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The Steps to Becoming an Occupational Therapist and Taking the NBCOT Exam

So, you’re thinking about a career as an occupational therapist.

Well, that’s awesome!

You are in good company. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the occupational therapist workforce is currently made up of 130,400 people in the United States.

And don’t worry, there is plenty of room for you to find a steady job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 31,000 new occupational therapy jobs are expected in the next few years.

Let us cover the initial steps on this exciting career path together so you can get a better understanding of what you’re getting into.

We are talking here about your career for possibly the next 10 years, at the very least, and even the rest of your life. That is exciting and nerve-racking at the same time.

Let’s get to it then.

How do you become an occupational therapist?

Occupational therapists need at least a master’s degree in occupational therapy; some therapists have a doctoral degree. Occupational therapists also must be licensed.

For more information, read How to Become an Occupational Therapist.

What type of schooling does an occupational therapist need?

Most occupational therapists enter the occupation with a master’s degree in occupational therapy. In 2017, there were about 200 occupational therapy programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, part of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

Admission to graduate programs in occupational therapy generally requires a bachelor’s degree and specific coursework, including biology and physiology. Many programs also require applicants to have volunteered or worked in an occupational therapy setting. Candidates should contact the program that they are interested in attending about specific requirements.

Master’s programs usually take 2 to 3 years to complete; doctoral programs take about 3 and a half years. Some schools offer a dual-degree program in which the student earns a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in 5 years. Part-time programs that offer courses on nights and weekends are also available.

Both master’s and doctoral programs require at least 24 weeks of supervised fieldwork, in which prospective occupational therapists gain clinical work experience. In addition, doctoral programs require a 16-week capstone experience.

What are the types of certifications and requirements needed to become an occupational therapist?

All states require occupational therapists to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state, but all require candidates to pass the national examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). To sit for the NBCOT exam, candidates must have earned a degree from an accredited educational program and completed all fieldwork requirements.

Therapists must pass the NBCOT exam to use the title “Occupational Therapist, Registered” (OTR). They must also take continuing education classes to maintain certification.

The American Occupational Therapy Association also offers a number of board and specialty certifications for therapists who want to demonstrate their advanced or specialized knowledge in areas of practice, such as pediatrics, mental health, or low vision.

How long does it take to become an occupational therapist?

It can take five to six years to complete the education required to become an occupational therapist. Master’s degree programs in occupational therapy typically take two years to complete. However, admission to graduate programs in occupational therapy generally requires a bachelor’s degree, which usually requires four years of education. Some schools offer a dual-degree program in which the student earns a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in 5 years.

How much does it cost to become an occupational therapist?

According to datausa.io, the median tuitions for occupational therapy programs are as follows:

  • In-state public tuition – $7,038
  • Out-of-state private tuition – $32,142

The fee for the NBCOT Exam is $500 if you apply online and $540 for a paper application.

What is the NBCOT Exam?

The NBCOT Exam, also known as the Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR) exam, is developed and administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) as a means of certifying the character and competency of entry-level occupational therapists in order to protect the public interest and the integrity of the profession. The NBCOT is the national certification body for occupational therapy professionals in the United States.

How many questions are on the NBCOT Exam?

The NBCOT Exam for occupational therapists consists of 3 clinical simulation test (CST) items and 170 four- and three-option single response multiple choice items.

What are the Categories on the NBCOT Exam?

Beginning January 2, 2019, the NBCOT Exam for occupational therapists will test candidates in the following domains:

  • Evaluation and assessment – Acquire information regarding factors that influence occupational performance on an ongoing basis throughout the occupational therapy process. – 25%
  • Analysis and interpretation – Formulate conclusions regarding client needs and priorities to develop and monitor an intervention plan throughout the occupational therapy process. – 23%
  • Intervention management – Select interventions for managing a client-centered plan throughout the occupational therapy process. – 37%
  • Competency and practice management – Manage professional activities of self and relevant others as guided by evidence, regulatory compliance, and standards of practice to promote quality care. – 15%

How long does the NBCOT Exam typically last?

The time allotted to complete all 170 multiple choice questions and three CST problems is four hours. There is a ten minute tutorial before the exam begins, and it will not count against the allotted four hours.

What is the passing grade needed for the NBCOT Exam?

To score the NBCOT Exam, raw scores are converted based on a scale that adjusts for differences in difficulty among multiple forms of the exam. The resulting scaled score may be between 300 and 600. A scaled score of 450 or above is required to pass the exam.

How many times can you take the NBCOT Exam?

There is no upper limit on the number of times a candidate can take the NBCOT Exam, but there is a 30-day waiting period after the last examination date before the candidate may test again. The candidate must submit a new exam application in order to retest.