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  • Wendi Shi

Acing the CBMT Exam

Congratulations! Now that you've completed all your required undergraduate courseworks and the 1200 supervised clinical hours, it is time to face the ultimate challenge: passing the Music Therapy Board Exam. In this blog I want to share my own experience with this exam, the resources I found most helpful, and some tips that I've either received from other music therapists or figured out on my own.


I started studying for the exam as soon as my internship ended (and I strongly recommend you to do the same). I gave myself one month for dedicated studying, and passed the exam with 113/130 (passing is 95). Here's a step by step of how I tackled the study process:

  1. Take the Self-Assessment Examination (SAE) before you start studying. This gives you a baseline to work with. At the end of the assessment, there is a list of reference. This is the best starting point. Study these resources! Some of them are textbooks, and others are free resources you can find the AMTA or CBMT exam.

  2. The SAE gives you a breakdown of the domains/areas you need work with. ex: If you scored the lowest in the Implementation section, then study the MT approaches, philosophies, medical/psychology terminologies, etc.

  3. Study your notes from Abnormal Psychology, Abnormal Child Development, basic statistics, Music Theory , and Music History (see below for details)

  4. Review what you learned during your clinical practice! I consider myself very lucky that I was able to intern at a private practice, where I had the privilege of working with a wide variety of population. There were in fact at least 5 scenarios on the exam that I actually encountered during my internship.

  5. Take a second SAE about 2 weeks after studying to see how much progress you've made, and determine how much additional time you might need to keep studying.

  6. Review the SAE. Focus especially on WHY an answer is WRONG instead of why the correct answer is correct.

  7. Retake the SAE multiple times to familiarize yourself with the type of questions and question format that you will see on the actual CBMT exam.


Resources I used:

  • Handbook of Music Therapy by Suzanne Hanser

  • An Introduction to Music Therapy: Theory and Practice, 3rd Edition

  • Introduction to Approaches in Music Therapy, Second Edition

  • CBMT Domains - study this is conjunction with the Standards of Clinical Practice, and be able to "connect the dots" between the two

  • Scope of Practice

  • Code of Ethics

Things to study for Music Theory and Music History:

  • Know all the musical scales (pentatonic, wholetone, modes, etc)

  • Know the circle of fifth by heart

  • Remember/ practice transposition. Both key signature (Bb and Eb instruments) and instrument.

  • Know the strings of the guitar, and the various ways to tune it

  • Dynamics!

  • Secondary Dominants and modulation

  • 12 Bar Blues

  • Music era and their respective composers

  • Know what chords make the most sense with a sequence of notes

Know each school of Philosophy by heart and how to identify them (with a focus on Behaviorism and Psychodynamic)!

  • Holistic

  • Humanistic

  • Psychodynamic

  • Behavioral

  • Culture centered

  • Developmental

  • Neurologic

Know the various approaches to Music Therapy and what they look like in real practice!

  • Bonny Method of GIM

  • Dalkroze Eurhythmics

  • Kodaly

  • Nordoff Robbins (creative music therapy)

  • Orff-Schulwerk

  • Neurological Music Therapy (NMT)

  • Community Music Therapy

  • Biomedical

Additional Tips:

  1. Don't be intimidated or discouraged (as was I) by the stories of "how I failed it x number of times and am taking it again." Yes the exam is hard but it is a fair representation of what you've learned over the past 5 years. Over 70% of students pass it their first try. Yes it is possible!

  2. Out of the 150 questions, only 130 get counted. So on the actual exam, every time I run into an extremely difficult question, I just tell myself it's one of the questions that won't count towards my final grade. The key is, don't get stressed out if you run into questions that you are unsure about!

  3. Pace yourself. If you get stuck on a question (especially near the beginning), just bookmark it and come back later! I noticed that the first 30 questions were the hardest ones I saw on the exam. It felt like the more questions I answered, the easier the exam gets. Again the key is, don't get stressed out if you run into difficulties, especially near the beginning.

  4. When in doubt, client's safety comes first, followed by client's needs, and then preferences.

  5. If you are stuck on a questions, use your scratch paper to write the question number, the choices (A B C D), cross out the ones you know for SURE are wrong. I find that when I come back to the question later, I am able to re-evaluate the situation with a clearer mind.

  6. If an answer is partially right, GET RID OF IT. You need it correct all the way.