NCETMB vs MBLEx ~ Which massage exam should you take?

Not sure which is massage licensing exam is best for you?

Do you wonder which exam is cheaper, easier, is accepted by your state board, or gives extra letters to put after your name?

Here is a little advice, insight, and direction from someone who has taken, and passed, both the NCETMB and the MBLEx.


First, we have the exams that have been around for years: The National Certification Examination in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB), the National Certification Examination in Therapeutic Massage (NCETM), and the National Exam for State Licensure (NESL).

These exams are all administered by the National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB).

This exam is accepted by most state boards.

Who can take the NCETM/NCETMB?

The eligibility criteria to sit and test for NCETMB/NCETM:

A minimum of 500 hours of instruction as follows:

  • 125 hours of body systems (anatomy, physiology and kinesiology)
  • 200 hours of massage and bodywork assessment, theory and application
  • 40 hours of pathology
  • 10 hours of business and ethics (minimum of 6 hours in ethics)
  • 125 hours of additional instruction in an area or related field that theoretically completes the massage program of study


This exam is a little longer and more expensive than the MBLEx.

For years, massage therapists complained about the inclusion of Eastern (Asian) theories, such as meridians, on the NCETMB.

The NCBTMB listened, and offered a new option of the exam, the NCETM.

To maintain your NCTMB/NCTM certification/credential, you need to complete 48 hours of continuing education and pay the $100 fee every four years.

Note: If you do not need, or want, the extra letters after your name, you are not required to renew your “national” or NCTMB/NCTM certification/credential when it expires.

You must wait until you graduate from training to take this exam (although you can take the NESL option before graduation).


The NCETMB/NCETM does give you a credential that can help distinguish you from other massage therapists in areas where licensing is unavailable.

These are the extra letters after your name that I was talking about (e.g. Ivy Hultquist, NCTMB)

What is the NESL Option?

The NESL exam is the same exam as the NCETMB, but it is a non-certifying/credentialing exam.

It is used if you just want to take the test for your state licensing and do not wish to carry a NCTMB certification.

  • It basically serves the same purpose as the MBLEx.
  • It costs less then than the NCETMB, NCETM, and even the MBLEx.
  • It can be taken before completion of massage training.

The NCBTMB was due to release the NCAP (Nationally Certified Advanced Practice) certification, but those plans have been scrapped.

There is a new “Board Certification” they will be phasing in this year.

You can go to the NCBTMB website to learn more about this change.



The Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) is administered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards.

It was introduced in October 2007 as an an entry level exam for massage licensure.

It is a very popular choice and has received good reviews from test takers.

It is now accepted by most state regulatory boards as an entry level licensing exam.

Check here to see if your state accepts it.

The exam is composed of 125 questions, focusing on eight areas of massage and bodywork including:

  • Client assessment and Treatment plans
  • Benefits of Massage
  • Pathology and Contraindications
  • Massage History
  • Ethics and Boundaries / Laws and Regulations
  • Guidelines for Professional Practice
  • Kinesiology
  • Anatomy and Physiology

Who is eligible to apply to take the MBLEx?

Unlike the NCETMB, anyone can apply to take exam, regardless of massage training.

It is up to state boards to verify a person’s massage training, not the FSMTB.


Unlike after passing the NCETMB, you are not “nationally certified” after you pass the MBLEx.

For most of you, your LMT, CMT, LMP letters after you name will come with your state license.


It is cheaper and shorter than the NCETM and the NCETMB.

There is no Eastern/Asian theory on the MBLEx.

It is an entry level exam only used to help obtain a massage therapy license.

You will not need to renew anything additional with the FSMTB, or take any additional massage continuing education courses (other than the hours required for your State license) as you would with the NCETMB/NCETM credential.

You can take the exam before graduation. This should help speed up the licensing process (and earning a living as a massage therapist) for most of you.

So there you have it.

I hope I’ve been able to provide you with the information necessary to assist you in making your licensing exam decision.


Are you ready for the next step?

I recently launched Massage Exam Academy. A study guide and exam prep service to help you apply, study, and pass the MBLEx.

I developed and used this material to help me pass my MBLEx exam, I know it will give you the knowledge and confidence to pass yours, too.

Still have a question?

Please feel free to ask a question in the comments below.

You may also email me at:

I would be happy to help!
Ivy Hultquist, LMT, NCTMB


Additional Contact Information

National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB)
1901 South Meyers Road, Suite 240
Oakbrook Terrace, IL 60181
Phone: 630-627-8000 or 1-800-296-0664
Website: NCBTMB
Current Fee: $225 (NCETMB/NCETM Option)

Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB)
7111 W 151st Street, Suite 356
Overland Park, Kansas 66223
Phone: 913.681.0380
Fax: 913.681.0391
Website: FSMTB
Current Fee: $195

About Ivy Hultquist

Thank you for reading this post! In addition to writing here at Massage and Bloggywork, I write specifically about barefoot massage at, as well as teach massage continuing education at Advanced Massage Techniques.


Connect with me: +Ivy Hultquist, Twitter, or Facebook


  1. I’m going to graduate in march of 2011 with a massage certificate. I did an apprentice ship 4 years ago and practice massage in minneapolis, mn. My professors have not heard of the MBLEX. I hear the nctmb has cams on it’ i’m worried I won’t pass. I’m moving to Utah or Colorado in July of 2011. My question is could i just take the MBLEX i don’t know what to take could you offer any advise. thanks

    • Really? They have not heard of the MBLEx? I guess with the freedom access laws in MN it may not be common knowledge. First, wherever you move you need to make sure you have enough hours to get a license in that state and find out if the state takes the MBLEx. According to both Colorado and Utah do accept the MBLEx. So my advise is take the MBLEx and don’t think twice about it. From what I here it is clearly the exam to take. Now, if you stay in MN I would maybe take the NCETMB (I don’t say that very often) because of the lack of licensing and possible need to credential yourself to potential clients. I hope that helps!

  2. C.L. Wallis says:

    I went to school in Virginia (600 hr course). I took the NCEMBT and passed but never got state certified in VA. I just moved to Arkansas and am having trouble understanding exactly what I would need to do to become certified in this state.

    • Good Afternoon C.L.

      I am not as familiar with the licencing laws in Arkansas as I am with the laws of Iowa and Florida. But, I figured I should learn more about, so I looked it up this morning. It seems quite detailed, but they do break it down for you a little.

      First, here is the application:
      Application Instructions

      Here is what I found in the instructions:
      Out-of-state Applicants
       Must provide Criminal Background Check from state or states previously resided in or Federal
      Background Check to include the taking of fingerprints (results must be sent to the Arkansas
      State Board of Massage Therapy from the issuing agency);
       Transcripts and/or documentation must provide detailed course descriptions for consideration of
      transfer of credits;
       Details of transcripts and/or documentation must be provided by school administrator, director, or
      other school official;
       Provide original application plus seven copies of your application including all supporting
       State Law Course Requirements (Checklist)
       175 hours of anatomy, physiology, pathology, and contraindications to massage therapy;
       225 hours of technique;
       25 hours of hydrotherapy, electrotherapy, and heliotherapy;
       25 hours of hygiene and infection control;
       25 hours of massage therapy law, business management, and professional ethics; and
       25 hours of related subjects as approved by the board.

      Also – here are the required documents that ALL applicants must to send to the Board with their applications.
      Required Documentation (Checklist)
       Completed Application;
       $180.00 Cashier‟s Check or Money Order;
       Valid Photo Identification: Driver‟s License, State-issued ID Card, Passport, or US Military ID; (I assume this is a copy!)
       Copy of High School Diploma and/or Transcript, College Diploma and/or Transcript, or GED;
       TB Test – Must be issued by a qualified medical doctor (excluding Chiropractors) on Official
      Letterhead, Clinic Form, or Health Card;
       Massage School Diploma;
       Massage School Transcript;
       MBLEx Score Report; and
       Have you submitted your application for your Criminal Background Check?

      Now, it looks like the NCE exam is not accepted. I would contact the Board and ask them if they make exceptions, but it looks unlikely. I would plan on taking the MBLEx or the Arkansas Board Exam. I know, not the best news – but, you can do it!

      Hope this helps. Let me know if you have other questions. Feel free to email the Board. I always find that to be helpful!

  3. Lacresha says:

    Does the sate of Nevada accpet the MBLEX test? Also I live in Maopa Nevada an hour away from Saint George Utah how do i go about getting lincence in Utah or Nevada. I was hoping to have the best of both worlds.. Can that happen for me???

  4. Hello Ivy,

    i was told by my school that since I have been out of school for awhile I can not finish to graduate. I only have 70 more hours to graduate out of 580 that I completed. They said I would have to pay another tuition and take the entire course all over again. I have been trying to speak to staff to see if I can graduate, but they have told me that they can only release to me my 580 hours. They said I will still be able to take the NCETMB and the NCETM because I have over 500 hours. But is that true? Will they alone accept my hours without a graduation certificate?

    • This I am not sure about. You can definitely take the MBLEx. I would think you would be able to take the NESL which is administered by the NCBTMB. You may be able to take the NCETMB/NCETM, but I really think they want you to be completed with school. Maybe not. I would call the NCBTMB and they can give you a definite answer. Sorry I do not have a better answer for you!

  5. I am in Missouri and took the mblex. You stated that there is no need to renew or have CEU’s. Maybe its different in every state but here in Missouri you have to have 12 CEUs every 2 years and pay to renew your license rather you take the nationals or mblex.

    • Hi Krista,

      It is a great comment. I think you misunderstood what I was trying to say. But I know others who have been confused about the difference between MBLEx and State CEU requirements. So, I want to clarify this for others.

      I had one lady that emailed me because her coworker believed that just because she took the MBLEx that she did not have to take CEUS to renew her State massage license. Like taking the MBLEx gave her a special pass ouf of needed CEUS to renew her license.

      What I meant by that comment is that one does not need to take any CEUS to keep up a “MBLEx credential” (which does not exist) or renew anything. People who take the NCETMB and want to maintain their NCTMB credential must take 48 hours of CEUS every 4 years.

      Each state is different. Most do require CEUS every renewal. It is just that people who took the MBLEx do not to renewal anything additional with the FSMTB (MBLEx administrators). They only need to keep up with their state requirements like you stated. Someone who takes the NCETMB and wants to keep their NCTMB credential would need to send CEU hours into their state and the NCBTMB.

      Does that make sense?

  6. Hi, I have just graduated from massage school and am trying to figure out which test I should take to practise in Florida. Is it worth it to have the NCBTMB credential or should I go with the MBLEr which sounds easier and simpler? Also, what other steps do I need to do to get licensed?

    Many thanks for your guidance in this!

  7. Hi, I have my Advanced Massage Therapy Certificate from Massachusetts from 2007. I never got my national certification nor my License to practice massage. I now live in North Carolina, and am thinking of going through with the process and hopefully start working for someone as a Massage Therapist. My question is, I’m not sure what tests/certifications, etc I’d need to take/NC requires. Do I need to become nationally certified or just get my NC license to practice MT? I’m confused as to what I need to take, (NCETMB, MBLEx, NCBTMB, state exam)?? Please help me, i’m so confused. Thanks!! :)

    • Hi Alvi,

      Here is a link I found from the NC Board…

      Here is what is says basically –

      1. You need 500 hours of previous training from a school that was approved in Mass.
      2; Applicants who graduated from an out-of-state school must provide proof of passing one of the following exams:
      The Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx)
      The National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCETMB)
      The National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage (NCETM)
      NESL options for the NCETMB and NCETM
      The Asian Bodywork Therapy Examination (ABTE) offered by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM)

      So, you do need to pass one of the exams before you get a license. Typically, I suggest the MBLEx in this situation. Being nationally certified does not replace the need for a state licence.

      So, look at the application on the NC site. Then I would start preparing for the licensing exam you want to take (here is my exam prep). You will also need to contact your school about getting a transcript sent to the NC Board at some point.

      I hope this helps clear some things up for you!

  8. Hi Ivy,

    I have been licensed in Florida since 1993, at which time I also took what I believe was the first NCETMB exam. I have faithfully renewed with NCBTMB each year, but I’m considering not continuing. I moved out of Florida once for four years, but do not foresee that happening again. I just wanted to bounce this off of someone else, in case there’s a reason I haven’t thought of that I should keep that certification. Your opinion?

    Thanks, and I’m glad I found your courses and your blog!

    • Hi Kim,

      Hmm… I hate to give advice on this because of the less than 1% chance that you may need it someday. Unless you can think of a job that may required it, I would not worry about it expiring. Your test scores stay valid even if your “certification” lapses. Most states want your test scores and do not care if your certification is up to date. My certification is up at the end of this month, and I also will not be renewing. I could not think of a reason to keep it either.

      Please let me know if you have any questions or problems with the courses ;) Take Care!!

  9. Velvett says:

    Hi I graduated at Arizona school of Massage Therapy 2009 and my licensed expired the end of 2011 and I haven’t worked as a massage therapy at all. Can I still continue working as a massage therapist and where can I take my CE exam and which one?

    • Hi Velvett,
      I highly, highly doubt you can legally work as a massage therapist now. You need to contact the AZ Board of Massage and ask them exactly what you need to do to get your license active again. Since it has not lapsed for more than 2 years, you may just need to get up to date on your CE hours instead of reapplying. I believe you need 25 for renewal (plus your lapsed time). Please top back and let me know what you find out. I can help you from there too.

      • Velvett says:

        Hello there again I have contact AZ board of massage and asked them about what I need to do to renew my license and they have told me since Im almost two years late renewing that I will need to pay $135 and complete my CE exam. But where can I take my CE exam?

        • I have no idea what they mean by “CE Exam”. Do they mean just complete your CE requirements? You may need to call them back and have them elaborate on that one a little more. Sorry I cannot be of more help.

  10. Hi Ivy, Here is a good one for you. I was licensed as Mt in TX back in 2004 when it was just 308 hrs. Practiced for 4 years. Moved to AZ with husbands jobs, and here at that that time, it was 500 hrs. I thought I be smart and go for my Esthetics License(skin care)…The license went up to 500 and I let it lapsed in 2007, another words, I didn’t renew.

    Well this little bird in my head keeps telling me, do your massage. So I went back to school, and got my 500+ hrs…AZ is now 700 hrs, and soon to be 750. My dilemma is this…what do you think of me going for my NSEL test, and with this one, in 2 years we can be Nationaly Certified, my question to you is, can we test in any state? I have 2 homes, 1 here in AZ, the other, for a short time, Ohio. Which I don’t plan on it getting it there since they are governed by the Medical Board, a whole other world. What is your feeling on this if you were me?

    I know the MBlex is a liitle more money, but for me, the NESL with the opportunity to be Nationaly Certified makes better sense. Does it to you?

    Thanks and if it this note sounds confusing, I’m sorry. Sandra

    • Hi Sandra

      Wow! You have really kept yourself !

      Well, we may not agree, but I would go for the MBLEx. The NESL is actually not offered any longer by the NCBTMB – You can still take the NCETMB from them though.

      The MBLEx is a little bit more money, but in the long run, you will pay more to keep up your national certification. What exactly would you use the national certification for, or how would it help you and your business? I want to make sure I am not missing something. Your MBLEx scores can be sent to most states if you move, and most importantly, get you a state massage license.

      Plus, Ohio accepts the MBLEx now and you could use it to get your license there too- they do not just accept their own exam now.

      You can take the NCETMB and MBLEx in any state. Both are given at PearsonVue centers. You can look it up to see which one is nearest to you.

      Now, I hope I have not confused you! Let me know what you think.

  11. Hello thank you for the great help and advice that you give, I graduated massage school in 2007 and got my diploma in Florida 500 hours, I did not went forward in taking my licensure exam, I want to know if I can still take the exam to become license is there a time frame from wen you finish school to take the test, I have been calling my massage school for information but the school has been closed down, what exam do you think will be best for me to take since I have been out of school for so long, please help I really need to get license thank you.

    • Hi Andrea,

      Yes, you can still take the exam. Anytime. There is no time frame for that.

      I honestly believe the MBLEx would be your best option for getting your FL license. Then NCE would get you your license too, but you do not need the credential in FL. So, I would just go with the MBLEx licensing exam. It is very easy to apply for and schedule.

      As far as your school… They should have given someone your records. Do you know the school administrator or anyone who worked there. I would contact them and try to find out where the records are. If not, call the FL Board of Massage and ask them what to do about your transcript and see if they still have it on file (if you applied back in the day).

      You will likely need to take the 3 courses required by FL again. I deal with helping people get their FL licenses every day. Here is a checklist I made for them. If you have any questions, let me know. I also have a link on there for my MBLEx study guide and practice questions.

  12. Hi, I appreciate your site and your information
    Can you tell me this…my daughters are graduating in Louisiana in Aug 2013 and are preparing to take a certification test…I guess that is where MBLEX and NCB whatever comes in.
    I see where there are only a few states that do not accept MBLEX. My daughters are considering working for the actors/movies which move around from state to state…we are confused as to what we would do to practice…get license in Louisiana? Then what if the movie company asks them to do a massage in California? can they do that…In other words, do you need to apply for a license for every state you work in?

    • Hi Carole,

      I know this is not the answer you are hoping for… But yes, you do need a license in every state you will be massaging/working. There are a few states that do not require licenses, but those are few an far between right now. And some states have exemptions for MT’s working with traveling sports teams, but I have not seen other exclusions (e.g. actors).

      It is not hard to have a license in a couple states. I have an Iowa license and a Florida license. And I know many others who have more than one state license as well. They would just need to pick where they think they will be doing the most work, research the requirements, and obtain those licenses ahead of time.

      You can view the MBLEx prep material I offer here –

      I hope this helps them prepare.

  13. Gabriel Carr says:

    Hi Ivy,

    I’m in Houston and I’m about to finish school but I’m not sure what test I should take.MBLEX, NCETM OR NCETMB ?? and what is the diference btw NCETM and NCETM ?
    After taking the test I’m going to move to St. Louis MO for two years and then move again but not sure where until the time comes. Thank you.


    • Hi Gabriel,

      I typically recommend the MBLEx, because it is easy to schedule and a straight forward exam. The difference between the NCETMB and NCETM is the “B” one has Eastern/Asian theory (just a little). The NCETM is comparable to the MBLEx.

      They are all licensing exams and will get you a massage license in most states.

      I hope that helps.

  14. Hi,
    I have worked as a licensed Physical Therpist Assistant since 1986. During that time and depending on site of practice, ie…hopital and sports clinic. I have had the opportunity to provide massage during treatment. I have also done massage on various family and close friends, granted for specific complaints and such. My question is, can I, as a PTA take the license exam for massage without taking the course? Is that “legal”?

    • Hi Tammie,

      It is unlikely that you could sit for the NCETMB. It depends on your PTA training and how much massage education it included. My guess is that it would not be enough to sit for it.

      Anyone can sit for the MBLEx. Anyone. This may seem crazy, but just passing the MBLEx or NCETMB is not enough to get you a license in most states. Most states want proof of massage education (generally in specific areas) in addition to successful completion of an entry level exam.

      Which state are you located in?

  15. i have a massage license in north carolina and i need to transfer it to ohio and i cant find any step by step instructions to do so. can you please help? and also, the Mblex will not allow you to work in other countries? must you take the NCTEMB?

  16. Do you think the study guides through are worthwhile?

    Do you recommend any other resources?

    I’m planning on signing up for the MBLEx in the next day or two and would also like to use a study guide of some kind.

    Thank you,

  17. Hi, wondering….can I still take the MBLEX in Texas
    if I finnished Massage School 3 years ago? I’ve taken
    it once right after I graduated but failed by a few questions.
    Would I have to repeat massage school again since its
    Been so long?

    • Hi Kimberly,

      You can take the MBLEx anytime – before you complete school, or 20 years later. You should not need to repeat massage school. Did you go when Texas was 500 hours, or back when it was a 300 hour requirement? If it was three years ago, I think they were all 500 hour. You should be fine if you have that many hours completed. If you only have 300 hours, I would contact the state board in TX.

      MBLEx Practice Questions and Study Guide


  18. I went when it was 500..and thanks a lot!

  19. Wesley Byrd says:


    It would appear that both tests are now 125 questions, with NCBTMB $10 cheaper at $185. Any other thoughts comparing test content / difficulty?


  20. Wesley Byrd says:


    It would appear that both tests are now 125 questions, with NCBTMB $10 cheaper at $185. Any other thoughts comparing test content / difficulty?

    ps – from Portland OR

  21. I’m having trouble finding what I need to do to become licensed again? I was national licensed and certified until 2009 and I graduated in 2004. I don’t know what I need to do again for Utah. Do you have an advice?

    • I would contact the Board of Massage in Utah. Generally you will need to reapply if it has been a while. If it has not been too long, you may only need to show proof of completing CE courses while you have been inactive. Best wishes!

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