Amanda Rowan, LCSW is the founder of SWTP partner site, The
Therapist Development Center--a place for exam coaching, content,
and all-around exam prep. She talked to SWTP via email about
what drives her to help people pass the exam and how she does it.
What's your background? What do you do
I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. I received my
Masters in Social Work at UCLA. I completed my undergraduate
education at Dartmouth College where I majored in Psychology and
Biology. I have worked as a clinical social worker in a number of
different settings including community based practice with the
homeless population, teenagers, and families with young children.
Currently, I have a private practice in West Los Angeles. In
addition to direct social work practice, I also have a passion for
teaching. My honors thesis at Dartmouth was on the
neuroscience of the learning process. In high school, I would
host study groups at my house. After college, I worked for Kaplan
Test Prep helping people pass the SAT, GRE, MCAT (medical school
exam) and DAT (Dental Exam). My background in neuroscience
and my experience at Kaplan taught me the value of learning
strategies over content memorization. When I started studying for
the LCSW exam I was really disappointed in the various study
materials out there (and I reviewed all of them!). The exam
companies all overwhelmed me with content, but didn't give any
clear strategies for taking the test. I studied for five months and
felt that only 10% of what I had studied was actually on the exam.
After passing, I went to work for one of the major test prep
companies, hoping to change things. I kept telling them that
a lot of what they were teaching wasn't on the exam and should be
removed from the curriculum. They didn't listen. So I decided
to start the Therapist Development Center and offer a different
approach-one more focused on strategies and essential content.
What kinds of strategies and content do you
focus on at TDC?
Our main focus is how to think through the questions. This
is a multiple choice test. Basically there are three types of
multiple choice questions: recall, application, and reasoning.
Recall questions are straight memorization, for example,
"What is the definition of assimilation?" Application
questions go one step further and take something you have memorized
and ask you to apply it to a situation, for example, "If a client
has a hard time forming trusting relationships, what stage of
development is most likely unresolved for them?" Both recall
and application type questions have an absolute right answer.
Reasoning questions are different. They require critical
thinking because they don't have an absolute "right" answer.
They have a best answer based on the options given.
Your brain has to be prepared to weigh different options.
Sometimes all the options seem good--so people need to be
properly prepared to prioritize. The real exams are about 80%
reasoning, 15% application, and 5% recall. However, what we found
when we purchased other prep materials test banks was that their
questions were about 90% recall/application and 10%
reasoning. This means people train their brain for the wrong
type of thinking. Our approach focuses on the reasoning questions
so that people learn how to use their critical thinking skills to
weigh the answers and find the best one for the giving situation in
the questions. We make sure people know the essential content
through our Top 50 Topics, which gives people a clear guide of the
themes that will be tested in a format that doesn't overwhelm them.
We also have quick study sheets and quizzes that build
people's knowledge in those content areas. The best feature of our
program is that it is all on-line, on-demand. This means that
people can listen to our workshops when they want, as many times as
they want. This counters the main problem with
live-workshop--live workshops are too long (our brains stop
learning around 90 minutes) and in live workshops you only get to
hear the information once, then you're done. Lastly, if people need
extra help, we actually have coaches available for individual and
group coaching sessions. We are the only company that offers
How do you go about writing sample questions? How do you
keep tabs on the real exam as it changes over time?
Writing good reasoning type questions is harder than most people
realize. That is why most companies have recall and application
type questions. Unlike other companies, all of our questions are
written by people who have recently taken the exam. My head
coach, Bethany Maher, LCSW, is super smart--she passed the
national LCSW with a 94%, so she really knows her stuff. The
two of us write every question together. This ensures high
quality questions and avoids the contradictions that are common on
other test banks. We work hard to stay on top of the exam themes.
We do this by scheduling optional debriefing sessions with
everyone who takes the exam. This allows us to ask people how
prepared they felt using our materials and whether there was any
content they felt they were missing. We are the only company
that does this. There are a lot of different options out there for
study materials. I think one criteria people should have when
they are looking to spend money on a prep system is whether or not
the people selling the product have taken the exam recently or at
all. Most of the big companies' materials aren't written by
LCSWs or if they are, the LCSWs have been licensed for so long that
they never took this actual exam. To me that is the
equivalent to paying someone to teach me how to ride a motorcycle
who has never actually ridden one.