Preparing for California’s new MFT Law & Ethics exam

Golden gavel 1, By walknboston (Flickr: Gavel) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsCalifornia’s licensing exam restructure for marriage and family therapists (MFTs) takes effect January 1, 2016. Here’s how the new exam process will affect you.

Those newly registering as MFT interns

As of January 1, new MFT interns will need to take a California Law and Ethics Exam in their first year of intern registration, or else that registration will not be eligible for renewal. The key word here is “take,” and not “pass.” More on that below — skip ahead to “If you pass” and “If you fail.”

Those already registered as MFT interns

All of those currently registered as MFT interns, no matter how much or how little experience you have, will need to take the exam in the next 18 months. If you’re currently registered as an MFT intern, you will need to take the exam for either your 2016 or 2017 renewal, depending on your specific renewal month:

  • MFT interns whose registrations expire on or before June 30, 2016: You will need to take the law and ethics exam prior to your 2017 renewal.
  • MFT interns whose registrations expire on or after July 1, 2016: You will need to take the law and ethics exam prior to your 2016 renewal.

Again, the key word there is “take,” and not “pass.” More on that below.

If you pass the Law & Ethics Exam

If you pass the exam — er, I mean when you pass the exam — great! Onward to the rest of your prelicensed experience. You can keep renewing your intern registration until you complete the supervised experience. No more testing for you until the end of that process. Skip down to “Clinical exams.”

If you fail the Law & Ethics Exam

If you don’t pass the test, unless you’ve put it off to the last minute, you’ll get another shot (perhaps even more than one) to try again before your registration comes up for renewal. The BBS has said there will be a 90-day waiting period to retake the test, in order to make sure you get a different version of the exam the next time around. So hopefully you’ll pass on the second try, or the third.

Even if you don’t pass, you can still become eligible to renew your registration by taking a 12-hour continuing education course in Law and Ethics. Note, though, that if you renew through the CE route after failing the L&E exam, then you basically start the process over again the next year: You again need to take the L&E exam at least once, and if you again can’t pass it during the year, you’ll again need to take the 12-hour course.

The Clinical Exam

There is still a broader clinical exam at the end of your 3,000 hours of supervised experience. For now, it’s still a state-specific exam, which is being called the MFT Clinical Exam. It will take all the stuff from both the old Standard Written Exam and Written Clinical Vignette and put them into a single exam with both vignette and non-vignette-based questions. But the BBS has its eye on the National MFT Exam, and this restructure will make such a switch possible in the future.

These are good changes

Look, licensing exams suck. Almost everyone passes, and the ones who don’t are probably (at least in most cases) perfectly safe practitioners who simply struggle with high test anxiety or who don’t have English as their native language. You can read a lot more about the problems with licensing exams in this book.

But the exams aren’t going away any time soon, and as long as that’s the case, they should be done in a responsible way that more directly relates to public safety and maximizes license portability. Under the new structure, the Law and Ethics test addresses public safety much earlier in one’s career, which is good. And the use of national exams — assuming that’s the next step in this process — improves portability, which is also good.

More information – and preparing yourself

Preparing for the California MFT Law and Ethics ExamPractice Tests for the California MFT Law & Ethics Exam. (c) Copyright 2016 Benjamin E. Caldwell. All rights reserved.The BBS has made a ton of information about the new exams public. Start here if you’re interested. And I’m proud to offer a guidebook for California MFTs preparing for the Law and Ethics test as well as practice tests; learn more about them (or just go ahead and order!) on my site (Guidebook / Practice Tests) or on Amazon (Guidebook / Practice Tests).

34 thoughts on “Preparing for California’s new MFT Law & Ethics exam

  1. I have a question. I just took the L&E exam and failed. I have an intern number but it expires the end of June- I read that it I take the 12 hour course and show proof then I will be able to keep my intern number status as active while I wait the three months to re test. Is this correct?

  2. Hi Ben, I recently purchased your book to help prepare for the California MFT Law and Ethics Exam. I am scheduled to take the exam this Friday, August 26, 2016, but I feel that I have not had enough time to prepare or study given the delays with getting my test eligibility approval from the BBS. I am currently registered with a second intern number and the registration will expire on August 30, 2016. I have already paid my registration renewal fee, however my status says pending. I wanted to know if it is possible to reschedule my test for a later date past the expiration of my intern registration, or if doing so will cause me to lose my intern number and have to start the process all over again. On the back of my Candidate Handbook/test eligibility packet, it simply says test before 6/24/2017. Any advice you can give me would be most appreciated. Thank you.

  3. Hi Ben. I just took the SWE last year and failed, so now I am required to take the LMLE exam which I did and failed again! I don’t understand how or why since the questions on the exam were very close to the mocks I took from my review course which I passed at 88% rate. Do you have any suggestions on how to raise my chances of passing? Does your book cover test-taking strategies? What would you recommend for the required 12-hour CA Law and Ethics course as the prereqs for the LMLE retake? Thanks in advance.

  4. If you fail the licensing exam where do you go to take the 12 hour law and ethics course? And can you submit the BBS apllication for re-examination without taking the course & submitting proof after? My intern number expires 7/31/16 so I know wont be able to take the exam more than once before then but I submitted my intern renewal application two months ago so what happens then?

  5. Hi Ben,

    Thank you for all the information and help you continue to provide, it is really appretiated! I am an MFT intern waiting to register for the Law and Ethics exam through PSI. Due to the specific date range my intern number falls under, (exp. August 2016), I am required to take the exame before being able to renew my intern number. I believe I have done all the required steps, i.e. submitting my appllication for examination eligibility along with a check to BBS and contacting PSI in order to register. However, it seems that my eligibility information has not reached PSI yet as I have called multiple times since January 2016 and they clain that my intern number is not on file with PSI and therefore, they are unable to register me for an exam. PSI asks me to contact BBS regarding the matter. I have contacted BBS via phone and email for status updates multiple times with no response so far.

    I’m wondering whether you are aware of any updates regarding delays in transferring intern numbers to PSI? I was hoping to have the felixibility to be able to take the exam twice if needed before my renewal date, however, time is running out for this option to remain viable any more.

    Riitta de los Santos

    • Your best bet is continuing to reach out to the BBS to make sure your information has been properly transferred to PSI. While there have been some delays in that process, they are saying that they are turning around L&E exam eligibility applications in around 60 days. Good luck on the exam!

    • I had the same issue and called PSI directly to schedule. If you received the psi exam handbook there should be an id # issued on the sticker where it indicated when you need to take the exam by. That is the # you use to schedule with PSI.

    • Hi Riitta,

      I’m having the same problem regarding PSI telling me that BBS hasn’t sent my information and its been several months. BBS hasn’t responded to emails and when I do get someone on the phone they just tell me to wait, but can’t tell me why there is a delay. Have you been able to sort the problem? If so, could you share who you spoke with or how you managed to get connected? Thank you!

  6. Hi Ben,
    I took the written exam in April 2015 and failed. My deadline to retake the next exam is April 2016. Do I take the L&E exam or do I take the new clinical exam? If so, do I need to register again for it? My intern registration expires on June 30, 2016. Can’t hear anything from BBS on this. So confusing.

    • I’m not sure which exam you took in April 2015, since they both contain the word “written” — there’s the Standard Written Exam and the Written Clinical Vignette. If the one you took in April 2015 was the SWE, you’ll need to take the L&E exam. If you took the WCV, then you’ll take the Clinical Exam. Your eligibility should have automatically transferred to whichever new test is appropriate to your situation, but should contact the BBS via email if you are unable to register on the PSI site. I hope that helps!

  7. Hello! So, I am an MFTI and a PCCI, and according to the BBS the exams are different and so I have to apply twice (and pay twice) and take both exams. Do you have any insight or info on how they are different?? The printouts from the BBS regarding the structure of the exams is exactly the same for all three licenses (ACSD as well)…. I am at a loss for how to study. I have already bought a study program for the MFT exam, but am wondering if that should do for the LPCC exam as well? Any info would be great as finding information on dual licensing is impossible.

    • The exam content is different because the ethical standards of the professions are different. (There are also a few legal differences, as covered in my book, but the main differences are in professional ethical standards.) Do a side-by-side comparison of the NASW and CAMFT (or AAMFT) Codes of Ethics to get a sense of the differences.

  8. Hi there Ben,
    We met years ago when you visited my class at Pepperdine! I appreciate your online presence here in assistance with the BBS MFT exams.

    Here’s my question: Today I created a log in on the PSI site and attempted to take the first step toward planning a date for the ethics exam. I received a message that said the site could not process my request until pre-application was approved so I called their reps directly. A very helpful woman explained that BBS had not yet sent my information to them, therefore I would not be eligible to set up a date for the first exam. I obtained my BBS intern number in 2013, have over 2800 hours accrued and my re-registration date is June 20 2016.

    Can you please help me understand why my information would not yet be provided to PSI? I’m already anxious about taking these tests and this confusion only increases my discomfort. THANK YOU!

    • Sure thing. You need to apply to the BBS for eligibility to take the Law and Ethics exam. It’s an easy one-page application — basically it just tells the BBS to verify for PSI that you are, in fact, currently registered as an intern and so you are eligible to take the exam. The exam form is available on the “Forms and Publications” page of the BBS web site.

    • They would be *mostly* similar, but there would be at least a handful of differences. The AAMFT and CAMFT Codes of Ethics don’t line up perfectly with the NASW Code. As one example, the AAMFT and CAMFT codes prohibit discrimination based on socioeconomic status, while the NASW code leaves SES out of its non-discrimination clause. For differences in state law between MFT and CSW, I’d guide you here. Again, most things will be similar, but there are a few differences.

  9. Hello, I took the MFT standard written exam and did not pass the clinical vignette in July of 2015. I could not retake the exam until 180 days later, which was in 2016.

    Im now studying for the clinical exam…which is just like the standard written exam I already took.

    I wish there were some expections to the new changes in exams.


    • Michelle, you’re not alone. I passed the standard exam on my first attempt and failed the vignette by ONE point. Now I check the PSI website everyday waiting for clearance to take the new California clinical exam. Frustrating since the board cleared my check in November. It took 18 months for the board to clear my hours to sign up for the exam to begin with, I hope this isn’t the same issue. Any feedback would be great

  10. Hi Ben, I just renewed my intern # and I am still accuring my hours, do you happen to know if I can take the Law and ethics exam before I turn in my application for my completed hours?

  11. Hi Ben,

    A colleague of mine just got off the phone with a lady from PSI who informed her that PSI would not be administering the law and ethics exam starting in January. Have you heard anything about this?

    Also, my deadline to take the first exam is 2/16/16. I’m worried that I won’t be able to test in time due to the upcoming change in the testing process. Is anything known as to if that deadline will mean anything after the new tests come out? Will I just need to take the law and ethics test?

    Thank you for your help during this confusing time.

    • Hi Seth- Your colleague may have misunderstood from PSI. They will remain the BBS contractor for the licensing exams, as the BBS page on the exam restructure makes clear (scroll down to “test vendor information”). I’m not sure I’m understanding the second part of your question, but if your hours have already been approved, you typically need to take an exam at least once per year to remain active in the testing process (and not have your application be considered abandoned). Simply taking the L&E exam should suffice, but I would advise checking with the BBS to be sure. That one-year timeframe to remain active is still in the law, so I don’t believe it will change with the new testing process. Good luck on your exams!

  12. Thanks Ben! I just ordered. Any chance you know when registration for the exam will start? It’s always easier to make a timeline to study if you know when you will be testing!

    I really appreciate that you created and shared this book!

    • Hi Stephanie- The BBS has said that registration will open in January, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense considering that the exam itself starts in January. I *suspect* that once their systems have been updated and they’ve done some test runs to make sure that all of the automated systems work properly (including all the data-sharing with PSI, the company who administers the tests), they’ll open registration. Anticipate mid to late December, with the beginning of January as an undesirable possibility. I hope that helps, and that you find the book useful in your studying!

    • While the formal Exam Plan for the new MFT Clinical Exam has not yet been made public, this is a safe bet — some stuff changes in the time between registration and licensure, and even on the stuff that hasn’t changed, it would make sense that the BBS would want to be sure the examinee’s knowledge is still accurate. I’ve updated the post to remove confusion about that. Thanks for the heads-up!

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