The Art Therapy Credentials Board Examination (ATCBE) is a national exam taken for Board Certification and, in some cases, needed for state licensure. The testing is done in two ways: the standard paper-and-pencil option and the computer-based option. There can be many questions regarding the exam, so here is a quick breakdown on general information about our exam.
Scientific Rigor for Multiple Uses
The ATCBE is a rigorous, scientifically constructed and validated exam that is produced to the highest standards for professional examinations. The strength of the exam has been demonstrated specifically through our accreditation by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA.) Like many professionally produced exams, the ATCBE is used both for national professional credentialing and for purposes of state licensure. As states create licensure specifically for art therapy, they contract for use of the ATCBE; our National Office oversees use of the exam through supervision of administration and diligent security measures.
Although the same exam is used for both board certification and licensure, qualifications differ for the two purposes. In order to be board certified as an art therapist (ATR-BC), an exam candidate must first have the ATR. By contrast, some states do not require candidates to have the ATR or any prior experience as an art therapist before taking the ATCBE for licensure. Passing the ATCBE for licensure does not automatically confer board certification.
Instead of following curriculum standards, state-of-the-art professional exams rely on content that is updated regularly through a job analysis procedure. In this way, such exams reflect competency needs in actual current clinical practice. The ATCB forms a Job Analysis Special Committee approximately every five years (the professional norm,) which meets with our contracted testing consultants over a one-year period to create and administer a survey of practicing credentialed art therapists, and analyze the data. The results are used to update the detailed content outline, which is the blueprint for the exam.
The purpose of the exam is to warrant professional competence, which is a broader task than assessing the factual knowledge gained in coursework. Thus, the exam content naturally overlaps material taught in graduate programs, but the exam is not, per se, based on course content such as is given in the AATA educational requirements for approved programs.
Subject Matter Experts
The use of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in conjunction with professional testing consultants, who provide the technical and scientific knowledge of psychometrics, is requisite for the creation of a professional exam. Our SMEs are practicing ATR-BCs representing a range of demographics, geographical locations, client populations, and work settings; together they make up the Certification Committee. The Committee writes and fine-tunes questions to fit the current detailed content outline, which in turn is based on the knowledge and skill areas described as important and needed by practicing credential holders in the Job Analysis survey.
Field Test Questions
In each version of the exam, 30 of the 200 questions have been newly written by the Committee and are not scored; they are under development for inclusion in subsequent forms of the ATCBE. This field testing procedure enables our testing consultants and the Committee to statistically analyze new items in order to edit for validity and reliability before they become part of the scored exam.
In addition to doing “homework” on new questions year round, the Certification Committee spends many hours, twice annually, working face to face with the testing consultants. Together they review data on all of the questions from the previous administration of the exam, using special psychometric software to assess the performance of each item, down to each multiple-choice option for each answer. Items are edited, rewritten, or retired as necessary to improve reliability and validity.
The passing or “cut” score is scientifically determined for each version of the exam in compliance with current professional standards. In some years, this is done by a specially convened and trained Standard-Setting Committee, and in alternate years it is done by the testing consultants using specialized statistical software. The cut score is not negotiable by appeal and extends to all uses of the exam for that year (each state, CBT administrations, etc.)
Like all other aspects of our board credentialing process, the exam pass-fail rate is reviewed annually by the NCCA to ensure our ongoing accreditation. Although you may hear anecdotal tales of one profession’s exam or another’s being the “hardest” or most rigorous, these are likely to be opinions rather than researched comparisons. In addition to the range of content represented in the exam, there is a range of question type; again, this is a professional standard. Some questions test simple recall of factual information. However, a greater number are clinical scenarios and other types of questions that call on the exam-taker’s ability to apply knowledge and choose the best answer based on sound judgment. This reflects the purpose of the professional exam, which is to assess competence. It calls for questions that provide a more comprehensive assessment rather than simply testing retention of knowledge from graduate training.
Because such a large proportion of the exam does not involve simple factual recall, the use of a commercially available study guide or flash card system has limited effectiveness as a way to study for the exam. The Official ATCB Preparation Guide includes a list of books which show the range and type of knowledge the exam-taker will probably have encountered in graduate study. In reviewing the exam content areas and sample questions given in the ATCB Preparation Guide, exam candidates may wish to identify weak points or gaps in their knowledge or experience, and do some reading in those areas. But even reading all the literature would not guarantee a passing score. Clinical judgment is not something that can be crammed; no “magic study guide” can supplant experience and supervision. For this reason and others, ATCB does not endorse or recommend any study guides or systems made available by other groups or individuals.
By acquiring and maintaining art therapy credentials, you show your dedication to our unique field. We appreciate you, and we hope you appreciate our adherence to quality standards in the credentialing of our profession. You can click here to see testing window dates & locations and for any questions regarding the exam or certification you can visit us here and like us on Facebook & Instagram.
This article was originally published in the ATCB Review Summer 2013, Volume 20, Issue 2
ATR-BC, ATCS and Former ATCB Director, Secretary, Board Liaison to the Certification Committee