to the resources here to target specific areas.

4. Notes You Took in Class

Your coursework was all created with the goal of preparing you for the board exam  don’t forget to utilize it! Reviewing notes from classes can help refresh the knowledge you already have. Consider refamiliarizing yourself with the processes and language associated with various therapeutic approaches, basic music theory elements, music history, common medical and psychological diagnoses, and principles of music therapy.

During the Exam

Here are a few more miscellaneous tips for ya!

  • The testing software includes a feature to mark questions to revisit later; don’t be afraid to note which answers you’re not totally confident in. You can easily go back to just those questions after you complete the others to review your answers.
  • Scratch paper is your friend! Use it for basics you might want to reference easily – like the circle of fifths, the fret layout of a guitar neck, or a few principles of prominent theoretical approaches. You could even get creative and use your scratch paper to manage your test anxiety! Write down affirmations, guided breathing prompts, grounding techniques, or a list of other coping skills you can use inside the testing room.
A decorative list of creative ways to use
CBMT exam scratch paper. Suggestions include: 
The circle of fifths.
Layout of a guitar fretboard.
Principles of prominent theoretical approaches.
Affirmations.
Guided breathing prompts.
Grounding techniques.
Other ways to manage test anxiety.
The bottom of the image has HHMT's social media handle, @heartandharmony.
@heartandharmony
A decorative list of creative ways to use
CBMT exam scratch paper. Suggestions include: 
The circle of fifths.
Layout of a guitar fretboard.
Principles of prominent theoretical approaches.
Affirmations.
Guided breathing prompts.
Grounding techniques.
Other ways to manage test anxiety.
The bottom of the image has HHMT's social media handle, @heartandharmony.
@heartandharmony

Passing

As of May 2024, the current passing point of the CBMT Board Certification Exam is 95 out of 130 questions. According to CBMT’s data, last updated in June 2023, 69% of candidates pass on their first attempt. Not everyone passes the exam the first time, and that’s okay! You can retake the exam as many times as you need (Candidate Handbook, p. 13) but keep in mind you will have to wait at least 30 days between tests (p. 13) and you will have to pay the $275 examination fee again (p. 6).

We hope you’re feeling confident about approaching the board certification exam, future music therapist!

If you’ve made it this far into the process, chances are you will be an amazing music therapist. Prepare carefully, rest well, and give yourself some grace in the process. You got this!

MT-BCs, what tips did we miss? Comment below and let us know!

The Music Therapy Board Exam
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