Some Helpful Advice for Passing the Music Therapy Board Exam

After 5 long years of pursuit, I am now Katelyn Farris, MT-BC. Man that feels great to say! I am absolutely thrilled to now have an undergrad  degree and a national board-certification that says I am fully qualified to practice music therapy. For students and interns who are working toward the same goal, I promise you that few things in life top this feeling.

With that being said, I had never been so worried about an exam in my life. I have always been one of those people who does well on exams, especially when I study. However, the fact that this particular exam would affect the course of my entire career carried such a heavy weight on my usual ability to be at ease about standardized tests. When you want something so bad you can taste it, you’re paralyzed with fear at the thought of possibly not attaining that certain something. To make matters worse, there is no clear-cut way to tell you exactly what will be on your CBMT exam. I’m not going to lie to you: this exam is hard.

Fortunately there are many resources to help you pass this very important test. The online practice exam, old notes from music therapy classes, textbooks, and internship/practicum experiences are all valuable materials to help you pass with flying colors. I am also very fortunate to have some awesome music therapy peers who support each other in these challenging times! My friend and classmate Nicole Ribet (who also passed her board exam!) sent me this list of tips she wrote for taking the CBMT which I found extremely helpful:

Tips for taking the CBMT via Nicole D. Ribet, MT-BC

  1. Take the test as soon as you finish your internship. – The valuable information you learn on your internship (assessments, documentation, and interventions) is fresh in your head.
  2. Study your material. The New Music Therapist’s Handbook by Suzanne Hanser is very helpful and has valuable information that pertains to everything on the test. The Scope of Practice is also valuable information as well as the Code of Ethics.
  3. Know your terminology. Know the difference between OBJECTIVE and SUBJECTIVE. Know the difference between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy. Know what an IEP is and how it will pertain to music therapy. Know what IDEA is and how it relates to Music Therapy.
  4. Everything you do in your classes COUNTS! All those term papers, research projects, practicums, journal articles; they will be on the test. Trust yourself, you did the work it will pay.
  5. Study your MUSIC THEORY. Know your guitar chords, know what I,IV, V chords are and how they relate in music. Know your 6 and 6/4 inversions and how it relates to music. Know what cadences are and when to properly use them. Know what the difference in Baroque, Classical, ect.
  6. Know your GUITAR. Know what the individual string notes are and what they would be if you tuned to an open G chord ect. Know how to read guitar chords written out on a chart. If you don’t know your chord structures see #5.
  7. Read through Music Therapy VIGNETTES. Familiarize yourself with different music therapy scenarios and pay attention to not only the clients/patients but also what the music therapist does.
  8. Take a Practice Test. This helps you to not only be familiar with the types of questions you will see but also give you an idea of what your weaknesses are and what you need to brush up on. There is a practice online test you can buy through CBMT or if you are lucky like me, your internship supervisor will have one for you. You will also get a CBMT handbook on the website that will prepare you for how to take the test with tips and what you need when you arrive at the testing site.
  9. Do NOT Stress. Do not look at this exam as the end all be all to your career. Worst-case scenario, you fail and have to take it again. No one will DIE because you failed. I suggest no studying the night before or the day of the test. You need a good night’s sleep and do something relaxing the morning of the test. Go into your test refreshed, calm, and relaxed.
  10. Take your TIME. Arrive to the testing sight early and do not rush through the questions. Pace yourself and do not struggle with the hard questions (you have the option to mark questions and come back to them.) Do not change your answers, more than likely your ‘first answer’ is correct. You will also get a piece of scratch paper during the test that will be turned in. (I used mine for the Music Theory questions).

Final Thought – If you made it this far to take your CBMT, you were a strong student. You will do GREAT!

Nicole and me on graduation day at William Carey University. We did It!

Nicole and me on graduation day at William Carey University. We did It!

These tips helped me so much during my preparations for the board exam. After taking and passing the test myself, here are a few bits of wisdom I would like to add:

  • Mark any answers you are unsure about. If you are willing to bet money on your answer being correct, don’t mark it and don’t return to it. Use your time at the end only to check if you actually GAVE an answer, otherwise don’t dwell and move on.
  • When I had questions that I couldn’t decide between two different answers, I used my scratch piece of paper to write the question number and my alternate answer. When I came back to the question, I analyzed all the information given in the question’s scenario, then chose either to change or keep my answer.
  • When in doubt, client needs ALWAYS come first. Choose answers accordingly.
  • Draw a mini-guitar with string numbering (remember that string 1 is the smallest string closest to the floor!) and the notes for standard tuning. This helped me with guitar theory questions.
  • You can use the restroom anytime during the exam, so don’t be afraid to drink coffee if it helps you with brain power! On the flip side: if coffee only makes you jittery and impairs your brain function, avoid caffeine before the exam. However, DO eat breakfast that includes a good balance of protein, omega-3 fats, and whole carbs.
  • The primary materials I used to study were the practice exam my internship director gave me, The New Music Therapist’s Handbook by Suzanne Hanser, and the CBMT Scope of Practice as a guideline. I also had a music therapy study guide book that I found useful, and I know there are some out there on the market that are more up-to date, so that may be a worthy investment on your part.
  • IT IS NEVER TOO EARLY TO START STUDYING (I’m looking at you, freshmen)! All that you do in your undergrad studies and internship culminates to this one board exam. Soak in as much knowledge as you can and apply all that knowledge in your practicums, research studies, and internships. Attend conference sessions geared toward passing your board exam and PAY ATTENTION!
  • Bring some earplugs and a light jacket to the exam, just in case.

When all is said and done, you can take the test again. It won’t be the end of the world if you don’t pass the first time. In the end, you WILL be a music therapist if you want to be.  Take the practice exam, study as much as possible, get a good nights rest, eat a good breakfast, show up early and relaxed, and know that you are going to rock that exam! I hope this help you on your journey to becoming a music therapist and happy exam-ing!

Nicole rolls out her private practice, Ribet Rhythms Music Therapy Services, PLLC,  in Gulfport, MS this September. For more information, check out their Facebook page here.

What are your biggest exam fears? Anything you would like to add? Feel free to comment or email me at You can also connect with me via Twitter at @KatelynFarrisMT.