I just took the California MFT Clinical Exam and the National MFT Exam within a month of each other. When scheduling both of these exams, my hope was that I could study once, and then ace both. Here, I’ll outline the similarities and differences I noticed between the two exams.
The exams are structured similarly. They both are made up of multiple-choice questions, with four answer options for each. Both tests are four hours long, and both are administered at PSI testing locations. The California exam includes 170 items, 20 of which are not scored. The national exam includes 200 items.
The California MFT Clinical Exam is offered on a continual basis, at least five days per week. In order to sign up for the California exam, your hours of experience must first be approved by the Board of Behavioral Sciences. Once that occurs, you are able to take the exam as soon as there is an opening at the test location of your choice. On the other hand, the National MFT Exam is only offered for one week per month, and you must sign up for the exam by the first of the month before the month in which you want to take the exam. In order to take the national exam, you must first apply for eligibility through the board for the state in which you are seeking licensure.
Based on the exam plans, the two tests have slightly different foci, but the same intent: to keep the public safe. The California exam covers your knowledge of clinical evaluation, crisis management, treatment planning, treatment, law, and ethics. The national exam measures your knowledge of the practice of systemic therapy; assessing, hypothesizing, and diagnosing; designing and conducting treatment; evaluating ongoing process and terminating treatment; managing crisis situations; and maintaining ethical, legal, and professional standards.
I took the California exam first. In order to study, I used a California exam-prep course and took notes throughout the whole course. I looked through my notes a couple of times before taking the exam. For the national exam, I looked over my study materials from the California exam, and took two practice tests that were based specifically on the national exam. I failed both practice tests, which left me more than a little worried about whether I would pass the national exam.
Similar to the difference between a history test and an SAT, the National MFT Exam felt like it was testing knowledge, where the California MFT Clinical Exam felt like it was testing logic.
For me, the California exam was more difficult, because it asked complex questions in a very general way. It rarely specified the therapist’s theoretical model when asking what to do in certain situations where it would have made a difference in my thinking. For example, it is much easier for me to answer how a structural family therapist would do something, rather than just any clinician.* Similar to the difference between a history test and an SAT, the National MFT Exam felt like it was testing knowledge, where the California MFT Clinical Exam felt like it was testing logic.
When I reached the end of the California exam, I had about 16 minutes left over. In the national exam — which is 30 questions longer, but with the same time limit — I had over an hour left. That could mean that the questions are shorter or easier, or that I just threw my hands up!
For the California exam, I was able to get my results instantly. I passed! The National MFT Exam, on the other hand, does not give instant results. Instead, a passing score is set each testing cycle by a panel of expert judges, and exam results are sent only after that passing score, and your individual outcome, have been determined. Each state’s licensing board receives scores within 20 business days of your exam date. After a few weeks of waiting, I was happy to learn I had passed the National MFT Exam as well.
The information you receive with the results of each exam differs. If you pass, the California exam only tells you that you passed, without reporting a specific score or any subscale scores. The national exam gives you a breakdown of your performance in each category and overall, regardless of whether you pass or fail.
– Claire Hapke is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California (#101782) and New York (#001443). She operates a private practice in Brooklyn where she sees individuals and couples who are experiencing a quarter-life crisis. You can find her at www.clairehapke.com.
*Ed. note: The Exam Plan, which can be found toward the end of the Candidate Handbook, indeed makes clear that there are a lot of exam areas that are not considered theory-specific.
For additional posts on the California MFT Clinical Exam, click here.