Preparing for the ASWB Social Work License Exam

Most states use the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam which candidates must pass to gain licensure as a social worker. Some states require licensure at the Bachelors level, Masters level, and Clinical level, while other states only require Clinical licensure. (For a state-by-state listing of licensing requirements, visit this informative website.)

My students want to know how to prepare for the exam, and I have some suggestions.

1. Plan ahead. Most states allow graduating students to test up to a month before graduation, which allows you to graduate with licensure. Some jobs may require a license in hand prior to applying or interviewing. You may have to register for the exam as much as a month early, and you may have to travel hours to a test site. Therefore, start planning for a test date several months ahead of time.

2. Know your state's hurdles. Some states require finger printing ahead of time and an application to the state before you can be approved to take the test. Other states require you to test before applying to the state's licensure board. If you are graduating in one state and moving to another after graduation, know the rules in the state where you plan to move. You can transfer test scores but will have to apply to the board in the state where you plan to practice.

3. Develop test-taking skills. Multiple-choice tests are similar in many ways. They require carefully reading options and eliminating bad ones. If you have a methodological approach to analyzing your answers, you will do better. This document lists some strategies to use when you have to guess. The questions often ask for the "best" answer and offer several potentially correct answers- but only one answer can be "best." Look for context and rule-out clues, like "always" and "never." If you have to guess, answers with more detail are often better, and answers related to client safety or confidentiality are often answers to the "what should you do first" questions.

4. Use multiple learning tools. Lots of people like study guides. They have varying quality- you can read reviews on sites like Amazon. Many of the questions relate to developmental theory, and podcasts can help with that sort of information.  Here are some podcasts to listen to, either directly at these sites or search for them on youtube.
1. The Social Work Podcast. You can find a list of all the podcasts and direct links here.
2. Social Work Exam Prep. These brief audio clips are direct and to the point.

5. Make it mobile. There are a few exam prep apps you can download on your smartphone. I like the free app called "Social Work Lite" which allows you to choose how many questions you want to practice at one setting. You can turn waiting rooms in to study time.

Similarly, if you do have paper-based study materials, scan them and save as a pdf document so that you can open them on your smartphone and read on the go.

6. Look at the free sample questions and the content areas listed at the ASWB website. This will help prepare you for the style of questions and the areas that you are expected to know. ASWB offers a paid online exam and a small booklet with more sample questions. The online exam is a good way to prepare for what it's like to answer questions on a computer, but your mileage may vary- you may not need these paid resources if you are good at using the other free resources I've talked about on this page.

7. Use a buddy system. Plan study dates with another test-taker so that you can hold each other accountable to study time. Use what works together- flashcards, quizzes, reading out loud, or just quiet time together.

8. Consider a local or online test prep workshop. Often your  local social work department or chapter of NASW will know who is offering classes locally. Online classes are available- look around the web for reviews before signing up. These can be costly, at about $300 for the class offered by the Extension office at University of Michigan. However, if this is going to grab your attention it may be worth it- it's cheaper than retaking the exam in most cases.

9. If you plan to take the clinical license exam after your supervision hours are complete, enlist your clinical supervisor in test prep. Let your supervisor know your anticipated test date, and about six months early make a concentrated effort to fit some exam study practice in to each of your supervision visits. This may be via discussing theory, clinical scenarios, pharmacology, etc.

10.  Do the things that will ease your anxiety. Your first step to a calm test experience is adequate study preparation, so make a plan that is SMART. The week before you drive to your test site, make sure you know the route, have plenty of time, have adequate rest and a good snack, and know the requirements for the test center regarding proof of identity and what you can take with you. Consider some mindfulness or breathing techniques to help you relax.

Remember: The test is difficult, but not impossible. Most people pass the first time, and you only need a score of about 75%. Study, think good thoughts, think about the kind of supports that work for you, and relax. Best test-taking wishes to you!

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