What are SAFMEDS?

SAFMEDS in ABA is a method of studying with a particular focus on fluency. When you’re taking a certification exam, like the RBT or BCBA exam, the ability to answer questions both accurately and quickly is vital. Utilizing SAFMEDS helps you to develop accuracy and fluency of key terms, definitions, and theories. They are similar to flashcards, but the process is more involved and results in better outcomes.


The SAFMEDS acronym stands for:

Say: See the front of the card and say the answer

All: Include all terms that you’re currently studying in your deck of cards

Fast: Go through the content as fast as possible

Minute: Go through as many cards as you can in the chosen interval

Every day: Use SAFMEDS and assess your progress on the Standard Celeration Chart daily

Shuffle: Shuffle the deck between timings so the SAFMEDS are never in a set order

Why use SAFMEDS in ABA?

As we’ll discuss throughout this article, SAFMEDS is a research-supported method for learning concepts based on behavioral principles. Using behavior-analytic approaches to studying will help you to acquire the knowledge necessary to pass your exam. But more importantly, using behavior analytic methods for studying will help you to maintain the knowledge needed in the field post-certification.


Flashcards as a Study Tool

How do people achieve fluency with content area knowledge? Learning abstract information challenges all students, from early childhood to those pursuing advanced degrees.


Many self-study methods exist that help students, or anyone, learn content. Researchers surveyed college students and discovered 11 different study strategies. After rereading notes or the textbook and engaging with practice problems, flashcards were the third most used study strategy (Karpicke, Buttler, & Roediger, 2009).


Many studies have examined flashcards and their benefits. For instance, flashcards have helped young children learn to read better, aided medical students with the acquisition of terms, increased university students’ psychology exam scores, and even heightened patients’ understanding of diabetes and medication adherence.

How do SAFMEDS compare to flashcards?

Flashcards continue to attract the interest of researchers and practitioners due to their effectiveness, adaptability, and portability. Yet, despite the previously stated benefits and popularity of flashcards, several factors limit their potential.


    1. Almost all flashcard practice trials have no set timed practice interval. In other words, students will practice in an untimed manner.
    2. No uniform performance goals exist. Students may practice to any accuracy criteria (e.g., 80%, 90%, or 100%).
    3. Flashcards lack instructional design. Creating flashcards comes with no set of rules, and each deck may contain widely discrepant methods for presenting target content.


The previously stated limitations make flashcards less effective. Students using the popular instructional tool may not learn content as effectively or efficiently as they like. Furthermore, retaining information and moving forward with more complicated content may occur at a slower pace or not at all. Fortunately, SAFMEDS addresses the flashcard limitations and has research demonstrating accelerated performance gains and learning.


Flashcards Morph into SAFMEDS

In 1978, Ogden Lindsley and Steve Graf pioneered SAFMEDS as a practice and assessment procedure (Potts, Eshleman, & Cooper, 1993). A host of studies have demonstrated the superiority of SAFMEDS over flashcards and other self-study practices. Research indicates that SAFMEDS forms an effective instructional and assessment method in many domains.

SAFMEDS in ABA Research

A study conducted by Rick Kubina, Ph.D., BCBA-D, and others in 2015, demonstrated how SAFMEDS could help behavior change agents improve their understanding of important Precision Teaching concepts such as movement cycles.


In the 2015 study, participants initially performed the assessment task slowly, with hesitations. In baseline, all of the participants made more incorrect than correct answers. Additionally, incorrect responses accelerated in baseline. However, over time, the participants increased their fluency.

To learn more about Precision Teaching, check out Rick Kubina’s courses in CR Institute.

SAFMEDS Research Results

When the experimenters applied the SAFMEDS intervention, correct responses rapidly increased, while incorrect responses rapidly decreased.


The SAFMEDS study had several significant findings:

    1. SAFMEDS offers a reliable method to help adult learners quickly gain competency with the targeted content;
    2. Participants retained information across time;
    3. SAFMEDS facilitates the extension of content to novel content (i.e., Participants performed very well on a novel deck demonstrating transfer of learning);
    4. A performance criterion or frequency aim can signal how fast and accurately participants must respond to achieve their goal; and
    5. Analyzing performance results on a Standard Celeration Chart provides a wealth of visual and statistical information.


SAFMEDS supports the learning of simple and complex content for learners of all ages. SAFMEDS also gives rise to essential learning outcomes such as long-term retention and maintenance, application or extension of content to novel material, and social validity.


SAFMEDS are an excellent supplement in studying for the BCBA or RBT certification exam. With CentralReach’s ABA Knowledge Builder, learners are able to use SAFMEDS with ease. Results are automatically charted so learners of all knowledge levels can easily track their progress and implement interventions to increase their acceleration toward content fluency. Using SAFMEDS in this more curated way, aspiring behavior analysts are sure to feel well-prepared for a certification exam. With 2000+ SAFMEDS for BCBAs/BCaBAs and 150+ for RBTs, in addition to 3000+ Mock exam questions for BCBAs/BCaBAs and 750+ RBTs. On-demand study group recordings to help your staff train for competency, acquiring and maintaining vital knowledge for their future role as a behavior analyst. Plus, weekly open office hours are available for BCBAs/BCaBAs.