How to Pass the MFT Exam on Your First Try

How to Pass the MFT Exam on Your First Try

You’ve finally finished graduate school and well on your way to getting pre-licensed clinical hours under your belt. But there’s one more significant hurdle before you’re officially living your dream and working as a licensed clinician on your own: the MFT exam.

This exam is a big deal. It’s the test that will qualify you (along with the other state-by-state requirements) to operate as a therapist on your own.

If you’re anything like me, you’re feeling the weight of this exam, even before you’ve sat down and started prepping. For one, it’s expensive. If you don’t pass, you’re going to have to take it again. It’s also long, grueling, and tricky. Having a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy is (probably) not enough to sit down and pass this test on the first try.

I say all of that to be direct about how serious this exam is. But don’t worry- therapists pass it all the time. I’m about to share all my best tips with you for how I passed the MFT national exam on the first try so you can create your plan for success.

How to Pass the MFT Exam

The path to become a licensed therapist can feel endless. Undergraduate degree, graduate entry exams, graduate school, capstone dissertations, and now a licensing exam. You have done so much work just getting to this point.

I noticed as I was starting to prep for the exam that I spent way too many hours feeling bad for myself and complaining about it. The fact that I had to take it, spend more money on sitting for the exam and for materials, and all the stress and anxiety that came along with it.

Everything changed once I got on board.

I realized I had to take this exam whether I liked it or not. I might as well try to enjoy the process- at the very least, become a better clinician through the process.

With this mindset shift, I was able to finally approach the exam with a positive outlook that kept me resilient and protected me from feelings of defeat when the process became difficult.

How to Pass the MFT Exam on Your First Try

Take this exam as soon as you can get it out of your way. The MFT national exam covers a wide range of individual and family models. However, when you graduate, you are likely trying to move away from broad brushstrokes into becoming an expert in the specific model you work from. For that reason, I wanted to move through this material as soon as I could, creating space to dive deeper into trainings in my speciality models.

I found that studying was very difficult before I had anything on the calendar. How can you study for an exam that isn’t real to you yet? Signing up can be scary, but it will show yourself you are ready to take on the commitment. Once you have the date on the books, you can create a study schedule that you’ll actually take seriously.

I gave myself about 3 months from the time I booked the exam to the time I sat to take it, and this timeframe worked well for me.

national exam mft

In terms of actually preparing, my first tip is to approach your sessions as training sessions rather than study sessions.

The MFT test is 180 multiple-choice questions over a four-hour window. Staying engaged through those questions so that you can think critically and answer questions correctly takes stamina and practice. Knowing the content of the exam is not enough to pass.

The best way to get this ‘training’ experience is through taking practice exams or mft exam practice. Start with the exam offered by the Association of Marital & Family Therapy Regulatory Boards.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t score well the first several practice exams you take. You’ll continue to get a feel for how questions are worded and improve over time. The exams also provide a breakdown of the question types you need improvement in, so the test results can drive the rest of your study strategy.

In addition to taking many practice exams, I practiced how it would feel to take the MFT exam on test day. I practiced where my scheduled breaks would occur so it would feel natural when I actually sat down on test-day.

My 7-part plan, taking the exam in 30-question chunks, looked like this:

  • Part 1: 30 questions, take a one minute break for breathing exercises (1/6 through)
  • Part 2: 30 more questions, breathing and light stretch break (1/3 through)
  • Part 3: 30 questions, unscheduled bathroom + water break for ten minutes (1/2 through)
  • Part 4: 30 questions, breathing break (2/3) through
  • Part 5: 30 questions, breathing and light stretch break (5/6 through)
  • Part 6: 30 questions, unscheduled bathroom + water break for ten minutes (100% through)
  • Part 7: Review all flagged questions and complete the exam
mft national exam

The material can feel dry if you read it over and over again in a study book. However, chances are that if you are passionate about the field, the material is fascinating. You just have to shift from passive studying to active ways to engage with the concepts.

The first tip is to create study blocks. As much as you may want to cram studying all day a few weeks before, you can only retain so much information at one time. Block out a couple hours each day so that you can take in and integrate the information in a sustainable way.

In terms of the study methods, I used a combination approach. I purchased study materials and read the book cover to cover.

Then, my study sessions involved a combination of different mediums:

  • Quizlet flashcards- For me, it’s important that I make the flashcards myself, as this is part of the study process. I flip through them, repeating concepts out loud, whenever I’m out for a walk or have a few free minutes in between sessions.
  • Tons of practice exams- Again, this step is so important for you to learn the question formats and test taking strategy.
  • Youtube or podcasts- I love learning through audio. I found a YouTube channel run by a therapist whose style matches my own and had super engaging way of approaching and explaining the different models. There’s tons of free content out there- find what works for you!
Marriage & Family Therapist exam

Again, learning the content is not enough to pass this exam. You need to learn the format of the exam and the ways questions are worded. As confident you are with the material, there will often be questions that throw you off. For example, I encountered several answer sets where no answer appears “right”, leaving you to select the “least bad,” which isn’t how you’e trained in school.

I used a red/yellow/green approach:

  • Read the vignette and the question.
  • Make sure you are clear on the question (look for double negatives- those are common!) and predict a reasonable answer.
  • Read through each answer one at a time. Label answers you know are not correct red, those that could be correct yellow, and those you think are correct green.
  • From here, read back through the responses and eliminate based on your color coding. If you have more than one green, choose the answer you think is the “most” right.

While you are taking the exam, there is a feature where you can actually strike through answer choices you do not think are correct. I found this so helpful to use, especially when I went back through my flagged questions and didn’t have to read every question stem a second time.

How to Pass the MFT Exam on Your First Try

This exam is stressful. I am not someone who gets test-taking anxiety. I have taken exams like the GRE, GMAT, and Series 7 with success and little nerves.

However, the MFT exam brought up something different in me. I think it was the combination of really not wanting to take it twice, and having this career mean so much to me.

Use whichever coping skills work for you to manage anxiety and stress as you move through your preparation. I remember having “off-days” where I would score really low on a practice test, and I would have to keep myself from spiraling down an unhelpful, defeating thought pattern.

Likewise, the morning of the exam, I didn’t feel confident about the first five questions. It’s really easy to be thrown off by this. However, don’t let your emotions kick you off your feet. Schedule in breaks to breathe, and remind yourself that you are prepared and that you know this material. A strong, soothed mindset is necessary to get through those 180 questions.

Marriage & Family Therapist exam tips

good luck!

Therapists dedicate their careers to serving, and they work extremely hard to be able to do so. Take the milestone of your exam at your own pace. If you don’t pass the first time, you can learn from the experience and take it again.

Ideally, let the experience of studying and absorbing this information make you a better clinician providing even higher quality care to the clients you serve.

Refer to the Association of Marital & Family Therapy Regulatory Boards website for more exam information and FAQs.

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