Welcome to the ASWB exam-taking family, California social workers. Lots of help on these pages and via the link on the sidebar. Good luck on you two new exams!
License-bound social workers in California, you know this, right? The licensing process in California is undergoing a big change. Huge. There used to be a Standard Written exam (much like the ASWB exam) followed by a Clinical Vignette exam (not like the ASWB exam). Starting January 1st, 2016, there will still be two exams, but both have changed. Instead of the Standard Written exam, CA LCSW hopefuls will take the ASWB Clinical Exam (just like LCSWs across the U.S.). Unlike everyone else, California social workers will also have to take a California Law & Ethics exam. (The Vignette exam is being retired.) The Board of Behavioral Sciences has recently published details about what to expect on that exam. This examination plans page is a great place to get that info and lots more. Elsewhere on the BBS site, specifics about what happens if you're midway through the exam process at change time. Answers to the types of questions people ask during class when they really should wait till after class because the answer will help no one but them. So much of life eaten up by those questions! But we digress...
Welcome to the ASWB exam-taking family, California social workers. Lots of help on these pages and via the link on the sidebar. Good luck on you two new exams!
Here's a source of unnecessary worry and confusion regarding the social work licensing exam: what's a pretest item, what's a scored item, how to count them, how to know what's what? Let's take those one at a time. Out of the 170 exam items on the ASWB exam, 20 are unscored, pretest questions. These are questions that the ASWB is trying out before introducing them as real exam items. If they're too hard or too easy to answer, you can bet they'll be reworked or thrown out. What remains are scored items. That's 120 of the 170 exam items. Those are the ones that count.
How can you tell which items are unscored and which ones are scored? You can't. That would defeat the purpose of the pretest items. Most people would skip pretest questions if they were marked as such. All you're left with is a guess. But there's something helpful about that. If you encounter an exam question that leaves you baffled. "What are they talking about?" or "Am I really supposed to know that?" then you can take your best guess without having your confidence sunk. Say this: "That one was probably unscored. Next!" That's the gift of the pretest items. You can be totally clueless about 20 test questions without having to worry that you're clueless about what matters on the exam. (Will there really be as many as 20 baffling questions on the exam? Probably not.)
Hopefully that clears it up. Find more info on the ASWB's website. But, really, you don't need more info. You didn't even need to know this. Learn your social work, take some practice tests, and go get licensed! Good luck!
It's with pronounced ambivalence (and some outright outrage) that most have greeted the arrival of DSM-5 (also known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition). But however you feel about it, if you're preparing for the social work licensing exam after July 1st, 2015, that's the diagnostic book you're stuck with (at least until DSM-6, or whatever they call it, comes out). What's the mean to you? For most exam questions, not a lot. But for the diagnostic ones, lots and lots. It means that if a question asks about "the MOST LIKELY diagnosis" or anything else along those lines, you'll have to censor your internal DSM-IV-TR knowledge and substitute the new manual's contents. For most diagnoses, this doesn't mean a thing. There's lots of stuff that's more-or-less untouched or just minorly tweaked (eg Personality Disorders). There are some big changes--detailed here at PsychCentral--that you should keep your eyes open for. They include the addition of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, and others. The five axes are gone. The "NOS" specifier has bitten the dust. ADHD and PTSD criteria have changed. It's all details. But details--at least some of them--are exactly what you need at hand to get through those questions on the exam. If you're in the mood for a dry video to walk you through the changes, YouTube has several. Here's one from DeKalb:
Not feeling like sitting through a lecture? Here's another good place to go for starter questions about the changes. Still have questions? The web awaits. Good luck getting DSM-5 learned and good luck on the exam!
This one's easy if answered like social workers answer all sorts of questions from clients. "It depends." People take wildly different approaches to the social work licensing exam and end up with the same result. There are only two results after all: Pass or pass next time. Let's survey some approaches.
Some take months to pore over every possible piece of information that might show up on the exam. That's a fatiguing way to go, though can lead to some useful learning--not just for the exam, but for social work practice. Or even cocktail party chatter. Not that social workers usually have time to go to cocktail parties.
Others, with greater faith in their test-taking ability (and/or luck), give it a week or two, read over material they know will show up on the exam (the Code of Ethics, for example), and go for it. That works for the breeze-through-school type. If you can pass the exam with a minimum fuss or bother, that's great--nice to be you!
Another approach is to not study at all, take the exam, either pass and celebrate or wait till the next exam period and go in with a solid idea of what the exam looks and feels like and just what's involved in the process. Of course, old exam items are retired, so if you try this, you won't see the same exam questions, but...you'll know more-or-less what to expect and what to focus your studying energies on. But you'll have also spent a bunch of extra money and possibly delayed getting licensed by six or more months!
Just like in Goldilocks--and the rest of life--there's a "just right" option to consider. The middle way. Not too much studying, not too little. Just right. That seems to be the preferred way to go for most social work exam preppers. Give it a month or two. Take practice exams to get a taste of what it's like to sit though a four-hour, 170-question test, review areas that you're weakest in...repeat. It's cheaper than taking the real exam (as long as you shop well). It's less of a gamble than studying just a little or not at all. And you'll probably learn some good stuff along the way.
Which of these is the best approach for you? Look at your test-taking history and your comfort with social work concepts and values. Think about what's going to help you arrive at the testing center feeling at ease. Scramble those all up, maybe flip a coin, or close your eyes and hit a date on the calendar. Book the exam, make whatever preparations you deem necessary...and liftoff. Go pass.
Struggling with the social work licensing exam can feel like struggling with life itself. You're trying to move forward, you're doing your best, and it keeps pushing back, saying, "No, not yet!" The exam, the ASWB, life can all feel like a big, unforgiving bully. With most bullies, you just walk away (or take it outside, depending upon the situation how you were raised). With the exam, that's not usually a great option.
You've worked so hard and so long to get this far. The exam is just one final hurdle. One final small hurdle--that's what it will look like when you're done. Then come the letters after your name. Then comes the increased job flexibility, maybe increased salary, and increased relief.
It's just one test. 170 questions, four hours...and it's over. But before you get to read PASS on your computer screen, you've got to answer a bunch of those questions correctly. Which involves three basic skills: understanding test-taking, managing jitters, and knowing the exam process and content. Below are links to help you get going on all three.
First, test-taking skills. You couldn't have come this far without some tests passed. Particularly multiple choice ones. Check out this collection of suggestions that should help you harness your past success and get you through this long, vexing test.
Managing test anxiety is really a test-taking skill. If you go in with your head full of worries and imagined catastrophes, good decision-making goes out the window. The web is full of test anxiety help like this. You're a social worker, so you know the drill. Sleep, exercise, and good nutrition are key. Identify your automatic negative thoughts, dispute them, repeat. If you need a CBT workbook or therapist to talk to, this is as good a time as ever to seek one out.
Learning exam process and content is, once you've got test-taking and anxiety management happening, really a piece of cake. Sitting down for full-length practice exams (like SWTP's) gives you a good sense of what it's like to get through X number of questions in Y number of hours. Do you start to nod off? Bring a power bar to the exam, plan breaks, etc. Practice tests help you plan all that out. Drive the route to the exam site, if you think that will help. Getting there is also part of the process.
Finally, there's exam content? Ah, content. Content gets too much attention. You can go on the ASWB website to see content outlines. But they'll likely just worry you. Think about it this way: What would you put on the exam if you were testing social workers? What might you reasonably expect MSWs to know as they're entering licensure? How to work with clients--that's the basic thing, right? What's that involve? You already know. You have to be able to use basic social work skills to build rapport, assess, treatment plan, diagnose, etc. You always have an eye out for safety issues, for scope of practice issues, for ethical challenges. That's the stuff that's on the exam. So go read up on all of that. Dig into the NASW Code of Ethics, the commonly-encountered diagnoses in the DSM. The basics. That's the content of the exam. If there's other material that shows up, it should only be a few questions--not enough to undermine your good understanding of the bulk of the questions on the exam.
So that's the trick. Make sure you're up-to-speed on test taking skills; manage your test anxiety; understand the exam process; learn some exam content. And soon enough, you'll be licensed. Nothing to it but to do it. Good luck!
Whether or not you're primarily a visual learner or just a sometimes visual learner, there's no doubt that it's nice to shake things up during social work licensing exam prep time. Reading line after line of text can wear you out. That's why we always list audio resources like The Social Work Podcast as essential for studying. But don't forget other avenues. There are plenty of videos covering exam topics searchable on YouTube. And there are dozens upon dozens of infographics, charts, and lots else all around the web that will help you get your exam content learned. Consider Pinterest as a lively, colorful supplemental study guide. Don't grind yourself down with text and index cards. Branch out! Click around. See what works best to get info stuck in your mind. Some like charts for getting the stages of various developmental theories learned. And how can you argue with someone who prefers to see Maslow's Pyramid of Needs in an actual pyramid?
Study how you need to study. Learn how you need to learn. Pass when you're ready to pass. Good luck!
It's easy to get overwhelmed. The social work licensing exam potentially covers a library's worth of wisdom. But talk to people who have taken and passed the test. It's not as impossible as you might think. Yes the ASWB exam outlines cover just about everything you learned in school and lots that you probably didn't (or have since forgotten). But it can't all fit on a 170-question exam. The people who are charged with putting exams together have to make choices. So, put yourself in their shoes. If you could only cover a portion of all the social work info available for questions, what would you include?
Think about the mission of the ASWB (and of the social work profession, for that matter). Social workers are helpers. They're helpers who are in a position to do some harm if they're not careful. So the powers that be want to give licenses to social workers who can demonstrate some basic understanding of how to help and, maybe more importantly, how to avoid doing harm.
What does that look like in an exam question? For starters, it looks like lots and lots of questions derived from the NASW Code of Ethics. It looks like vignettes designed to assess for social worker prejudice and bias. It looks like questions about scope of practice, making proper referrals, duty to warn, and such. Help and harm. After that, there will still be room for more general questions about theories and diagnoses. Expect to see the bulk of those questions focused on the basics: best-practice approaches (e.g., CBT) and diagnoses that social workers commonly see (mood disorders, personality disorders, psychotic disorders).
Getting the idea? There's a potential library to study, but what you actually have to get learned is much, much narrower. So crack open the Code of Ethics, sign up for some practice tests, and you're on your way. Good luck!
What's it like when you get licensed? I may go something like this. You've been studying for months or you've been cramming for days. You've ignored some important things in your life, putting them off till after the exam's done. You've let people know what you're up to or you've kept it more-or-less a secret (not wanting to answer to people on exam day if things didn't go your way). And so on. There's no one way to prepare for the social work licensing exam. But there's only one response that will come back at the end of those four hours that means you've gotten licensed. That magic four-letter word: PASS.
People describe a wide range of emotions when they first get that hoped-for result. Relief is a near-universal. Exultation, giddiness, happiness. It's great if those are part of it too. For many, with the relief comes a sense of grief. It's the end of an era--your pre-licensure years. Any big milestone can bring a wistfulness along with the pride in the sense of progress. You're now wiser and older. You're now licensed. People also talk about some sense of loss or anger regarding the time spent preparing for the exam and the opportunities missed while preparing. Invitations turned down and the like.
Streamers don't fall from the ceiling when your PASS result comes in. There aren't cheers and flashing lights. You're still in that mundane space in front of that plain-old computer on a regular-ish day. If you want a celebration, you'll have to set the stage--not everyone gets what it means to get a social work license. Let people know what's what. Maybe they'll provide the cheers and flashing lights. Or maybe you'll put something together yourself. Or maybe flashing lights and cheering friends aren't your style. Whatever celebrating is to you, just know that this is something to celebrate. Complicated emotions aside, you're licensed! Mark the moment. This was a big one. You did it!
You've probably seen the stats. Not everyone who takes the social work licensing exam comes out with the desired PASS on their results page. It's kind of like the bar exam that way. You make time, you study, you practice, you work, work, work...and it just doesn't turn out the way you wanted.
What then? Do you give up? You do not!
For a lot of people, the difference between getting licensed and not is just a few points. That's as little as a question or two. Ask anyone who has made it through the exam, they were guessing on at least a few of the questions. So, the difference between a licensed social worker and a frustrated unlicensed one is a couple of guesses.
A few things to remember as you pick yourself up, wipe yourself off, start studying all over again. (And waiting. It takes months before the board allows retaking. Which makes sense. You've got to wait till a new exam is in rotation. Can't take the same exam. Wouldn't be fair.):
1. This doesn't mean you're not a good social worker. Social work ability and social work exam ability aren't the same thing. Simple as that.
2. People who passed the exam aren't necessarily better social workers than you. The exam tests, among other things, test-taking skill. Also, preparation. Some have time and resources to access practice exam after practice exam. Others have to steal time between clients to glance at exam-prep material. Practice exams are priced out of reach for many. Like so much in life, a level playing field does not necessarily exist for those heading into the exam.
3. Just because you didn't pass doesn't mean you won't ever pass. Next time you go in, you'll have an advantage. You'll know what the exam looks like, what it feels like to take the exam, and maybe you'll have a better sense of what got in your way the first time. Were you under-prepared? Fixable. Were you anxious? Also addressable. (Try CBT for anxiety reduction. You'll be getting treatment and studying for the exam simultaneously. CBT tends to come up on the exam quite a lot.)
Three simple, true things to tell yourself. You have to retake the exam? No big. It's doable, it's been done, you'll get 'em next time.
Here's a simple exercise for pre-licensed folks. Say to yourself, "I passed the social work licensing exam." Picture what's different, what's the same. How will passing the exam change things for you?
This kind of creative visualization can help in a number of ways. It can motivate ("I can't wait!"), soothe ("Licensed or not, what's most important to me is unchanged"), and prepare you for the outcome ("It's just a matter of time").
Let's look at the last one. What will you do the day you pass your test? How will you celebrate? This is a little bit tricky. Putting together a licensure celebration involves some hubris. You don't know that you're going to pass. It's a plan. It's a hope. But you do know that you're going to take the exam. Does it make sense to arrange an "I took the exam" celebration? Pass or not, you may want to have people close to you around after you've crossed the licensing exam finish line. It depends upon you (and the people close to you).
Whether or not you arrange a test-taking party with others, consider at least putting together one for yourself. Take a little time after the exam to pat yourself on the back, give yourself a gold star. You did it. You studied, you worried, you got prepared, you sat for this giant exam. Regardless of result, it's an achievement. It deserves to be marked. Here's from us in advance: Congratulations!