Taking the MBLEx and/or NESL as a Massage Therapy Student

Posted by ITM


The increasing demand for massage therapists means there are more people taking up massaging courses and exams to get both professional and legal licenses to practice.  There are several factors to consider before choosing an exam, for example, cost, difficulty, training and your state’s board requirements.

You can choose between entry-level exams (MBLEx or NESL), or take up a professional course, which qualifies you to take the NCETM/NCTEMB (National Certification Examination in Therapeutic Massage/ National Certification Examination in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork) exam, the national qualification for professional massage therapists.  

MBLEx (The Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination)

The FSMTB (Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards) administers and governs the MBLEx, an entry-level exam for massage therapists. Candidates can take the exam in either English or Spanish at test centers all over the country and qualify to work in 44 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the territories of Puerto Rico. As of July 1, 2017, the FSTMB requires candidates to provide prove of an educational program from an approved educational program either by the national body or the state board.

The MBLEx gives 125 questions that examine candidates in bodywork and eight key massage therapy areas, which include:

  • Benefits of massage
  • Client assessment and treatment plans
  • Massage history
  • Pathology and contradictions
  • Guidelines for professional practice
  • Ethics and Boundaries/Law and Regulations
  • Kinesiology
  • Anatomy and physiology

As you prepare to take the exam, revise extensively with practical lessons when possible. If you need to retake the exam, you must pay the exam fee and make a fresh application, a costly process.

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NESL (National exam for State Licensing)

States that use the NCBTM (National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Body Work) as an exam require entry-level massage therapists with little or no formal education in a certified massage therapy program to take the NESL as a licensing exam; candidates can take the exam at any stage in their course. Candidates who take the NESL qualify to apply for state licensing, allowing you to enter the workforce early and earn as you study.

You can apply to take the NESL immediately after completing your course work, when information retention is at its highest, which leads to higher test scores.

Once you pass your NESL and complete your studies, you can apply for national certification by providing a copy of your transcript, diploma and ID plus a conversion fee within 2 years. Additional requirements to qualify for conversion to the National Board Certification include:

  • 500 hours of massage therapy work
  • Complete conversion form
  • Acceptance of the NCBTM code of ethics

MBLEx versus NESL

Choosing between the MBLEx or the NESL can confuse you, especially if you are looking to work professionally. Some of the comparative factors to look at include:

  • Cost – the NESL is slightly cheaper than the MBLEx
  • Convenience – You can take the NESL before enrolling into any study program, while the MBLEx requires evidence of formal education
  • Conversion – With an NESL, you can convert your licence to a national NCBTM licence, while the MBLEX requires you to apply for the NCBTM certification anew

You can apply and take either exam all year round with little or no experience to qualify for a license that allows you apply to entry-level positions.

The decision on whether to take the MBLEx or the NESL lies with you. Consider your long-term career options, the states you would like to work in and your prospective employers. The best option is to take a professional massage therapy course and increase your employability. Kick start your career as professional massage therapist at the Institute for Therapeutic Massage (ITM), where you gain practical training and clinical exposure.

Start your journey today!

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