The NCBTMB announced that as of 11/1/2014, it will no longer administer an entry-level licensing exam. This means the MBLEx will be the only licensing exam available in most states. Please refer to the below link for more information on taking the MBLEx.
For the most up-to-date information on preparing for the MBLEx (including study guides and practice tests), click here.
Yes, the NCBTMB does offer the BCETMB now, but it is not an entry-level licensing exam, like the MBLEx. It is a board certification exam (which is usually voluntary). I will not be updating the below post to reflect the BCETMB and NCETMB changes. However, you can learn a little more about why the MBLEx is now the preferred exam below.
Here is the NCBTMB press release here.
Bonus: How to Avoid the #1 MBLEx Study Mistake – Free Lesson and Practice Quiz
One of the final hurdles, or steps, between you and your massage career is the massage licensing exam. There were two entry-level massage licensing exams for most people to choose from.
The MBLEx – Given by the FSMTB
The NCETMB or NCETM – Given by the NCBTMB
The rest of you have a decision to make.
Which exam is best for you?
The exam that is best for you may not be the best one for the next person to visit this post, the one your massage instructor took ten years ago, or the one for your classmate looking to move home after school.
First, it is important to know why you need to take a massage licensing exam.
Quite simply, most of you need this exam to get a massage license in your state. That is it.
Most states require proof that you have completed a massage licensing exam approved by their state board along with the minimum hour of education. Once the State receives your license application, forwarded exam scores, school transcripts, and any other requirements (i.e. background checks), they typically will issue your license.
Second, you need to pick an exam that is accepted by the state board(s) where you want to practice.
If your state accepts both exams, let me quickly introduce the choices you have so that you can move on with your decision.
The NCETMB and NCETM
Years ago, the NCETMB was the only licensing/credentialing exam available. It was “the exam”.
This exam helped massage therapists obtain licenses in states that licensed massage therapists and in states without massage regulations, it helped trained massage professionals show that they were a trained professional by adding extra letters after their name (NCTMB) when they could not use LMT, RMT, or CMT.
Now, 46 states have massage licensing/regulation of some sort. As the number of states with massage regulation has grown, the need for an optional/extra massage credential (NCTMB) has become less desired/necessary.
And for this reason, the NCBTMB organization is struggling.
If you want to read more about it, Laura Allen wrote a great post here. It is essential for new and old massage therapists to read.
While trying to find its new role in the massage field, the NCBTMB has proposed a lot of different exams (AP exams and board certification), retired the National Certification credential and NESL exam, and quasi-regulated massage continuing education.
The NCETMB and NCETM can still be used as entry-level licensing exams.
The MBLEx was first offered around 2005/2006. It is given by the FSMTB; a board established in 2005 and made up of representatives from each member state board.
Not much has changed with the MBLEx since it was established, and has quickly become the preferred licensing exam in the massage community.
The exam is reasonably priced, easy to sign up for and it is accepted most states with regulation. A few states, such as Ohio and North Carolina are now MBLEx only states.
NCETMB vs MBLEx FAQ
I think I need to take the NCETMB. I plan on moving, so I want to be “nationally certified”.
If you think being nationally certified will allow you to work in every state, it won’t. “Nationally Certified” is an outdated term, even the NCBTMB retired it this year when it switched to relabeling the NCETMB and NCETM as licensing exams.
Being “nationally certified” does not allow you to move to a different state and work without a license. You need a massage license in each state you practice in to do that. And to get a massage license, you need to take a licensing exam accepted by that state.
One of the goals of the FSMTB is to simplify the reciprocity process by having a standard of education agreed on between state boards (such as the FSMTB). Doing this should make moving from state to state easier for massage professionals.
If you plan to move after taking your licensing exam, you will likely need to have your exam scores forwarded to the state you are moving to. Here is the mobility form from the MBLEx.
You can contact the NCBTMB to have your exam scores forwarded to the state you are moving to, or login to your account on their website to find the score request form.
What is the difference between the NCETM and NCETMB Exams?
“The main difference between the two exams is the NCETMB includes questions about bodywork assessment and application. There also are slight variations in the weighted percentages of the content areas. For a comprehensive breakdown of content area percentages and a detailed list of publications used to develop the exams, see License Reference List and Content Breakdown Percentages.” ~ NCBTMB website
Which is exam cheaper?
The MBLEx is currently $265. A $70 increase happened in 2020.
Which exam is easier?
I answer that here.
What happened to the NESL?
The NESL, which was given by the NCBTMB, was retired/discontinued in 2013.
Which states do not regulate massage?
Do you like charts?
Me too. I made this one so you could look at the two exams side by side.
|MBLEx||NCETMB / NCETM|
|Given By||Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSTMB)||National Certification Board for Therapeutic Masssage and Bodywork (NCBTMB)|
|States that accept the exam||States Accepting MBLEx||States Accepting NCETMB|
|Number of Questions||100 Questions||125 Questions|
|Time Limit||2 hours||2 hours and 5 minutes
(plus 10 minutes for tutorial and 10 minutes for comments following the exam)
|Eligiblity||You can take the MBLEx at anytime. Before, during or after massage training. However, proof of massage education is required.||You may take an exam prior to finishing your massage training, but the NCBTMB will not release your score until they receive a copy of your school transcript.|
|Fail Limit?||No, but you must wait 30 days between attempts.||Yes, after failing 3x, you must retake 100 hours of school. Fail 5x, you must retake 500 hours. Fail 8x, you may no longer retest.|
|Where is the exam given?||Pearson Vue Testing Centers
Find one near you
|Pearson Vue Testing Centers
Find one near you
|Online Application||MBLEx Application||NCETMB Application|
|Paper Application||MBLEx Application||Not Available|
|Handbook||Candidate Handbook||Candidate Resources|
|Retake Application||Not Available||Not Available|
|Continuing Education Requirements||None at this time.||There are no longer requirements. Previously there were for renewing a NCTMB credential/ “national certification”. The NCBTMB is phasing out the “national certification” for the new “board certification”|
|Category Percentage Breakdown||MBLEx Breakdown||NCETMB Breakdown
|Language Availability||English and Spanish||English|
|Reference Texts||MBLEx Reference Texts||Download Reference List|
How about an infographic?
Got a question?
If you have a special situation, or maybe a question not addressed above, please leave me a comment below.
I’d be happy to help!