Thousands of people visit massage and bodywork therapists every day. These therapists help patients relieve stress, manage pain, and rehabilitate from surgery or other injuries. Prescription drugs are not used in massage or bodywork. Instead, the therapist kneads a patient’s muscles to get oxygen flowing to body tissues, clear lactic acid to reduce pain, and lower levels of the hormone cortisol to reduce stress.
A massage or bodywork therapist is a health care professional. They do not prescribe drugs, but they do treat medical conditions. So, it is imperative that patients know they are being treated by a competent health care professional. A massage license is required to practice in 37 states and the District of Columbia. Passing the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx) is often part of the licensing requirement.
The MBLEx is administered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB). The FSMTB developed this exam “to ensure that the practice of massage therapy is provided to the public in a safe and effective manner.” The exam is widely recognized throughout the industry, primarily because the knowledge being tested is essential for today’s successful massage and bodywork professionals.
This is a content exam, not a general aptitude exam. At one point, you may have taken the ACT, SAT, or GMAT. The MBLEx is nothing at all like those tests. This exam is designed to only test your knowledge of the massage and bodywork industry. You should be able to pass the exam based on the knowledge you gained during your massage coursework or apprenticeship program.
FSMTB undertook an extensive study to determine the essential elements of a massage or bodywork therapist job. The study results were validated by over 7,000 massage and bodywork professionals across the United States. Exam questions were then developed based on the results of this validated study. Questions are designed to assess whether or not you have the ability to competently perform entry-level work in the field.
The MBLEx is a 2 hour exam that asks 100 multiple choice questions. These questions are not designed to trick you. They are designed to see how much you know about massage and bodywork. You should not walk into the MBLEx exam cold. Preparation is essential. Many of the questions will ask you about topics that you may not use every day, but were covered in your massage therapy classes. The exam will be broken into the following sections:
- Benefits and Physiological Effects that Manipulate Soft Tissues (14%)
- Client Assessment, Reassessment, and Treatment Planning (17%)
- Anatomy & Physiology (12%)
- Pathology, Contraindications, Areas of Caution, Special Populations (13%)
- Ethics, Boundaries, Laws, and Regulations (15%)
- Kinesiology (11%)
- Guidelines for Professional Practice (13%)
- Overview of Massage & Bodywork History / Culture / Modalities (5%)
You can earn a score between 300 and 900. State licensing boards do not set the minimum passing score for this exam. FSMTB has determined that you must earn at least of score of 630 to pass the MBLEx exam. Each question you answer correctly counts towards your overall score. You are encouraged to guess if you are unsure about the answer. Points will be subtracted if you skip over a question. If you fail the exam, you will be able to retake the exam as many times as necessary to pass it.
The MBLEx is a computer-based test that is offered at Pearson VUE testing centers across the country. You cannot just walk into one of the testing centers and sit for the exam. You will need to submit an application to FSMTB. If you are deemed eligible, you will be allowed to schedule your exam. Excellent computer skills are not needed to perform well on the exam. You can take a brief tutorial before the exam to become more comfortable with computer-based testing.
Passing the MBLEx is just one step in getting a massage and bodywork state license. Each state has different requirements because there is no nationwide standard. Once you pass the MBLEx, you should never need to take the exam again. To keep your license current, most states will require you to complete a series of continuing education classes.
How the MBLEx Exam is Used in Licensing
The majority of massage and bodywork therapists will need to earn a license before they can begin treating patients. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia require these licenses. However, each state sets its own requirements. Many times the MBLEx exam is part of those requirements.
Many states use the MBLEx exam as part of their licensing process for two main reasons. First, the exam was developed after an extensive nationwide review of massage and bodywork therapist job duties. The exam focuses on those key concepts that are essential to succeeding in this field. States are assured that candidates who pass this exam have the competency necessary to safely treat patients. Second, the test is standardized. The material being tested is not specific to one particular state, area of the country, or one massage school. A passing score earned in Tampa, Florida carries the same weight as a passing score earned in Denver, Colorado.
Becoming a licensed massage or bodywork therapist
Passing the MBLEx exam does not automatically make you licensed. It is just one part of a state’s licensing requirements. You will need to contact your state’s massage therapy board to see what the specific requirements are. Typically, they are a mix of the following:
- Complete a study program or apprenticeship at a board approved school
- Pass the MBLEx exam
- Complete specific courses that are designated by the state
- Fill out a detailed application, disclosing any criminal activities and drug or alcohol violations
Typically, a state massage license will only be valid for a few years. You will not have to take the MBLEx exam in order to renew your license. Instead, states will require candidates to complete a specific number of hours of continuing education classes.
Let’s assume that you are a licensed massage therapist practicing in the state of Florida. Circumstances are requiring you to move out to Arizona. You will have to obtain a new license to practice in Arizona. However, you should not have to take the MBLEx exam again. Your scores are valid throughout your professional career. The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) will require you to fill out an MBLEx Mobility Form so they can send your scores to the Arizona Massage Licensing Board.
Can the MBLEx be used for certification?
The MBLEx exam is not used for certification purposes. It is strictly used for licensing purposes. Certification and licensing are two completely different areas. Licensing is something that is required by a state. You must hold a license in order to practice in the state. These licenses ensure the public that they are being treated by a competent massage or bodywork therapist.
A certification is something that you voluntarily earn. It is not something that is required by states or even employers. Certifications are awarded after you successfully complete an educational program. Each of these programs will have different measurements and requirements. Attending a massage therapy school does not automatically certify you in this field. Often, you will need to enroll in an additional program to earn this designation. A certification in massage or bodywork can help you stand out from other massage therapists. It shows that you are committed to your career. Plus, it provides you just one more credential you can show to potential patients and employers.
Should you take the MBLEx if your state doesn’t require a license?
You may reside in a state where a massage license is not required. This does not mean that you cannot still take the MBLEx exam. In fact, you probably should consider taking it. The massage and bodywork therapy job market can be competitive. Additional credentials can help bolster your chances of landing an interview and ultimately a therapist job. Being able to list that you have passed the MBLEx exam will make your resume stand out. Even though it wasn’t required, you took it upon yourself to prove that you have the skills necessary to succeed. Employers love to speak with motivated candidates. Passing the exam shows that you are one of those candidates.
How the MBLEx Exam Was Developed
The MBLEx Exam is one of the most respected standardized tests in the massage and bodywork industry. Extensive research was conducted by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) to understand the key job tasks massage professionals perform. The results of that research culminated in creating a nationwide licensing exam, the MBLEx. The exam is a true test of what a competent entry-level massage therapist must know to be successful in the field.
The goal of the research was to develop a massage and bodywork exam that could be administered in every state and American territory. It wouldn’t matter where the test-taker was located. The material being tested would be relevant to any entry-level massage therapy position.
A Job Task Analysis Survey was created under the direction of massage and bodywork subject matter experts and testing experts. The survey was designed to get a feel for the tasks being performed, have a better understanding of the working environment, and learn about the necessary skills required to perform the job. FSMTB wanted to make sure they received input from both entry-level therapists and therapists that have spent years practicing in the field. The survey was sent out to approximately 75,000 massage and bodywork professionals across the country. They voluntarily asked people to respond.
Over 10% of the survey recipients answered the survey. Those who responded back represented a wide cross section of the profession. Over half of the respondents had between 500 – 749 hours of initial massage education. They were skilled in Swedish, deep tissue, trigger point, myofascial, and reflexology modalities. They provided information about the number of days they practice, how long a typical treatment session takes, and how much time was spent on administrative tasks. Individuals from every state and territory responded, with the exception of American Samoa. FSMTB now had a true representation of the individuals practicing in the massage field.
The MBLEx exam questions are based on the results of the Job Task Analysis Survey. The exam truly measures what a massage therapist needs to know. The content was not developed in the dark halls of a university. The content is based on what actual massage therapist professionals encounter on a daily basis. The result is an exam that focuses on 8 main content areas. The more important the content area is to the profession, the more questions are asked.
- Benefits and Physiological Effects that Manipulate Soft Tissues
- Client Assessment, Reassessment, and Treatment Planning
- Anatomy & Physiology
- Pathology, Contraindications, Areas of Caution, Special Populations
- Ethics, Boundaries, Laws, and Regulations
- Guidelines for Professional Practice
- Overview of Massage & Bodywork History / Culture / Modalities
Subject matter experts also evaluate each exam question. They determine how likely it is that an entry-level massage therapist would be able to successfully answer the question. For those familiar with statistics, this is basically a modified Angoff process. The process is used to ensure that the test measures how competent an entry-level massage therapist can be. None of the questions are designed to gauge how many years of experience you have spent practicing in the field.
How the Exam is Used
Many states require massage and bodywork therapists to be licensed. The MBLEx exam is an excellent tool to determine just how much a therapist knows about the field they want to practice in. Passing the exam shows that the therapist is a competent professional and can safely treat patients. States are not allowed to decide what the MBLEx passing score is. FSMTB sets the passing score, based on analysis conducted by their subject matter experts.
The exam is also an excellent tool for massage therapists. When you receive your scores, you will see your performance in each of the content areas. You may have passed with the minimum score, but want to do better than the minimum. You can learn about the areas you need to develop additional skills in and take classes or training to hone those skills.
Registering for the MBLEx Exam
Registering for the MBLEx ExamYou will need to pre-register in order to sit for the MBLEx exam. Not all states require a license to practice massage or bodywork therapy. Some massage therapists sit for this exam to bolster their credentials. So, the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) has established two separate paths to determine if you are eligible to register. You can apply through your state massage licensing board or directly through FSMTB.
It is important that you submit your application as soon as possible. FSMTB will carefully review the information that candidates provide. This organization is widely recognized as an industry leader and wants to ensure that candidates are being honest about their credentials. It can take weeks to be notified that your application has been accepted. If your application is deemed incomplete, you will be notified and given up to 6 months to correct the information.
When you submit your application, you will be required to pay an exam fee. This fee covers the cost of taking the exam and one free score report sent to the state licensing board of your choice. MBLEx exam fees can vary from year to year. You are allowed to withdraw your application, but only a portion of the fee will be refunded. If you fail to show up on the day of your scheduled exam, your fee will be forfeited.
Applying Through FSMTB
If you choose to apply directly through FSMTB, you will be asked to submit an application form. Make sure the name and address you list on the form is identical to the name and address listed on your primary form of identification. If it does not match, it will cause you problems when you try to check-in at the testing center. You will be asked to list the massage therapy school you attended along with the city and state. Make sure the information you provide is accurate. FSMTB may spot check to make sure you attended this school. The form will also ask where you want your scores sent and ask about any special accommodations you might need on test day.
You will also be asked to sign a statement of acknowledgment. By signing the statement, you agree that all the information you provided is correct. Never embellish your credentials or falsify information on this form. You are also agreeing that you will not share MBLEx exam content or questions with anyone. If you do, serious penalties can be levied and legal action can be taken against you.
Applying Through a State Licensing Board
You have the option of registering for the MBLEx exam directly through your state’s licensing board or agency. Registering this way eliminates the need to fill out the FSMTB application. However, each state is different. Some will require you to apply directly through FSMTB while others will have their own unique registration process. Either way, give yourself plenty of time in order to meet state deadlines.
Registering through your state’s massage licensing board will still require you to sign a statement of acknowledgement. The statement is identical to the one candidates applying directly through FSMTB must sign.
Scheduling Your MBLEx Appointment
If your application is approved, you will receive a Notice to Schedule (NTS). You will receive your NTS via e-mail if you provided an e-mail address. Otherwise you will receive the NTS via regular mail. You will be given just 90 days to schedule your exam at one of the nation’s numerous Pearson VUE testing centers. If you fail to schedule your appointment within that time period, your fee will not be refunded.
It is important to schedule your MBLEx exam as soon as you receive your NTS. Pearson testing centers administer a wide variety of exams, not just the MBLEx. You want to make sure that you are able to take the test on a day that is convenient for you. You also want to keep in mind any state licensing board deadlines that you need to meet. A confirmation will be sent to you once you make the appointment, along with directions to the testing center. You do have the option of rescheduling the exam. However, you must reschedule at least one business day in advance to avoid forfeiting your exam fee.