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Behind the Curtain at PSI

PSI CurtainNot sure about the rest of the country, but in California the exam is administered by PSI.  Hadn't spotted it before, but on their home page, PSI offers a helpful tutorial (link on the bottom right)--it's more-or-less the same material that comes up when you first sit down in your cubicle to take the test.  Most helpfully, the tutorial has images of what the screen on the exam actually looks like (see below).  The prep course screens don't quite match it.  So, take that little slice of unknown away, and gaze at the California screen to come...  

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Eva: Vignette Success Story

Congratulations to SWTP reader Eva, who passed the California Clinical Vignette exam earlier this week. Here, some emails that preceded exam time, and an explanation of how she made it happen: Hi, I was glad to find your site - it was helpful in preparing and passing the first exam. I'm planning to take the second exam tomorrow. I just got into the "hard" questions for AATBS. They seem absolutely ridiculous in terms of the language used to phrase potential answers: it is sooooooo incredibly confusing. I am considering not even taking them because it might erode whatever confidence I was feeling so far. Are there any questions on the exam that are like the "hard" questions? Or, do you think I'll be ok with reworking the medium questions and retaking the mock exams? Thanks in advance, Eva Eva, Those hard questions are impossible, nearly unanswerable, and nothing like the questions on the real exam, in my experience. Their only value is in helping you mega-hyper-concentrate on every word in each question and answer...which you're already doing if you're getting the medium questions right. Probably best to do with the exam tomorrow: quit studying. You're ready. Good luck! Let me (or the blog) know how it goes. Best, Will Thanks so much for your reply. Helps to know I was going in right direction when I decided to take a break and just focus back on mock exams. Geez, those hard questions are enough to make you really worry...taking a deep breath, eating and taking one more mock exam. Thanks again for your quick reply- I'll keep you posted re: tomorrow ;)

Mailbag: Exam Day

ThumbprintFrom my gmail inbox:

Hi, I've been reading your blog while studying for the LCSW written exam and wanted to first of all say that I appreciate all the useful information, resources, and reading about your trials and tribulations.I've been using the AATBS TestMaster as one way to prepare and was wondering if you remember whether the AATBS questions were very much like the actual test questions or not. I'm wondering because I find answering the free questions available on the other sites you have links to on your blogspot a lot easier than the AATBS questions. I postponed my original test date because I scored so much more poorly on the AATBS questions that I thought if the BBS questions were more like them, I'd be in trouble. Also, I wanted to ask you about the actual test day because I've heard that staff are strict at testing centers re: belongings. So the things that you can't bring in with you like cell phone, you need to leave in your car but you can keep things like your wallet and car keys with you? Anything else? I've also been wondering how I'm going to last 4 hours without any food or drink. Someone told me there's a water fountain but you mention eating a Greens bar during a break from the written exam and I'd like to know how you did that. Are there no lockers for test takers at the sites? Thanks again for your blog. By sharing your experience, it's definitely helped me.

Thanks for your email! Very glad the blog is helping. First, re AATBS. I think their materials over-prepare you--for both exams. And I agree w/ what I've read elsewhere: The hard AATBS questions are much harder than any on the actual exam. For standard and vignette, I went in after scoring in the 70%s on the AATBS practice tests. Did I just sqeak by or did I ace the tests? No way to know; they don't tell you. If you've run their questions and other questions and are generally on the ball about the exam, I'm guessing you're ready.

Re proctors and food and keys: Yep, they've got their rule book and they go by it...in a very friendly way (at least in El Monte). Wear a top without pockets and prepare to empty pant pockets into a flexi-folder they keep for you till the end of the test. I brought a plastic grocery bag w/ Greens bar and water and kept it on a shelf in the proctor room. No objections from anyone on that. I wouldn't plan on going four hours w/out eating anything. Too long. Plan instead on regular breaks--one each hour worked for me. For the second exam (two hours long), I took a water/bar/bathroom break at one hour, then came back out for a second bite of bar a half hour later 'cause I felt my attention flagging.

When running AATBS practice in exam mode, I kept the same schedule, ate roughly the same food--supposedly that helps. Note: You get only five minutes for a bathroom break and have to give an electronic thumbprint to get back in to the exam room. For both exams, my thumbprint didn't match on the first try. They had to pause my exam so I wouldn't lose time while reprinting. No big deal, but maybe good to know about ahead of time. Hope that answers your questions. Good luck!

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Exam Day

So here's what it was like. What I did. Maybe helpful, maybe not.

Took a few days off prior to exam day to make sure I knew stuff. Took the AATBS exam #5 in one sit-down, as suggested. Scored 76%--kind of iffy, right on the border. Good enough not to cancel, though. Full steam ahead.

Spent the next couple of days reviewing the boldfaced stuff in the AATBS books, retaking the test questions there. Reviewed the rationales for the exam I'd just taken--right and wrong answers. Finally got to the AATBS flash cards. (Could've done without them.) Half-listened again to a few of the prep CDs.

They call it cramming.

Weekend: Studied. Watched "W." Saw people. Tried to take it easy. The exam loomed large.

Exam eve. Managed to sleep. But sweat through my nightshirt. Had to change, 3am. Can't remember last time that happened.

Exam day. Woke early. Had an egg. (Someone said that's supposed to be good for test taking.) Drove to El Monte--got there fast. Against traffic, I guess.

Sat in the office park parking lot alongside other early arrivers. Listened distractedly to the Slate Political Gabfest. Butterflies. Tried reviewing some flash cards. Couldn't focus, gave up.

8:30. Check-in time. A regular, first-floor office in a nondescript building. Two proctors, both very friendly, no nonsense. A handful of test takers--no one else there for the LCSW exam that I could tell. The woman I talked to was there for the three-hour embalming exam. She seemed pretty confident--said she'd been working with dead bodies for seven years.

They have you empty your pockets, hang up your jacket (nothing with pockets allowed). No watch, cell phone, etc. They take your picture--I smiled encouragingly, as planned (a good tip). They take an electronic thumbprint. And then...it's on.


A cubicle, a computer, a piece of scratch paper, a couple of pencils, a pair of foam earplugs. 200 questions, 4 hours.

On the AATBS online exams I took at home, I got the 200 questions done fast--with an hour to spare. This took longer. Not sure why. Maybe nerves, maybe I was taking more care, rereading questions. I stopped to breathe in my chair at 10 questions, stretched at 25. Took breaks every 50 questions.

They have you sign out to go to the bathroom. Take more than five minutes and the exam's over for you. They have you thumbprint back in (in case, I guess, you swapped yourself with your better-studied twin or clone).

Can't talk content--that'd be trubble with the BBS. Can say I studied a bunch of stuff that didn't show up on the exam. But that didn't mean I was overprepared. The first 50 questions went okay. But at the end of the second set of 50 I thought, I may not pass this thing. I was marking each question I wasn't sure of. And there were a lot of them.

A break and a Greens+ Chocolate Energy Bar were helpful. (Really like those.) Got some momentum going for the next 50 questions. The proctors walked the room every ten minutes or so to check for...whatever it is that people who have emptied their pockets, etc. can do and shouldn't. Someone on the phone in the proctor room toward the end made me put the earplugs in for a little while. Otherwise, calm, quiet, nothing in there to distract.

I'd answered all 200 questions with a half hour to spare. Took another quick break, then revisited the questions I'd marked. I think there were 39 of them. Thirty-nine questions that I wasn't sure about--that I liked two answers on--that I wanted to recheck. Seemed like a lot. And time was counting down.

They say not to change answers. But I changed a couple. The whole screen hiccuped to the right as the timer went from 10 to 9 minutes. I sped through the last of the marked questions and decided I was done. I was going to finish the exam and not let it finish me with expired time.

Heart athump, I breathed, hoped for the best, and hit "End." Time elapsed: Three hours and fifty-five minutes.

Are you sure? it asks. Yes. Really? "Y-E-S."

Then, an eight question survey about your test-taking experience. How was the facility? Excellent. How were the proctors? Excellent. And so on.

Then, a few clicks. Done. Finish. Next.

And suddenly, results. A thin bar across the screen. Questions given: 200. Questions completed: 200. Questions marked: 39. Result: PASS.

I sat for a while. Relief, fatigue, emotion. More relief, gratitude. Sigh.

Back through the door to where people were checking in for the afternoon exam, looking glum, tense. A print-out: "Congratulations!" And thanks. And, "See you for the next one."

And that...was that.

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The Perfect Social Worker

PerfectedJust finished my 800th online test question (that's four of the five exams). Doing okay--not as well as I'd like--not yet test-ready. [Sigh.]

On some questions, seems it's all too easy to get dragged into answers by personal experience--especially work experience. As they say often, that's not how you're supposed to do it. Think textbook. Think ideal world. Forget what you think you know.

Questions read, "Your client is a...," "You are seeing a...," or otherwise involve you. Of course, they don't mean you, they mean a social worker who knows every theory, intervention, law, and ethical principle inside and out. A social worker who never overreacts, underreacts, or misreacts. They mean the Perfect Social Worker.

Maybe you know one. Great--then think, "What would __________ do in this situation?" Maybe you don't. Then try this: Replace the "you" in the questions with "The Perfect Social Worker," "The Ideal Social Worker," "Social Work SuperBot" (or even God (as you understand him)). Whatever works. "Social Work SuperBot's client is a..." And, lo, the right answer leaps from the page! Congratulations, you're licensed.

Maybe.

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