Massage therapy is a medical practice that, like all medical professions, must be regulated. If you are interested in becoming a massage therapist (also called a bodywork therapist or professional), you must hold the appropriate licensure. You will need to take the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB) or the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage (NCETM).
The exam you need to take depends on the state in which you plan to practice massage therapy. Each of these certification exams are regulated by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB). About half the states in the country have adopted the NCE as the test of choice. Just over half of all states have some sort of regulations about the practice of massage therapy.
What are the Requirements to Take the NCE?
The biggest requirement is that of education. You must have a degree or certificate from an accredited massage therapy school. Each state sets its own standards for educational hours. In addition, you also need at least 500 hours of work experience as a supervised massage therapy student.
What is on the NCE?
Both the NCETMB and NCETM are similar in content. The school you attend will tell you which exam you will need to take. You will need to know about different body systems, anatomy, kinesiology, physiology, ethics, and pathology. Of course, you also need to know about different massage therapy styles and applications. Your exam will also ask you some state-specific questions pertaining to massage therapy laws. The exams are given through a computer in a proctored exam location.
NCBTMB Application Steps
There is a convenient online application for those interested in taking the NCBTMB. Along with the basic questions, the application asks for a background check, a “Statement of Understanding,” and a “Candidate Compliance” signature. Include a driver’s license or other photo I.D. and print out copies of everything before you hit that “submit” button.
Call your massage therapy school and ask them to send a transcript of your grades to the NCBTMB. Wait up to one month to hear back from the NCBTMB regarding your application acceptance or denial. If you are eligible to test, you will get an “Authorization to Test” letter in the mail. If not, you will still get a letter explaining why you were denied. On your acceptance letter, there will be instructions for setting your test date.
Only bring a few items to the testing center on your big NCE test day. Bring your photo I.D. (driver’s license) and your Authorization to Test letter just in case. You will also have to provide your fingerprints at the testing center. Do not bring a calculator or writing utensil, as these items will be provided for you. Leave your cell phone in the car and arrive at least 15 minutes prior to your scheduled exam time, since there may be a line of people waiting to test. The exam proctors will give you the scores on your exam right after you finish it.
Avoiding Obstacles When Taking the Massage Therapy NCE
In a perfect world, every NCE application would be accepted and every applicant would pass with excellence. We all know, however, that issues beyond our control may arise at the worst moment. It is important to understand the consequences of not following NCE guidelines or missing exams so that you can work around your problems.
Incomplete/Denied NCE Applications
Getting your NCE application accepted is the first hurdle to overcome. If you receive a letter in the mail that specifies “denial” or “incomplete,” do not panic yet. Read the letter and see what you have overlooked. Notices for incomplete applications will specify which documents you are missing. You have 90 days to mail in the papers and get your application approved. If you do not mail in the documents within those 90 days, you will have to pay all the same fees again when you reapply.
Denials are another matter entirely. There may be a few different reasons why an NCE applicant is denied. It could be due to a lack of educational credits or work hours. In any case, the letter you receive will tell you why your application was denied. If you believe that you were rejected in error, you can write back to the company within 30 days and state your case. Address it to the CEO and mail it certified. If you decide not to appeal, write back and request a full refund. The NCBTMB will deduct a processing fee anyway.
Rescheduling/Canceling Your NCE
Scheduling conflicts happen for a number of reasons, but you have to act fast if you do not want to forfeit the test entirely. You must contact the Pearson VUE call center at least 24 hours before your scheduled test date. You have some wiggle room for your new test date. It must fall within the 90-day period of your initial test date window. If you follow these steps without fail, you will not have to pay any extra fees to the company. If not, you will certainly have to pay all the NCE fees again. In case you fail to call and show up for your scheduled exam date, you will have to fill out an Application for Retest and pay another hefty fee.
If you decide not to take your NCE and wish to cancel your test date, you might be able to get a refund. The only way you can get one is to write to the NCBTMB and state your case. You will not get your application materials back, but the company may give you a refund.
Missing Your NCE Test Date
The NCBTMB allows a few excuses for a missed test date. They include a serious illness or medical emergency, a death in your family, a road accident, military duty, or a serious natural disaster. They do not allow applicants to miss test dates due to a power outage, icy roads, or windy conditions. You still need to call the NCBTMB and tell them why you missed your test date. If they accept your excuse, you can reschedule without penalty.
NCE Testing Centers: Pearson VUE
All NCBTMB and NCETM exams are taken at Pearson VUE testing centers. These are locations staffed by approved administrators. Most Pearson VUE centers are open five or six days a week and they are located all across the country. The best way to find a location near you is to check their website or call their toll-free number. With 230 test centers around the nation, you should have no problem finding a center near your home.
It is best to make your NCE date as soon as you receive your “Authorization to Test” letter from the NCBTMB. The reason is that testing centers fill up quickly, especially in big cities. You do not want to wait until the last minute to call, only to find out there are no more spots. The consequences of waiting too long may cost you the application fee. Test centers do not give extensions to people who call at the last minute and find out the center is full.
Pearson VUE testing centers are tightly controlled. No other people besides the test taker are allowed into the test center on your exam day. You may not bring spouses, children, or friends with you into the test center. All Pearson VUE testing centers are made up of eight basic sections: the waiting area, ADA room, lockers, proctor station, front desk, biometrics, testing room, and the file server room.
When you arrive at the Pearson VUE testing center on your scheduled test date, bring two forms of valid photo identification and your Authorization to Test letter. Leave everything else in the car, since you will not be allowed to bring them into the test room. The centers have lockers that you can use for temporary purse storage. Go up to the front desk and check in with the administrator. Whether you have to submit a digital photograph, signature, or fingerprint is up to the testing center.
They will make sure you do not have any contraband on your person before you enter the testing room. Once you go inside, they will seat you at a computer that is programmed with your exam. There will probably be other people in the room with you, but they might be taking different exams.
Instructions for using the mouse and keyboard are provided for you on the screen. You can get started immediately or you can take advantage of the basic tutorial they provide. Each test taker is videotapes and visually monitored by the administrators to keep cheaters at bay. You do not get any breaks during the NCE, but you can raise your hand to get the assistance of the administrator.
After you answer your final question, you can hit the “End EXAM” button and receive an immediate “pass/fail” notice. You may then exit the testing room and go back to the front desk to check out. They will give you back the items you brought in and take your scratch paper and calculator.
Accommodations for Disabled Individuals
If you have a disability that requires accommodation, simply let the testing center know ahead of time. There are separate testing areas for those who need it. Any other assistance is provided by the testing center administrators.
NCETM and NCETMB Exams for Massage Therapists
National certification for massage therapists is a necessary legal requirement in 33 states. The purpose of national certification is to protect the massage therapist, the clients, and the business owner. Those who have completed and passed the rigorous National Certification Exam have demonstrated proven knowledge of the massage therapy profession. The history of the NCE starts in 1992, when the American Massage Therapy Association began issuing requirements for certification. Almost 100,000 massage therapists in this country are NCE certified now.
If you are a massage therapy student, you have probably heard about these two acronyms. They stand for the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork, respectively. While they sound similar, there are a few minor variations. Depending on your school and your state, you will have to take one of these two tests. Most states use the NCETMB exam, but not all.
Both exams require the test taker to have a thorough knowledge of massage therapy business practices, ethics, and laws. You must know all the different massage techniques, as well as anatomy and physiology both inside and out.
Online NCE Application
The process of acceptance takes up to three weeks. There is an online application, but it takes time for someone to approve your submission. As soon as you get your “Authorization to Test” letter in the mail, you have up to three months to schedule your NCE. There are instructions printed on the letter that tell you how to schedule a test date.
Application denials are rare, but it happens. Most often, an application is deemed “incomplete” due to missing paperwork or information. If you get a letter stating your application is incomplete, you have up to three months to fix the errors and resubmit the application. You should not have to pay the fees again unless you go over their time frame of three months. The NCBTMB has the right to refuse refunds in any case, although you can make an appeal in writing.
It is imperative to use flashcards or study guides for the NCE. Their website has some guidebooks, but you must arrange for your own study tools. Most students start studying at least a month in advance of their testing dates.
NCE Test Day
The two exams have six sections with a total of 160 multiple-choice questions. There is only one answer, and you must answer every question by clicking on the answer with the mouse. You are given two hours and 40 minutes to finish the test, which is taken on a computer. You have about 60 seconds to answer each question, so answer the ones you know for sure, then go back, and look at the ones you do not know.
At the end of your exam, you will find out whether you have passed or failed right away. If you pass the test, you can start using your credentials on resumes immediately, although you will not get your official NCE certificate for another three weeks at the latest.