Study Tips

Reviewing the Exam Content Task List

Your first task in studying should be to download the Task List from the BACB website. The Task List details all of the content areas that will be tested on the examination. An essential studying strategy is to become familiar with the vocabulary of the Task List as well as the principles and concepts tested. You should also be sure to review the exam information on the BACB website and take the computer-based exam tutorial from Pearson VUE to become familiar with the format of the exam.

Some of the strategies I have found helpful to many of my students and colleagues in studying are to:

Conserve your energy. Review the task list first–and test your ability to define key terms and create both examples and non-examples of key concepts. Then, fill in any gaps in your understanding by reviewing a basic reference text.

Find a study partner or create a study group, as described further below. Set time goals for studying sections of the task list and meet to discuss problematic areas and test each other’s knowledge. Feel free to use my Syllabus  to create a structure/timelines for your group, so long as you are not charging a fee for your group.

Find a mentor. Keep a running list of questions that you have not been able to answer through the task list, references or through discussion with your study partner. Set two to three brief meeting times with a colleague who has passed the exam to discuss these issues.

Build fluency. Develop flashcards and matching exercises based on the task list content areas; many definitions are clearly spelled out in the tasks. Flashcards can be used in SAFMEDS practice as outlined below. You may also find the CDs from Behavior Development Solutions to be very helpful (a number of my students have found them a very useful complement to my course).

Review at least one major reference text such as Cooper, Heron, & Heward’s Applied Behavior Analysis (although any basic textbook will be helpful). Create summary notes from these references linked to the task list; these can also be used to create flashcards for SAFMEDS study. Another strategy is to record your summaries of the reference chapters so that you can listen to them in the car, while exercising, etc.

Create and exchange practice questions and scenarios. This strategy is an excellent one for requiring you to actively respond to the task list and consider the various ways a concept may be tested, as described further below. Your focus should be on developing questions that are based on applied scenarios, and many students find this exercise to be a refreshing way to apply their studying to their “real life” and work.

Creating a Study Group
Many individuals find it helpful to study with another individual or a small group throughout the preparation period. Other individuals prefer to initially study the material and then join a small group as part of the final preparation phase. And, others prefer to study independently throughout the preparation period. The advantages of studying with others is that each member brings a diverse skill level, background and experience that is valuable while discussing and clarifying the Task List content areas and possible questions and scenarios. While different skill levels are expected, the aim of the study group is to review and practice, the intent of the study group should not be to teach material that has not been previously learned.
A nice website with general study information can be found at:

Flashcards/SAFMEDS Practice

SAFMEDS, an acronym coined by Dr. Ogden R. Lindsley, has been a part of Precision Teaching since the 1970s. SAFMEDS refers to a structured learning strategy, similar to using flashcards. The acronym stands for:

  • Say
  • All
  • Fast a
  • Minute
  • Every
  • Day
  • Shuffled

There’s some great info on SAFMEDS here:

From a verbal behavior perspective, SAFMEDS practice creates an intraverbal relationship, i.e. in the presence of the word, a definition is given (and vice versa). In plain English, SAFMEDS practice is a paired association of when the word/phrase on the front of the flashcard is seen, the definition (answer or another phrase related to the front of the card) on the back is said.

The goal for using SAFMEDS is to create stable and fluent responding over time. The strategy for using SAFMEDS is very simple: Every day, the student shuffles the whole deck of flashcards. The responses are said out loud. The cards are worked as fast as possible, all the way through, at least once per day. The session is timed so that the speed of correct and incorrect responses can be tracked.

The successful results of using SAFMEDS are:

  • the information is more likely to be remembered, even following periods of non-practice
  • the information is more likely to be remembered, even in the presence of distractor
  • the information is more likely to be generalized to new examples or applications

Since there are about a billion possible terms you could try to remember, make sure you are focusing on the ones you need to really practice. To do this, cumulatively build your card decks as you go through the course. Use three decks:

1) New terms in acquisition
2) Newly firm terms (you’re doing well with them, but might make a mistake now and then, or you’ve just learned them)
3) Maintenance

Always do all the cards in the first and second decks every timing. Rotate in enough cards from the maintenance deck to keep a reasonable number of terms for each timing—as much as you can do in a one or two minute run. As cards from deck 2 are mastered, move them into your maintenance deck. By the end of the course, you should be rotating in terms from all the content areas. Here’s another set of similar instructions for you: 

In terms of creating SAFMEDS cards, there are many websites out there (e.g. quizlet) with pre-made cards. I personally find it helpful to actively make the cards, but your mileage may vary and you need to spend your time wisely. You may also have cards from your previous classwork. Focus on clear definitions and examples of the key terms. You want your response to be a brief one, so I often suggest just leaving out key words in definitions, for example: “_________ involves the contingent removal of a stimulus, resulting in a subsequent increase in the likelihood of the behavior under similar circumstances in the future.” You could have multiple cards for definitions you are having more difficulty with, such as “Negative reinforcement involves the contingent ________ of a stimulus, resulting in a subsequent ________ in the likelihood of the behavior under similar circumstances in the future.” You an also have some examples of principles and have to identify the principle.
Remember that you will almost certainly not have straight definition or example questions on the exam, and SAFMEDS are only one component (a critical one) of your studying. You absolutely need to be fluent on the terms in order to apply them to scenarios, but SAFMEDS are not appropriate for scenario applications—that’s what your sample question-writing exercises and practice quizzes are for.

Happy studying!