Friday, January 22, 2016

The Exam Prep Marathon

"It's a marathon, not a sprint." People say that about a lot of things, because it's true for a lot of things (one exception: sprinting). Things worth doing--and even things worth not doing--take time and effort. Masters degrees, work with clients, friendships, relationships...they're generally marathons, not sprints. The social work licensing exam has the distinction of being more like a marathon than a lot of other activities. It's a four-hour test--long like a marathon. It takes good preparation to do well.

Have you ever run a marathon? You probably didn't do it without a fair amount of building up your tolerance for the long run, for the aches and pains, and for the emotional strain. Marathoners start with casual running and ramp up the time and distance as they get closer to the date of the thing itself. That's a decent model for licensing exam prep. Start low, go slow. Build. Get your question-answering muscles developed. Get your content understood. Get your butt ready for a long, long sit.

Answering 10 questions correctly is all very well and good. What happens when you're on questions 160-170? Are you still able to focus or do the words start to get blurry and lose their meaning? Do Code of Ethics and DSM detail start to stir and swirl into each other? At some point in your test prep, sitting down for full-length practice tests is wise. That's the way to get a good sense of what you've got to give come exam day. It also helps with understanding when it's best to take a break. Some people plough through the whole thing at once. Others split the exam up. 1/3, break, 1/3, break, 1/3, victory. Or 1/2 and 1/2. Or 2/3 and 1/3. Or get the picture.

Another question that's nice to have answered before your test-taking marathon, what's the best focusing food for you? Maybe an apple, maybe a power bar, maybe just a gulp of water or coffee. Or maybe it's one of those glucose squirt packs that runners like (probably not). Know thyself, exam prepper!

Wishing you happy training and good luck on your big day!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Slowly Preparing for the ASWB Exam

We talked in an earlier post about preparing for the social work licensing exam in a hurry. But what if you wanted to take your time getting ready for the test? How much time is too much time? Where is that perfect balance?

As with any of these questions, there's no one-size-fits-all answer. Studying in a rush may amp up the anxiety of some licensure-hopefuls. For others, trying to remember material studied some while ago may seem impossible. You know you. You're the only one who can really determine the best way to approach the exam.

Of course, the best way may be easier to determine than to actually do. It might be best to set aside several hours a week to brush up on content and a separate four hour chunk each week to run a full-length practice exam (like those at SWTP). But life tends to get in the way of study plans like that. Life in the form of work, family, friends,

But let's for a moment pretend you've got all the time in the world and prefer taking a nice, long time to dig into exam content and process. What would you study? What should you study? The answer is no different than the answer for people powering through exam prep in a short time. Study the basics, the essentials, the material you can reasonably expect will show up on the exam--but take your time doing it.

What material? This material:

The NASW Code of Ethics. It's the heart of the exam. Even questions not about the code are still usually informed by the code in one way or another.

The DSM-5. That purple book you've got. We like the Desk Reference. When it comes to learning
DSM-5 details for the exam, less is more.

Some basic psych, which you can find on Wikipedia and elsewhere on the web. One example: developmental stage theories, which are worth reviewing (just the ones you've heard of--Freud, Erikson...). These are easier than a lot of other material to craft exam questions from, so don't be surprised if they show up at least once on the exam.

The biggest, least easy to quantify element of your exam prep is this: experience. Life experience. Social work experience. Both prepare you for all kinds of exam questions. But keep in mind that too much experience can sometimes get in the way of a correct exam answer. The answer to check is usually the textbook answer, not the real-world one. You may be jaded about the likelihood of referring a client to this or that service or a client benefitting from this or that intervention. Leave that at the exam-room door. The test operates in a best-case world, where social workers, behaving in accordance with the ethics code, can help clients the way clients need and deserve to be helped.

If you want to dig deeper, take a look at the exam content outlines published by the ASWB (they're free on the ASWB website). But learning every little tidbit there would take much longer than you likely have to get ready. And would stuff your brain with lots of facts you're not terribly likely to encounter on the exam.

However you're preparing--fast or slow--be sure to take care of yourself as you're preparing. Remember to take breaks, take breaths, and get sleep (it's good for learning!). You're a social worker. You know how to do the job. It's just a matter of time till you do the job of passing the test. Good luck!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Ready to Get Licensed?

Choose your moment for renewed energy, resolve, and focus: the new year, a birthday, an anniversary, a day of the week. Sometimes all it takes to get underway on a big project is to tell yourself, "It's time."

Getting licensed as a social worker is a big project. Even the most easygoing among us is going to have a noticeable blip in their stress level as they prepare for and sit down to take the ASWB exam. The years of getting to exam-ready point are many (all that school!). The stakes are not insignificant (better work! better pay!). And the exam is a big one (four hours! 170 questions!).

But you can do it.

What will it take for you to be ready to pass the exam? You're the first, best judge of that. What kind of test taker are you? How well do you know your social work basics? How much time and motivation do you need?

Once you're ready to stare the exam down, accept the work ahead, and take the first steps, there are lots of resources out there to help you. Lots of them are free. Some of them cost a little bit. The NASW Code of Ethics? Free. Sample practice questions? Free (if you're okay with jumping around site to site). Full-length, graded online practice tests? Usually free only if you drop the "R"--fee. All are worth your time whether you're preparing in a hurry or over several months.

The most difficult ingredient to keep in decent supply is your own determination. But don't get overwhelmed. What's helped motivate you in the past? Remember that. Do that. Stick to it. Hang in there. You can get it done.

You'll be licensed soon. Congratulations in advance!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Free Social Work Exam Resources

If there's one hallmark of these pages, it's the continued trumpeting of this simple truth: You don't have to spend gazillions to prepare for the social work licensing exam. Maybe back in the olde days, more spending meant more access to more information. But we're in the information age. The problem isn't getting access to information, it's figuring out which information is worth your while. This is true for news, opinion, and fail videos. It's also true for social work licensing exam preparation. We've offered lists of resources in the past. We've got 'em on the sidebar (unless you're reading on your phone). We've got 'em in posts. Well, here are some more, old and new. Poke around and see what comes in most handy.

To start, take a look at They administer the exam. They also publish detailed content outlines for each exam (LCSW, LMSW...). If what you're studying isn't on the outline, you shouldn't be studying it!

To learn about what all that stuff on the content outlines you've never heard of is, use the device you're reading this on right now. Go to Wikipedia, go to For diagnostic info, try the Mayo Clinic site or Psych Central. Remember, you don't really need to know every detail about every item on that content outline. The exam tends to focus on the information that everyday social workers face every day. Focus your studying in that direction too.

Essential to any social work exam prep is reading and rereading the NASW Code of Ethics. The vast majority of exam questions are rooted in the code. Learn it!

Finally, it's time to try out some practice questions. Here's a collection of links to free practice tests. Included there, a fresh set of ethics questions on the SWTP blog, one question per ethics code section. Getting a sense of how all that content is shaped into exam questions is really helpful come exam time.

Done with all that?  You haven't spent a penny and you're loaded up with great exam info. For some, that's preparation enough. But with all the money you've saved, you may as well try out complete practice tests to get a sense of what the four-hour sit is like. That'll cost some. But still you'll have saved a huge amount compared to what people used to spend to get ready for the test. Congratulations!

And congratulations in advance on getting licensed!

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Social Work Exam Cram Plan

One way to prepare for the social work licensing exam--cram:

"This is probably not for everyone. But I got busy and was planning to study longer but didn't. My exam date was suddenly just two weeks away and I hadn't cracked a book. I thought I was probably doomed.

I studied anyway, just in case I wasn't. I talked to people about what to prepare for and most people said just focus on the NASW Code of Ethics and on the basics in the DSM. So I did that, which didn't really take that long. I didn't make index cards or anything, I just read things over and made sure it was sinking in. (Which is not that easy. You mind wanders if you try to read the Code of Ethics front to back!) I looked over the basic theories about child development and about the basic types of therapy I don't already know from work. (I'm lucky that I get a lot of training at work, so I didn't really need to reread CBT and DBT materials.) After all that I did a few practice tests and, wow!, it seemed like maybe I was going to pass..

On the morning of the exam, I was nervous, but not panicked. I went for a short run. I forced myself to eat. I drove to the exam site. I took the exam. It was over before I knew it. I wasn't sure how I'd done. I hit the button and winced. Good news! I passed! Yay!"

Some people take months to prepare. Some take weeks. Some don't study at all. However you end up preparing, you can pass this exam! Good luck!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Free Social Work Exam Questions

SWTP's been busy generating a series of free questions based upon each section of the NASW Code of Ethics. (Sound familiar.) As of this writing, 1.01 - 1.04 have been covered. So, four free questions and explanations. If they continue on through the entire code, that'll be, um, lots of free questions. (If you feel like counting the sections in the Code, please go ahead and let us know what you get!)

You can search "Ethics" or "Practice" on the SWTP blog. Or we'll make it easy for you. Here are the free exam questions.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Social Workers' Ethical Responsibilities to the Broader Society

On the exam and in social work practice, you're likely to be faced with questions about the boundaries of your social work role. What's your job and what's not? Here's an easy way to think about these questions: Prescribing medicine and other doctor-y stuff--not your job. Advocating for clients at all levels, micro to macro--your job. Here's where the macro part of the social work role is spelled out in the NASW Code of Ethics:

6.01 Social Welfare
Social workers should promote the general welfare of society, from local to global levels, and the development of people, their communities, and their environments. Social workers should advocate for living conditions conducive to the fulfillment of basic human needs and should promote social, economic, political, and cultural values and institutions that are compatible with the realization of social justice.
6.02 Public Participation
Social workers should facilitate informed participation by the public in shaping social policies and institutions.
6.03 Public Emergencies
Social workers should provide appropriate professional services in public emergencies to the greatest extent possible.
6.04 Social and Political Action
(a) Social workers should engage in social and political action that seeks to ensure that all people have equal access to the resources, employment, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and to develop fully. Social workers should be aware of the impact of the political arena on practice and should advocate for changes in policy and legislation to improve social conditions in order to meet basic human needs and promote social justice. [This section continues on A-D]

If a social worker sees a client encountering an injustice due to agency policy, what should the social worker do? Act. If the injustice is due to local ordinances? Advocate. To structural problems in the larger society? Work to effect change. If you're taking the MFT exam, the answers are different. But this is social work. This is the social work exam. Know your role. Get active, get licensed! Good luck!