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Social Work Exam Essentials: How to Prepare

How To Prepare For The ASWB ExamPreparing for the social work licensing exam doesn't have to a grueling, draining, angst-filled misadventure. It can actually be somewhat pleasant--a learning experience, even. Key to this is figuring out what is actually worth studying so that you don't waste time with unnecessary cramming. Studying smart can actually mean studying less. Toward that end, here are some essentials steps to take as you prepare.

Focus on the Basics. The licensing exam is meant for beginning social workers. You aren't expected to have in-depth knowledge about theory and practice. You just have to know a little bit about a variety of topics. What topics? The very ones that routinely come up in social work practice. Some human development, some psychopathology (aka the DSM's greatest hits), some basic interventions (CBT for sure), and ethics, ethics, ethics. If you review just one thing before you go into the exam, make it the NASW Code of Ethics. Most exam questions are vignettes, not simple quiz-type questions. They present the kind of close calls that social workers face all the time. How do you decide between answers? Let the Code of Ethics be your guide. Know the Code? You've got your answer!

Learn the Test. The licensing exam is probably unlike most tests you've faced before. It's got a lot of questions (170 for the ASWB exam) and takes a long time to complete (four hours). In other ways, it's exactly like lots of tests you've taken before. It's multiple choice. It's about what it says it'll be about. And there aren't trick questions on it--not even "which of these is NOT" questions. You're asked to choose the BEST answer, the FIRST intervention, etc. You take your textbook social work knowledge and apply it. The best way to get to know the test--and how you respond to a four-hour, 170-question sit--is to take practice exams. Then take some more. Do them in real time. Do them in study mode. Learn your weaknesses and study to strengthen them. Then take more practice exams. You'll soon have the hang of the entire process. (Get started with SWTP practice exams by signing up.)

Keep Your Cool. Yes, it's a big test. Yes, you really want to pass it. That doesn't mean you have to make yourself miserable as you're preparing. Test preparation is an additional stressor piled atop whatever you already had going on (work, relationships, family, etc.).  What do you do when you've got more stress? Best bet is to increase your self-care. Think of what's worked in the past for you and fold that coping back into your week. Exercise, meditation, eating better, whatever it is--don't just consider it, actually do it. You'll feel better and you'll study better because of it. If you find test anxiety interfering with your focus and studying progress, do what you can to address that as well. Same routine: What's worked in the past? Talking, writing, thought-logging. You're a social worker, you know this stuff.

Focus on the basics, learn the test, keep your cool...pass the exam. Good luck and congratulations in advance!

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For more help with preparing for the licensing exam, see SWTP's study tips page.

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