by Susan Mankita, LCSW
There is nothing that frustrates me more than when a good social worker can’t pass the licensure exam. I am a firm believer that every good social worker can earn his or her professional license, once he or she has the appropriate tools.
According to the website of the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB), the developer and administrator of the exams, in 2013, 77.9% of first time test takers passed the clinical exam, 82.3% passed the master’s exam, 77.8% passed the bachelor’s exam, and 75.3% of those who took the advanced generalist exam passed.
Clearly, only a percentage of social workers who take a licensure test will pass it on the first try. In 2013, 2,309 master’s level and 2,289 clinical level exam takers did not.
For many of these social workers, this is the beginning of a frustrating process involving more study, self-doubt, and anxiety. Many assume that purchasing expensive study guides, making more flashcards, or memorizing more of the DSM is the key to their licensure success.
Although that’s possible, it is likely that what they need first are Exam Question Comprehension Skills. Once trained to understand the anatomy of an ASWB test question, it becomes possible for social workers to successfully apply all the knowledge, skills, and abilities they regularly use in their day-to-day practices.
ASWB doesn’t list statistics on how many pass on their next try. The good news is that some will be able to do so simply by increasing their preparation efforts.
Exam question comprehension skills
Every test question can be dissected and understood. Even better, ANYONE can learn to do this, even if it doesn’t come naturally. If you are someone whose head starts to swim every time you see a complex scenario, this may be exactly the skillset that you are missing.
ALL high stakes professional exams have certain things in common, or they wouldn’t be able to call themselves valid and reliable. A “good” item (not all are in the form of a question) MUST be constructed in a certain way to meet these criteria. That means there is both a formula for writing them AND a process for understanding them. Once you recognize that the exam is testing to ensure that we have the knowledge, and the capability of applying it, even in challenging situations, it’s easier to understand the intent of each item. In a nutshell, the exam is testing to see if a social worker can:
- recognize, understand, and apply the values and standards of the social work profession
- use best practices with clients
- prioritize well
- pick the best intervention for the given situation
- communicate the effective “social work” way
- focus on what is most important at a given point in time
- critically evaluate a series of options and choose the best one from a pool of good ones
- act ethically and in the clients’ best interest
Dissecting a test question to see which of the above is being tested is critical to success.
Susan Mankita, LCSW, teaches licensure prep courses for social workers. In the past eight years, she has helped more than 170 individual social workers around the country, including more than 100 re-takers, pass the social work licensure exams. Look for more detailed articles on the licensing exam from Susan in future issues of The New Social Worker. Susan can be reached at SusanLCSW@aol.com.