The field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has experienced significant growth over the past two decades, and it is expected to continue growing. As a result, there is a high demand for Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs). RBTs are paraprofessionals who have obtained certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). Their role involves providing direct therapy to help learners acquire new skills and reduce problem behaviors that impede their ability to learn. To ensure that RBTs are well-trained and competent, the BACB has established standards and requirements. One of these requirements is an RBT competency assessment, which is a crucial step in the certification process. Let’s explore this assessment to better understand what to expect and how to prepare for it.
Initial Versus Annual RBT Assessment
Before we jump in, let’s clarify the difference between the initial competency assessment and the annual assessment. Before becoming certified as an RBT, one must pass an initial competency assessment. After earning certification, behavior technicians must pass this same assessment once every year to demonstrate continued competence in the knowledge necessary for their role.
Both initial and annual assessments for RBTs are similar in terms of content. The main difference is that difference is that the annual evaluation tends to be conducted more naturalistically through observation of the RBT with their client(s).
The other difference is in what follows each assessment. When aspiring technicians pass the initial competency, they can apply for the board exam, which is the final component to becoming certified as an RBT. When a current RBT passes an annual competency, they can complete their annual recertification, thus maintaining their certification.
As these assessments are the same, the subsequent information about the content will apply to both.
The competency assessment evaluates a candidate’s understanding of the skills necessary for the behavior technician role. The aspiring technician meets with a BCBA and a client. There may also be an assistant assessor. The candidate must demonstrate they can apply the knowledge learned in the 40-hour course to real-life situations. Each skill is demonstrated while working with a client or role-playing with the assessor. Additionally, some skills are assessed in an interview format by the behavior analyst. To pass the assessment, the candidate must demonstrate proficiency in at least three tasks while working with a client. Therefore, they cannot complete the assessment without a client.
- Measurement: Continuous measurement, discontinuous measurement, and data collection.
- Assessments: Preferences assessments and ABC data collection.
- Skill Acquisition & Behavior Reduction: Discrete-trial-teaching (DTT), naturalistic teaching, chaining, shaping, prompting, token systems, antecedent interventions, and other tasks related to teaching skills and reducing interfering behaviors.
- Professionalism & Requirements: Session notes, client dignity, professional boundaries, supervision requirements, and clinical direction.
Examples of the Competency Assessment in Action
It can be difficult to visualize how the assessor will conduct this assessment, so let’s consider a few examples to add clarity.
The BCBA provides a data sheet and instructs the candidate to record frequency data on the client’s hitting behavior. The candidate observes the client and records each occurrence of hitting. At the end of the observation period, the tech has four occurrences of hitting tracked on the data sheet, which matches the BCBAs observations. The data sheet is also completed accurately. Therefore, the behavior analyst initials this task on the form, confirming the technician demonstrated this task competently.
The candidate is provided an Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence (ABC) data sheet. When their client engages in a target behavior (i.e., aggression, spitting, screaming), they write in the antecedent (what happened before the behavior), the behavior (what it looked like), and the consequence (what happened after the behavior).
The BCBA instructs the candidate to demonstrate teaching the learner to wash their hands using a forward chaining technique. The candidate directs the client to the sink and provides the instruction, “Wash your hands.” The client begins by independently turning on the water (doing the first step in the chain). The candidate delivers praise and then prompts through the remainder of the chain.
This task is completed in an interview format. The BCBA asks the candidate to describe the BACB supervision requirements. The candidate responds by communicating all of the essential requirements. For example, they would say, “RBTs must receive ongoing supervision from a BCBA or BCaBA. Monthly supervision must occur two or more times, with at least one observation with a client. Additionally, at least 5% of their direct hours must be supervised.”
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Purpose of the Competency Assessment
RBTs typically work within vulnerable populations. They often work with children with autism, ADHD, and other neurodevelopmental differences. Because of this, enforcing high standards of care is critical. Behavior technicians must be able to demonstrate competence by hands-on engagement in the responsibilities of a behavior technician. The competency assessment provides an opportunity to exhibit this competence.
Before the initial competency assessment, a candidate must successfully complete a 40-hour RBT training course. The assessment duration can vary depending on many factors, such as the candidate’s experience and understanding of the concepts. Typically, it is completed in 1-4 hours across one or two sessions. If the candidate doesn’t demonstrate all tasks competently, the assessor offers corrective feedback and allows another chance to display the skill(s) on a different day. When the competency assessment is complete, the candidate has 90 days to submit an RBT certification application.
As for the annual/renewal competency assessment, this cannot be completed more than 45 days before the RBT’s certification expiration date. This can also be conducted in one or two sessions.
To pass the competency assessment, you must score 100%. The BCBA can only sign off on the assessment form when each task is demonstrated accurately. If the candidate cannot perform one or more tasks correctly, the assessor gives feedback and schedules another session to try again. This process is repeated until the candidate masters each task. The BACB does not limit the number of times this process can repeat. However, companies may establish guidelines for the number of opportunities a candidate may have to complete the competency assessment successfully.
Many aspiring technicians go into the competency assessment with little preparation. However, this can lead to a prolonged evaluation, as they’re unable to demonstrate all tasks accurately on the first attempt. Taking time to prepare may increase the likelihood of passing the assessment on the first try, allowing the technician to move on to the next and final step of the RBT exam.
Consider the following recommendations to prepare for this assessment.
The first step is to review the RBT Initial Competency Assessment Form. Knowing exactly what the assessment entails is a great first step to ensuring you’re adequately prepared.
If you haven’t already done so, another essential resource to review is the RBT handbook!
The competency assessment evaluates a candidate’s knowledge of many tasks on the RBT task list. Study these concepts to ensure you understand what each one entails and how they apply to therapy sessions. Test yourself on each task to determine a baseline and help guide your study efforts. For example, if you can confidently explain what shaping is and how to use it with clients, you’ll know you don’t need to spend much time studying that concept.
Try using flashcards to study the concepts, with the term on one side and the definition on the other. Set a one-minute timer and see how many flashcards you can answer correctly in one minute. Repeat this process and aim to achieve a higher number correct in the next one-minute period.
Another helpful way to study is to review your 40-hour course notes or read through a study guide. Focus your review on the principles that are part of the competency assessment.
Since most of the assessment is done with a client or while role-playing with the assessor, it can be very beneficial to prepare by role-playing scenarios. Ask a friend, family member, or co-worker to help you study by role-playing the different concepts. For example, you might practice conducting discrete-trial-teaching with your friend acting as a client.
A career as a registered behavior technician is highly rewarding. It is gratifying to help learners meet their goals, achieve new skills, and reduce challenging behaviors. The ABA field also has tremendous opportunities for growth, making the RBT role perfect for those who wish to progress in this field. Set yourself up for success by comprehensively preparing for the initial competency assessment. These preparations will also help when it’s time to take the final exam!
For free clinical training videos hosted by including Gregory Hanley, Ph.D., BCBA-D, Jon Bailey Ph.D., BCBA-D, and Linda Leblanc Ph.D., BCBA-D, check out our library of ABA training videos!