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!



Got Your Poker Face?

In any poker game having your poker face is essential to outwitting your opponent. Life in a classroom of children with emotional and behavior disorders isn’t all that different. I’ve recently been providing support in a self-contained special education classroom where the students have been engaging is some pretty serious misbehavior. Unfortunately, the staff have let it be known, sometimes by their verbal reactions, but mostly by their nonverbal reactions (facial expression) that those behaviors are not welcome and offensive.

One day after school I had a meeting with all the staff to discuss my concerns. In my discussions I pointed out my observation that when staff reacted and let it be known that the students’ behaviors were offensive and upsetting to them, that the students tended to engage in more aberrant behaviors. In fact, the students tended to escalate their behaviors from just verbal behaviors to physical ones.

Sometimes a student with emotional problems may make comments that are intentionally hurtful. At times they may continue the behavior because it gets a reaction and that reaction is perceived as a positive outcome. In these moments a valuable tool in your arsenal is the “poker face”. The “poker face” is a neutral facial expression that is nonjudgemental and nonthreatening. It can be used to show that their behavior does not bother you (even when it really does).

Consider that history may have shown them that this is how they are supposed to behave. Reacting in a way that shows disapproval actually may validate exactly what they were expecting, that they are disgusting towards others and therefore not worthy of positive attention (yes I know that is somewhat mentalist of me to say).

The “Poker Face” helps put the behavior on extinction by no longer providing the validating positive outcome that usually comes as a result of the behavior. At the same time, you can look for opportunities to praise and reinforce acceptable alternative behaviors. Along with the neutral facial expression of the “Poker Face” you have a combination of interventions for behavior that 1) minimizes your negative attention as a factor maintaining behavior and 2) sets you up to teach and reinforce positive alternative behaviors.

This is an example of how certain misbehavior can be addressed in the classroom. This is not intended nor shall it be misconstrued as advice. As always, before engaging in any any major behavior change program you should consult an expert or highly trained professional such as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.


9 Quick Tips for Inclusion of Students with Behavioral Challenges

School will be in session very soon. But, don’t panic! This doesn’t mean you have to gather all your materials and write your lesson plans this instant. However, now might be a good time to start getting into the mindset and doing a little preparation for what needs to be done when school starts, especially if you teach students who have some behavioral challenges and will be entering general education classes. Integrating students with behavioral challenges in the general education classroom can be a overwhelming job for a behavior support teacher. There are a vast number of day to day activities that you will perform in order to help your students successfully transition into the general education setting. Here is a list of suggested activities you can engage in to support your student during the inclusion, or mainstreaming, process.

1. Spend time in the general education classroom: Monitor and work with the student in order to develop an accurate awareness of the dynamics of the class, what is working, and where modification of supports need be take place.

2. Share relevant information about the child you are mainstreaming with the general education teacher as soon as possible. Set up visits to the child’s setting and a meeting with the parents to augment this information and to provide a picture of reasonable expectations for the student and yourself on an ongoing basis.

3. Maintain ongoing communication with key stakeholders and other support personnel. Make your needs known and ask for those supports that will increase your effectiveness in the classroom for all students, those with and without special needs. This might include social worker, psychologist, counselor, or therapists. As a teacher in a behavior support classroom, you may also be the contact teacher for students. As such, you will want to make sure everyone is on the same page and that services are provided in accordance with the student’s IEP.

4. Maximize use of all staff. If a teacher assistant is provided for all or a portion of the day, whenever possible, utilize this individual as a helper to not only the child with special needs, but to all students and yourself. A well-trained paraprofessional can also collect valuable behavior and academic data as well.

5. Seek collaboration time during the school day. This will help you better prepare the teacher and student by being to anticipate potential roadblocks and Make efficient use of your time and actively collaborate with general education teachers. Establish clear guidelines that outline the job description of the behavior support teacher and the proportion of time needed for collaboration.

6. Gather and collect behavior and academic data and conduct periodic reviews of progress. Decisions such as when to increase or decrease time should never be based on what we think is happening, it is must be based on results. Performance must always drive your decision-making.

7. Assist with instruction. Assist general education teachers with instruction or follow-up of organizational and study skills. The additional support is almost always appreciated.

8. Assist with the development of skills. Assist teachers in helping students develop social emotional skills (i.e. self-esteem, affective skills).

9. Recognize and seek opportunities to teach the social emotional goals for the child with behavioral challenges while in the mainstream setting and celebrate successes, both large and small.