The goal here at Massage Exam Academy is to help anyone who dreams of being a massage therapist make that dream a reality. When English is your second language, it makes the MBLEx exam even more difficult to pass, which puts your dream in jeopardy. If you are not a native English or Spanish speaker, the only two languages the MBLEx is administered in, your preparation for the MBLEx will most likely involve some work in English comprehension in addition to using the Massage Exam Academy’s MBLEx program.
We know the pass rate for the MBLEx is 66%. The good news is that many Massage Exam Academy members speak other languages and go on to pass their exams. We have found that those who use the program and work on their English language skills obtain the best results.
I want to thank Kathleen, or Kat, for helping me with this post. Kat is a question writer here at Massage Exam Academy. She is a non-native English speaker and has taken (and passed!) the NPTE (physical therapy licensing exam). I cannot think of anyone better to offer you guidance as you prepare for the MBLEx.
Read on for Kat’s words of wisdom and input on passing the MBLEx.
Oftentimes, the thought of taking an exam heightens your stress and anxiety levels on its own, let alone the added pressure of taking it in a foreign language. The best way to combat these anxious feelings is simple: be prepared!
Yes, this seems obvious, but plenty of people try to shortcut learning English and fail their MBLEx exam. Trust me—you will feel more confident walking into the test if you have worked on your English comprehension and your therapeutic massage knowledge.
You need to have the right mindset for the reasons you are learning English. Learning English should not be seen as a hurdle; rather, it provides new possibilities and opportunities for your future and serves as a stepping stone for you. Taking an exam in English should be seen as being a step closer to passing your exam, getting your massage license, and having a successful professional massage career in the United States.
Start with basic terminology.
Before digging in to complicated words, it is very helpful to review basic terminology. This includes things such as identifying root words, prefixes, and suffixes.
Here is an example of a couple of prefixes and a suffix you should know for your exam:
Uni- means “one” and bi- means “two.”
Lateral means “side.”
Examples of how these terms may be used:
Unilateral pain is pain felt on one side of the body. Bilateral pain would be pain felt on each side of the body.
Bilateral contraction occurs when two muscles on either side of the body are contracting simultaneously. An example is sternocleidomastoid. Bilateral contraction of this muscle causes the head to flex toward the chest. Unilateral contraction of the sternocleidomastoid flexes the neck to the same side (lateral flexion) and rotates the head to the opposite side.
Build your vocabulary.
Next, start to jot down difficult words in your study guides, look up their meaning on Google, and research the terms you do not understand. Developing your vocabulary helps a lot with reading comprehension, which will be very helpful when taking the MBLEx.
Here is an example of a word that may be unfamiliar to you: “entrapment.”
Entrapment is pathologic pressure placed on a nerve or vessel by soft tissue.
Move on to sentence structure.
Last, move on to learning sentence structure and syntax to help you better understand how sentences are put together. It is easier to analyze a question once you have identified the different parts of the question. This will help you break down test questions efficiently and effectively.
Here are a few sentence structure tips for ESL students.
Learn about multiple-choice exams.
When trying to improve your test-taking skills, it is important to identify the various components of a multiple-choice question.
The “case” is the client’s background, situation, or scenario.
The “stem” is the specific part that asks the question you will be expected to answer. Read the stem at least twice to truly understand what the question is asking you.
Distractors are three of the four choices that are actually wrong—or are not the best answer choice.
Then there is the correct answer.
Avoid studying in your native language.
English will be part of your professional massage career. Try to read, think, and relay the information you have learned about massage in English. For example, when studying planes of motion or movement, read and think about it in English first. Next, discuss the rationales or steps verbally in English (even if it is to your dog or an empty room).
Some of you may have studied massage here in the U.S. with English textbooks. Others may have studied massage in your native countries in your native languages. If you do not own any massage or anatomy textbooks in English, consider purchasing one or obtaining a copy from a library or massage school.
Take time every day to read and listen to something massage- and English-related. Try watching and reading the examples below.
Do something English-related each day, even if it’s for a short period of time. It does not need to be related to massage! A one-hour movie or a 30-minute English YouTube video or tutorial would go a long way. Watch cooking tutorials—or whatever is your passion—in the English language. In this way, you are incorporating English into your interests, hobbies, or exciting things in your life and not just studying.
Turn your mobile phones to English if you are using your native language. It may be annoying at first, but it will surely help you. If you have a friend who is a native English speaker or is fluent in English, speak to him/her as much as you can.
Don’t spend a whole Saturday night learning English and not practicing for the rest of the week. You can’t master everything in one night. Surrounding yourself with English activities will help to develop your comprehension as well as your speaking abilities.
Note cultural differences.
The MBLEx not only covers anatomy and kinesiology, but ethics and business guidelines. If you practiced massage in another country, be aware of differences in scope of practice, touch, and U.S. tax issues.
Massage therapists in the United States never manipulate bones or hard tissues, prescribe medicine or herbs, or make a diagnosis. We greet clients with handshakes, avoid personal conversation, and have federal laws that protect client confidentiality pertaining to health information. Your biggest challenge may not be learning the actions of every muscle in English, but which days you need to pay quarterly taxes to the state and federal governments.
Take practice exams.
Practice questions allow you the opportunity to work on sentence structure, exam material, and time restriction. If you run out of time, you fail the exam. The MBLEx is 100 questions in 120 minutes. That leaves you a little over a minute for each question.
The MBLEx is a computer-generated exam and is totally different from many other exams, since it uses Computer Adaptive Testing, or CAT. If you are unfamiliar with CAT, here is a little more about how Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT) is different from other exams.
Do not memorize practice questions.
If this is your studying technique, you will fail your exam. Many English speakers need to learn this, too. MBLEx prep websites do not have access to the actual MBLEx questions. Do not memorize questions word for word, as practice questions will not be the same as on the exam. You need to understand what you are learning and apply it to different questions and situations you have on your exam.
Explore additional English courses.
If you need additional support or training, there are a few options. ESL classes or IELTS and TOEFLs exam courses will help you develop and refine your English skills. These courses focus on speaking, writing, reading, and listening. With perseverance and determination, these classes will help you greatly with your exam, career, and daily living.
A few state massage boards require certain TOEFL exam scores if your massage training was not in English (Example: Michigan)
Udemy offers a free ESL course specifically for massage therapists.
Be present at your exam.
As a test taker myself (I took TOEFL and NPTE) whose first language is not English, we often can’t avoid challenging test questions. Sometimes we may not understand the question itself or the possible answer choices. When the exam day comes and you are faced with this scenario, I have some advice to help you be present and focus.
Pause for a few seconds, breathe, try to relax your mind, and tell yourself you can do this! Don’t get swallowed by your fear and anxiety. Instead, try to read the question and/or choices (slowly) one more time and look for clues and keywords to help you work through the question. Read the sentences phrase by phrase. Depending on the question, visualize yourself in the scenario if you can.
If the question is simple and straight to the point, don’t overthink it.
Struggling with aspects of the English language may make you feel like you are not very smart, especially if you previously failed the MBLEx. I want you to know that the opposite is true! Working in an English-speaking country where the language is foreign to you should tell you that you are intelligent as well as a diverse and flexible professional.
Everyone has to start somewhere. For you, this includes learning English and developing your comprehension while you prepare for the MBLEx. With time and practice, your fluency in English will increase and become more natural. You just have to take that one giant step and begin.
Remember, you’ve prepared long and hard for this exam. Be confident. Focus on the exam. Get excited about your license and your career. Before you know it, your hard work will result in success!