Trying to navigate your way through the various examinations required to become a licensed massage therapist can feel like wading through alphabet soup. Depending on the state you live in, you may be required to pass the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB), the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage (NCETM) or the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx). 

Although each exam contains questions designed to test minimal competency of the practice of a massage therapist, there are some differences between them. Here is a breakdown of each examination and some helpful information to ensure you pass the exam your state requires.   


This is the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork’s (NCBTMB) exam. To become NCBTMB certified, you must complete 500 hours of instruction; demonstrate mastery of core skills, abilities and knowledge; pass the standardized NCBTMB examination; and uphold NCBTMB’s standards of practice and code of ethics. You must also complete continuing education and recertify every four years. 

You will have two hours and 40 minutes to answer 160 questions, which cover six content areas: general knowledge of body systems (16 percent); detailed knowledge of anatomy, physiology and kinesiology (26 percent); pathology (12 percent); therapeutic massage assessment (18 percent); therapeutic massage application (22 percent); and professional standards, ethics, business and legal practices (6 percent). 

Passing the NCETMB offers you a greater choice of employment opportunities. Of the 42 states that have passed laws to regulate massage therapy, 33 of them, plus the District of Columbia, accept this certification in order to practice massage therapy in that state. Even if you live in a state that does not require massage-therapy certification in order to practice, having a NCBTMB certification demonstrates your dedication to the massage-therapy field, enhances your professional appearance to both clients and employers, and provides the competitive edge you need in a field that continues to grow. The cost of the exam is $225. 


The same prerequisites apply to the NCETM as they do for the NCETMB. The cost is also the same ($225), and you will have the same amount of time ( two hours and 40 minutes) to answer all 160 questions. The questions on the NCETM cover the same six content areas as the NCETMB, but the percentages from each content area are different. General knowledge of body systems is 14 percent; detailed knowledge of anatomy, physiology and kinesiology is 26 percent; pathology is 14 percent; therapeutic massage assessment is 16 percent; therapeutic massage application is 24 percent; and professional standards, ethics, business and legal practices is 6 percent. Passing the NCETM provides you with the same benefits as passing the NCETMB. Check with your state’s requirements to understand if you should take the NCETM or the NCETMB. 


This exam was created by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards and was originally established to support its member boards. You will have two hours and 30 minutes to answer the 125 questions on this exam.  This examination consists of questions that cover eight content areas: Client assessment and treatment plans (17 percent); benefits and affects of techniques (17 percent); pathology with contraindications and cautions (13 percent); massage history (5 percent); ethics, boundaries, laws and regulations (13); guidelines for professional practice (10 percent); kinesiology (11 percent); and anatomy and physiology (14 percent). 

This exam costs $195, which is less than both the NCETM and the NCETMB; however, prior to registering either directly through the FSMTB Web site or your state licensing board or agency, make sure to determine if your state accepts this exam. After you apply to take the MBLEx, the FSMTB sends you a notice to schedule once it determines your eligibility. 

Researching your states’ requirements is the key to understanding which certification examination you need to take in order to legally practice massage therapy. Once you have determined which exam to take, studying for the required examination will be your next step. The instruction you received through school will undoubtedly aid you as you take the examination. But keep in mind most schools often have a particular focus on certain techniques or modalities and can sometimes inadvertently leave out material that might be presented on one the examinations you will have to take. 

Therefore, it is imperative you take additional steps to ensure you pass the exam. By searching the Web, you can find numerous preparation materials, such as study guides, test-taking tips and sample questions. Signing up for an e-Learning program is an ideal choice

Erika Irby, Understanding the NCETMB, the NCETM and the MBLEx, MASSAGE Magazine Erika Irby is an instructional designer for Level 6 Marketing, a marketing firm which works with diverse clientele, including, an e-Learning program that allows users to access more than 2,200 practice questions designed to cover all the content areas found on the NCETMB, the NCETM and the MBLEx. The program’s online environment simulates real testing environments and allows you to track your progress. You can sign up for one, three, six and 10 month increments, so you can cram the month before the big testing day or study for almost a year in advance. This program, which offers a money back guarantee, is also ideal for use within schools not only as a supplemental teaching aid, but also to track student progress, assign homework assignments and remain vigilant of students’ weaknesses.