Advanced ABO Certification

Modern eye care is offered by a variety of experienced professionals such as ophthalmologists, medical doctors who can treat eye conditions medically and surgically, and doctors of optometry, who can diagnose, manage and treat changes in vision. Opticians are the experienced and highly trained professionals who can design, test and fit eyeglasses lenses and frames, contact lenses and other devices to improve eyesight. They do not diagnose or treat eye diseases, but are the specialists who can ensure that patients can make the most of the contacts and eyeglasses prescribed by ophthalmologists and optometrists.

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In the US, there is no federal registration system for opticians. While some states regulate or register opticians, one of the best ways an optician can demonstrate their competence to prospective employers and patients is to achieve certification by the American Board of Opticianry/National Contact Lens Examiners (ABO-NCLE), the national professional body for opticianry. This body certifies that opticians have the skill to dispense contact lenses and eyeglasses reliably and safely, and offers certification at the basic, advanced and master levels of competency.

The Work of an Optician

Although opticians are not medical doctors or doctors of optometry, their work requires the highest level of technical skill and good practical judgment. On a day-to-day basis, an optician, hard at work in a vision clinic, commercial eyewear firm, hospital or outpatient care center, may be designing and fitting eyeglasses for an active toddler, or contact lenses for a public figure who is always on camera. They may be implementing basic prescriptions or creating a unique pair of eyewear with complex prism lenses.

Working as a team with prescribing optometrists and ophthalmologists, and with the help of optometric and ophthalmic assistants, opticians perform challenging and exacting work but benefit from reasonable pay and an environment of job stability and growth. While it is possible to work as an optician without basic ABO certification, it is a good strategy for job-seeking opticians to earn and maintain certification.

While basic ABO certification is extremely helpful to job seekers, the advanced and master’s certifications can mean a higher salary, more challenging work and the opportunity to supervise and lead other opticians in a large team. According to research undertaken by the American Board of Opticianry, 75 percent employers prefer certified candidates and 90 percent of those states that certify opticians use ABO and NCLE exams as the basis of their own certification process.

Requirements for Advanced ABO Certification

For all opticians, a high school or general equivalency diploma is a basic requirement, as is the need to be in reasonably good health, able to work on your feet and to move heavy objects.

As with the basic certification, the advanced ABO certification is available to eyeglasses specialists who have taken the advanced ABO exam, contact lens specialists who have taken the advanced NCLE exam, or those who have taken both.

While people without experience working as an optician are eligible to take the basic exams, to be eligible to take the exam for Advanced ABO Certification, you’ll need either to hold a Basic ABO or NCLE Certification for a period of at least one recertification cycle of three years, or to have worked for three years as a state-certified optician in a state where having passed the ABO or NCLE exams is a prerequisite to its certification process.

Testing is offered year-round, with four testing cycles available each year via Prometric testing centers. Remote testing via the ProProctor system is also available. A detailed handbook offered by ABO-NCLE explains the competency areas tested within the two exams, which are the American Board of Opticianry Advanced Certification Examination (ABOAC) and the National Contact Lens Examiners Advanced Certification Examination (NCLEAC). As Prometric is a very experienced examiner, it also offers reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ABOAC Exam

The ABOAC is a three-hour exam consisting of 125 multiple-choice questions. Competencies tested include:

  • Analyzing a patient’s prescription including the limitations of that prescription, and assessing the medics abnormalities of a patient’s vision
  • Designing and dispensing ophthalmic eyewear, taking the patient’s needs and wants into account and ensuring that it is a good fit for their eyes and face
  • The use of a variety of complex ophthalmic instrumentation and the determination of the correct method to fabricate and order prescribed eyewear


The NCLEAC is also a three-hour exam with 125 multiple-choice questions. Competencies tested include:

  • The pre-fit, preparation and evaluation of contact lens patients including those with complex conditions that require specialty lenses
  • Working with patients to determine which contact lens options best suit their needs
  • Selecting lens material and design, educating patients on correct lens use and ensuring appropriate follow-up care with patients

In both cases, while the main areas tested may be similar to those tested in the Basic exams, these will go into more depth and address more complex and unusual eye conditions as well as the use of more specialist diagnostic and analytical equipment.

Each exam costs $225, with a $75 fee for changing exam date or location. The fees are non-refundable. Examinees will learn whether they have passed immediately after completing the exam. In the event of a failing test score, applicants may retake the exam after a period of 90 days. Generally, the pass rate of first-time exam takers is about 60 percent.

ABO Advanced Certification Renewal

Both ABO and NCLE Advanced Certifications last for a three-year period, after which they must be renewed. To renew your ABO or NCLE certification, you’ll need to have completed 12 ABO and/or NCLE continuing education credits. At least six of these must be from ABO-approved ophthalmic courses. The remainder can be from either ABO- and/or NCLE-approved ophthalmic or non-ophthalmic courses. If you’re renewing a joint ABO-NCLE certification, you’ll need nine ABO-approved credits and 12 NCLE credits. The renewal fee for each separate certification is $125, and is $250 for a joint certification.

Certification Reinstatement

If you do not complete your continuing education credits and pay the renewal fee, your certification will lapse. There is a pathway to certification reinstatement—you’ll need to pay a fee of $285 each for ABO or NCLE reinstatement, and complete your required continuing education credits.

ABO and NCLE Master’s Designations

For holders of Advanced ABO Certification, further progression is available with the Master’s designation. Opticians who hold an Advanced certification for a full renewal cycle of three years and who have made significant educational contributions to the field of opticianry may apply for this designation. These contributions include:

  • Publishing two educational articles on opticianry that are approved by the ABO for use in their Advanced Level III training courses
  • Being an ABO-approved speaker for two Advanced Level III courses
  • Publishing one article and being a speaker on one course

Opticians who aspire to a Master’s designation compile proof of their contributions and send this to the ABO Master’s committee. A similar process is available for contact lens technicians, who must publish or speak for use in NCLE Advanced Level III training courses.

Training Courses for Advanced ABO Certification

While it is possible to pass your Advanced Certification exam without a training course, taking an ABO-NCLE approved course increases your chance of passing the challenging exams on the first try. ABO-NCLE maintains a directory of educational institutions offering approved training, much of which is available as a remote self-study program. Here are a few examples:

Job Outlook and Salary Expectations

Although the US Bureau of Labor Statistics does not break down its report on optician compensation according to certification class, it does note that the average annual salary for an optician is $41,380, with a variation between $26,060 and $62,120 per year. More experienced—and better certified—opticians are far more likely to be able to achieve higher salaries in the field.

Projections Central estimates that the job market for opticians will increase by nearly 10 percent between 2018 and 2028. Opticians with the highest compensation can be found working at companies that offer ophthalmic on a wholesale basis, or in positions of management—so certification at an advanced level is likely to be a good business decision.

Working as an Optician with ABO-NCLE Advanced Certification

While opticians have generally worked during regular business hours, many vision clinics and eye care centers now offer evening and weekend hours for customer convenience—so you may find yourself working those hours as well. You’ll be working with people of all ages and from all backgrounds, and you’ll be offering them vision products with an eye to good marketing as well as to good vision, so meticulous skill as well as strong customer service and sales proficiency are required.