BCBA Exam Study Tips, Barefoot style!

As someone who recently passed the BCBA exam. It’s my duty to give back to the field. There are many tips out there, but I wanted to share what worked for me (or at least I engaged in) as I prepared to sit for the test.

BDS (Behavior Development Solutions) Modules: Yes I’m referring to those modules everyone keeps talking about on Facebook, Twitter, and the like. I highly recommend going through their training modules. The format of the modules emulates the testing environment very well. I focused on the acquisition modules more than the fluency modules. For me, knowing the content well was more important than fluency. When it came to fluency, I found that I was rushing and memorizing (it’s easy to get caught in that trap if you’re not careful. When I read questions, I immediately read the hint if I could not come to a reasonable answer. If and when I did make an error (I wasn’t completely errorless), I made sure to go through my errors at the end of each module to see where I made a mistake. It was important to understand why I made the error and why the correct answer was indeed the correct answer. At first I dedicated an hour at time a few times a week. A month or so prior to testing time I was on there probably 2 hours a day. The week before testing I was reviewing the modules 3-4 hours a night.

The White Book: Cooper, Heron, and Howard. Applied Behavior boromirAnalysis (2nd Edition): I carried this book with me everywhere. It was always in my bag for quick reference. It was the basis of my graduate coursework and continued to be my go to source as I studied for the exam.  I found that I would refer to this book often. I also went to the book’s website and downloaded the guided notes. I found the guided notes to be useful in organizing the book chapters for me.

Ethics for Behavior Analysts by Bailey and Burch. Trust me, you can’t go wrong with learning about ethics, and this is the book for it.

SAFMEDS: “Say All Fast Minute Every Day Shuffle”. I learned this in my very first Behavior Analysis Course with Dr. Rosales at UNT. I had so many index cards laying around that my wife was giving me “the look”. Whenever she found a stack around the house. You can take them anywhere and study your terminology. I kept envelopes of SAFMEDS in my backpack and I would study while waiting for meetings, kid’s plays, during television commercials. I did not maintain data on myself or my performance using them. But it was an activity that kept me accessing and using terminology which was helpful. If you need more information on SAFMEDS check out Dr. Amanda Kelly’s website, behaviorbabe.com. Excellent resource!

Have FUN: I enjoy finding ways to make learning fun, and applicable to my world.  I know I probably drove my family and friends a little crazy because I kept wanting to explain events and situations in behavioral terminology. But when I explained why I was doing it, after awhile they began to appease me. I created this blog for example as a way for me to translate what I was learning into language I could understand, as well as others. Creating visuals that demonstrate or explained the concepts. Google “behavior analysis memes” and you’ll find many out there. Also Pinterest has plenty of Behavior Analysts sharing their humor, give it a look. Twitter conversations are great as well. On this blog I have posted several transcripts from previous #ABAchat conversations I’ve participated in.

Global Autism Project Webinar: I participated in the GAP’s free “Prepare to Pass the BCBA Exam” webinar about a year ago. I found it useful in that it gave some simple test taking tips and studying suggestions.

Explore the field: Early on I found that immersing myself in behavior analysis was very helpful. Find ways to associate behavior analytic principles into day to day activities. Learn about the various applications of the field. Explore fields such as sports performance, organization behavior management to name a couple. You get a different perspective and learn concepts because you see how they are applied in varying contexts.

Test when you are ready! Just because you registered to take the test doesn’t mean you can’t cancel. When I first registered back in August, I knew I was not ready. I decided to cancel my seat and got my money back. It was one of the best decisions I could’ve made. Why go in with test anxiety when you can make sure you’re prepared.

Again, this is what worked for me. Hopefully you’re able to find something in these tips that will be useful for you. Most importantly………

Sit back, kick off your shoes and you relax, you got this!


You Passed the Big Test: What’s Next?

Congratulations, you’ve passed the Behavior Analysis Certification Board exam and are now a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA). So what do you do now? Well, I cannot speak for you, that is a journey only you can answer. I will however tell you what I am planning to do (not necessarily in this order):

1. Membership in Association of Behavior Analysis International (ABAI)Capture
One of my first steps is to join ABAI. I consider this reinforcement for all the hard work I’ve put in. ABAI provides many learning opportunities as well as other benefits of membership. I won’t go into them all, because honestly I don’t know them all. But from what I’ve seen so far, it is definitely worth the investment. Want more information on membership in the Association of Behavior Analysis International? Click here.

2. Register for ABAI Annual Conference2015 San Antonio
I could’ve done this before. It’s not like you have to be a member nor have certifications to attend. But this year it is located in San Antonio, just a few hours from where I live. So therefore it is a must for me to attend! Being in a large room full of other behavior analysts, learning about what else, behavior analysis, is nothing short of awesome. If you’re planning to attend, hit me up, I’d love to meet you down there. Click here for more information on the ABAI Annual Convention in San Antonio, May 22-26, 2015.

3. Get a Tattoo (or a couple)
Another form of reinforcement for all the hard work. This would really be commemorating two events, completing my first official half marathon on Thanksgiving and passing the BCBA exam. As it turns out, according to the BACB records, these two events actually occurred within 3 days of each other. I also have no major issues with scarring my body a little bit more than it already is, at least this way it will look nice.

4. Brew an Honorary Beer

You guessed it, more reinforcement. Being that 1. I haven’t brewed in a while and 2. My supply is low and 3. I really like beer, so the timing is perfect. The only decision is what to brew up. A nice stout or porter? Maybe a nice Belgian dubbel? I always accept suggestions.

5. More learning
Why? I just finished all this learning stuff! Well, one can never stop learning. The field is constantly evolving and growing and I must keep up with it. As of the next test administration the Board is transitioning from the 3rd to the 4th edition Task List. So there is much to keep abreast of. One benefit of certification is getting access to JABA articles for free. No more back door methods for getting access to current JABA articles.

6. Professional Liability Insurance
If you’re already working for a large company you most likely are already covered by that company’s professional liability coverage. However it’s probably a good idea if you’re going to be working as a consultant or operating a small business. I used CPH & Associates in the past. Their rates are very good and their coverage is used by many practicing BCBAs.

7. Repurpose Rubber Band Ball2013-06-19 20.32.51
This was one of my reinforcement tactics for maintaining my studying. I gave myself a few minutes to place rubber bands on my ball for time spent studying. I had to spend a minimum of 30 consecutive minutes engaged in studying behaviors (reading, answering questions, SAFMEDS, BDS modules, doing reviews, etc.) in order allow myself access to the rubber bands. It’s a good “stress relieving” activity by allowing myself access to sensory. The hard part was getting myself to stop once I started. Anyway, now I need to find a new reason to let the ball grow.

There are several other things I’d like to do, and probably should do first. But these are some of the immediate activities I considered. Do you have any other suggestions? How did you celebrate a major accomplishment in your professional life?

The Shaping Game: Clicker Training in the Classroom?

I love clicker training! Over the years I’ve used clickers to train chickens, dogs, fish (using a visual “click”), and even students in the classroom. My first experience using a clicker for shaping was back in 1999 when I attended a two day workshop by Bob Bailey and his wife, Marian Breland Bailey. I learned to teach a chicken how to discriminate between and peck colored discs. In the 1940s, Marian and Keller Breland, both former students of B.F. Skinner, trained animals for animal acts.

A clicker is a device with a metal strip that when pushed, makes a “clicking” sound. The most common form is the box clicker you would find at the checkout counter at PetSmart. See the picture above to see some examples. These days, animal trainers and teachers can buy all kinds of clickers (and accessories) as well as receive clicker newsletters, attend seminars, books and other training materials. Do a search for “clicker training” on Amazon.com and you can see for yourself.

How does the concept of shaping work? Shaping is a procedure based on the principles of operant conditioning. To use behavior analytic terms, we say in clicker training that an unconditioned stimulus, such as food, is paired with a neutral stimulus (the click), and the neutral stimulus eventually becomes a conditioned stimulus. In plain English, you pair the click sound with giving the learner a treat so that eventually the “click” becomes something that is desired because it is always associated with getting a treat. But that is only the beginning.

Shaping is a process of systematically reinforcing successive approximations to an end behavior. Actions displayed that are not approximations to the end behavior are ignored and not reinforced. Through these experiences, the learner acquires the new behavior. So if I was trying to teach someone to sit in a chair, I would click and reinforce behaviors that brought her closer to the chair until eventually she sits in the chair. (Cooper, Heron, Heward, 2007)

If you’ve never done clicker training, you can easily get warmed up by playing the Shaping Game (also known as the Training Game) with a group of friends or students. You’re going to use a person as your “animal”. You’ve probably played this game before in another form. Remember the Hot and Cold game? The shaping game is similar to the old kid’s game where something would be hidden for a child to find. As the child got closer to the hidden object, someone would say, “You’re getting warmer.” Functionally, “you’re getting warmer” is like the click that tells a learner he is doing the right thing. We actually did this with some special Christmas gifts for our kids. I’ve used a variation of this game, as well as clicker games, in the classroom to teach my EBD students awareness of the response consequence chain. See below how you can play the Shaping Game in the classroom.

The Shaping Game

1. Have one person agree to be the learner (the person whose behavior will be shaped), and have the learner leave the room.
2. Whoever is left in the room will choose a behavior that will be shaped. For example, you may want the person to come in, walk to a particular table in the room, and pick up a glass. Know what you want the learner to do BEFORE you start! Choosing a behavior is important in playing the shaping game. You want to be a humane trainer, and people may be reluctant to do something considered socially inappropriate (like hugging someone they don’t know or who doesn’t like to be touched). Participants are also unlikely to try a behavior they simply can’t do and will result in embarrassment if they try.
3. Now that the desired behavior has been determined, have the learner reenter in the room. She does not know what the behavior is.
4. As the learner starts moving in the right direction, click the clicker. If she goes the wrong way, say and do nothing. Click each time she is approaching or moving toward what you want her to do.

Don’t have a group of students to work with? That’s okay, ask friends or family members to help you practice shaping. This is also a great icebreaker and a fun staff development activity for teachers in behavior support classrooms for EBD and Autism.

Check out Karen Pryor’s site for tips and variations on the shaping game:

See TAGTeach use shaping strategies to teach humans and animals alike.

Cooper, John, & Heron, T., Heward, W. (2007) Applied Behavior Analysis Second Edition. Pearson Education, Inc. Upper Saddle River, NJ.

Darwin Learns the Limbo!

The third installment in my Fish Academy series. My precision in delivering reinforcement continues to improve. Factors such as location and time of delivery are very important to consider in training sessions. If I deliver a reinforcer too far away from where the trick is performed, or if I deliver too long after the trick is performed, the fish can associate an incorrect behavior or an incorrect form of the behavior with reinforcement. When reinforcement is delivered with precision, the benefit is that learning becomes more efficient for the learner. See how it helped Darwin learn this trick extremely quick!

Darwin the Goldfish: Extended Tunnel

Training is going extremely well. Darwin is making quick progress (and he has the belly to show it). We’ve gone from swimming through a hoop to swimming through a short tunnel to swimming through a longer tunnel. It’s neat to see how both fish have their own personalities and temperaments. They are debunking the myth that a goldfish only has a 3 second memory!

Some notes: Both fish perform tricks swimming away from the light. Therefore I will need to work harder on shaping the behavior of swimming in both directions, or modify (soften) the light source. Also, in order to maintain the EO (desire to eat) I need to be mindful of maintaining the feeding/training schedule and avoiding too many trials in sessions. Otherwise the fish get full (satiate) and food is no longer valued as a reinforcer.

(Fish) School is in Session!

Darwin, my fantail goldfish is taking to training like a duck, errr fish in water. Today he performed his first trick, swimming through a hoop (which you can see in the video below). In fact, he loved it so much, when it was Sisco’s turn, he kept sneaking underneath the curtain to get more chances! We couldn’t stop laughing because he wouldn’t stop. Sisco on the other hand, is not taking to training as well. I’m using softened and cut pellets. He definitely seems to be more of a flake food type of guy. I’m finding that yes, even fish have reinforcer preferences! I’ll try to post more videos as training continues. Enjoy!