Wednesday, March 19, 2008

5 tips for passing the exam

Reaching the point of taking the LCSW exam is a mixed blessing at best. It means that you have met the requisite hours of practice and supervision, which is a testament to your tenacity and clinical abilities. It also means that a new chapter of studying and anxiety is opened as you prepare to add four new letters behind your name and take a timed test that covers a broad range of topics.

From time to time I will receive emails from people who are preparing to take the exam or who have taken it and not passed. Inevitably, these emails include some request for advice about how to study or prepare for the exam. So, I thought I would cull the advice I have given over the past year or two into one post.

I am not doing this so that you will no longer email me. I do the best I can to respond to each one that I receive. I also know that I will not cover every anxiety or frustration with one post, but for those who like lists and things in a neat little package here are my tips for passing the exam.

  1. Think about the way you study best and do that more often. There are a myriad of materials out there to help you prepare for the exams. These range from practice exams to study guides to study guides with practice exams, etc. Most, if not all, of these guides are dry as a bone and merely regurgitate the material you need to know to pass the exam. They have their formulas for getting the material across to you. However, they do not know you best, you do. So, take the materials you choose to study and adapt them to the ways in which you learn. For me, this blog is the result of the way I learn. I needed to re-write the material I was studying in my own words in order to really get a grasp on it. Instead of a pen and paper I took to my laptop and wrote a series of notes that became my study guide. All of the posts on this blog concerning the theories and methods were the result of my homemade study guide. So, think about the ways you learn: flashcards, quizzes, study groups, putting things in your own words, etc. and adapt the study guides to your taste not vice versa.
  2. The exam doesn't care how you practice social work. This is one of the hardest lessons to learn and it took me a while to really grasp its meaning. My impression of the exam is that it does not measure real world application of Social Work principles and guidelines; instead, it measures "ideal" (read textbook) applications of these principles. One of the helpful things I took into the exam was a sense that I needed to reframe the questions so that my answers reflected not what I would do first but what "the book" would do first. Therefore, when I encountered a "what would you do first" question I could usually eliminate two of the responses right off the bat. Then I would generally choose the more conservative response from the remaining choices. This may not work for all of these questions but it helped me get into a frame of mind that had me answering questions as the book would want me to answer them rather than the way I think the questions should be answered.
  3. The exam measures your ability to remember data. This is not an exam that measures the efficacy of your practice or your ability to help people in a way that empowers them. This exam measures your skills at memorization. Now, I realize this is a fairly cynical view of a standardized test. However, I cannot think of another way to put it. The national exam was created as a method to take the subjectivity of licensure committees out of the process and have an "objective" tool that measures knowledge of social work practice and principles. If you don't pass the first time around, it says absolutely nothing about how good a social worker you are. The only thing a failing score reveals is that you might need more time memorizing the material and putting it to use the way the test wants you to.
  4. The exam is not always "right." The earlier you give up fighting the questions and their "right" answers, the earlier you can get on with studying the material as needed. I remember studying for the exam and talking with my supervisor about some of the questions and answers. He and I would read some of the questions and talk about how we would answer them given the choices on the test. In each one of these Q&A sessions there would be one or two questions that we would agree on that the test would count as wrong. He had his doctorate in social work and was a successful private practitioner for many years and he still couldn't always get the right answers according to the test. You have to remember that the correct answer for the test may not be your way of answering the question, but it is still the correct answer. Unfortunately, you will not get very far by arguing with the computer over which "answer" you should perform first in a particular situation. Instead, study for the purpose of the exam and remember that the real world is a lot messier than answer A, B, C, or D.
  5. You have already passed. Remember that the exam is merely the culmination of a long road of clinical practice and supervision. To get to this point in your career you have most likely been through 100 hours of supervision and thousands of hours of clinical practice. Your supervisor has signed off on your capabilities as a social work practitioner. People have come to you for therapeutic help and returned again and again because they believe you can help them. All in all, to get to the point where you can even take the test requires the implicit and explicit approval of a number of people in your life. They know you are a good social worker, regardless of the outcome of your exam. The LCSW exam does not prove that you are a good social worker, that you care about the self-determination of others, or that you stand for justice and provide a voice for the voiceless. Clients wouldn't return if you were a bad social worker, supervisors wouldn't sign the necessary forms if you weren't a good clinician. The fact of the matter is that you have a crowd of people who know that you are ready to take the exam and approve of your doing so. In essence, you have already passed the difficult part; the exam is more a formality than a gate-keeper.

So, there you have it. These five tips helped me put the exam in what I felt was the proper perspective. To be sure, I studied hard and often. However, I was not about to let the exam dictate how I felt about my abilities to practice as a clinical social worker. I merely thought of it as one more step on an already long and most completed journey, a step that affirmed what I already knew from experience. Namely, that I was a good social worker and that I could practice effectively, ethically and compassionately.

Peace

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I just took the clinical exam for the first time last week, and I passed! I wanted to let you know that your blog was helpful not only in having some additional study materials, but also in getting the perspective of a fellow social worker who had been in my place...so thank you :). I hope you are well.

AF

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the 5 tips. I'm taking my exam in less than a week, and failed one practice exam, and barely passed the second. I appreciate your tips, and you helped confirm my hunch, that its not about the quality of SW, but "text book" responses.

HC, Boston, MA

FluentNSmiles said...

Grrrrreeeeeat perspective. I loved this. Thank-you.

Anonymous said...

I took the exam recently & passed. Here are a couple of things that really helped me, which I concluded after taking (and struggling with) practice exam questions-

Remember these steps:
Engagement
Information gathering
Assessment/ evaluation
Goal setting
Intervention
Evaluation
Termination

A lot of the questions really want you to gather more information before you do anything.

Another thing to remember is if it's a couples therapy question, it's going to be a couples oriented answer, family question - family therapy answer, group question - group orientation answer.

Good luck!

pradeepa said...

hi i am planning to give my LCSW exam in march...thank you for all the tips you gave us.it was really helpful
just was wondering if you could help me with any courses details available other than the pep courses that NASW provides you..
also are their any other guide that would help me understand the theory better?...its too tricky to answer the practice questions...

Anonymous said...

Taking my exam tomorrow morning, hope this information is helpful... It is encouraging:)

Anonymous said...

I just took the Exam and FAILED! Took the LMSW twice and FAILED that needless to say feeling hopeless and wondering what's next!

Anonymous said...

I took the LCSW exam on Tuesday and I passed. The key to passing ( for me) was taking a ton of practice exams! I didn't spend too much time on theory. Instead, I took tests and kept reading the answers that I got wrong. Good luck to all. Also, during the test- you honestly have no idea how you are doing. Just keep plugging along and stay as focused on each question as possible!

Anonymous said...

I'm getting ready to take my LCSW within the next month or so, the problem is with a baby and working 40 hrs a week I have not had any time to study.

I recently bought the study guides from AATBS but found them to include too much information.

I plan to take a week off from work to study non-stop before taking the exam. I know that this is not the best study method but it's all I have.

I am planning to sign up for Dr. Linton Hutchinson's Social Worker Exam website and take as many practice exams as humanly possible during my week off.

I want to know if anyone else has had to work with such limited time and what you suggest is the best way of working with the time that I have.

I would also like to know how much everyone studies before taking their LCSW exam.

Anonymous said...

I found the best advice was to "live the material". I gave myself several months to study, part time, to get the material into my brain! Everyone has different styles when they study- I utilized every possible way... audio, visual, and I even spoke to others who had taken the test to get a feel for the experience.
I have recently passed the clinical exam and two most important things to remember, 1. the stem asks to identify what would be first and best, this is important! Second, learn how to take a multiple choice test. I believe that this is what helped to boost my score. God luck to all who plan to take the test!

Anonymous said...

Don't over study or try and memorize. If you live in Chicago the SSA review at the Univ of Chgo is EXCELLENT! If you live in another state, check with people who have passed their test and see what review classes they recommend. I was limited w/ studying due to work, but this review is really helpful. I am taking the exam in March/April.

Anonymous said...

I like everything that everyone has said. I took the LSW four years ago, missed it by 5 took it again the next year missed it by 3 took the LCSW a year and a half ago and missed it by 2 points... UGH.. getting ready to take it again and this time I feel much more prepared. i hope to be able to blog again and have a PRAISE REPORT of passing the exam. Thanks for all you dedicated social workers out there who have not given up. For some of us it just takes a bit longer for us to get it but hopefully in the long run it sticks! Good luck to all :-)

Anonymous said...

I haven't been able to pass and I need my credentials. Does anyone know anyone who can take the exam for me?

Katie said...

I am the wife of a therapist who has STRUGGLED with passing the exam. Like you said, the test is not a grade of his performance as a therapist... he is very good at his job, but after so many 'close to passing' experiences he is full of frusteration and anxiety over the whole thing. He hates even talking about it, but his pay, job opportunities,and more are frozen until he has lcsw after his name. When I found your blog, I noticed plenty of similarities between you two with church worship, husband, father, therapist... I thought maybe you would know how I could help him get over his 'baggage' of lcsw exam failures and pass that test. When he is feeling bugged about it I become a 'nag' to him about the test and I don't want that title. :) Ever heard from others with multiple failed attempts? We're talking like 7?... Any advice?

Anonymous said...

I have been taking the standard with no luck. I am very frustrated and don't know what to do.

Anonymous said...

LORD...IAM GETTING READY TO TEST..AND HAVING MY ANXIETIES AS WELL..I HEARD NOTHING BUT HORROR STORIES FROM COLLEGUES..ABOUT THIS TEST..AND I HAVE BEEN PROLONGINGING..AND NOT PUTIING MUCH EFFORTS IN STUDING...I HAVE INVESTED IN SO MUCH TOWARDS THE STUDY MATERNIALS...AND IT IS ALL OVERWHELMING...AND THINKING HOW AM I GOING TO REMEMBER ALL OF THIS??? scared to death!!

Anonymous said...

I took the clinical exam on Feb 14th 2012 and fail :-( My job is on the line without passing I have no license. I'm pleading with aswb to let me test again right away but what if I fail again????? This is horrible........

Anonymous said...

I just took the exam on Saturday, May 19, 2012. The best advice I can give is to tell others to study this blog and order the iapp from Berkeley Training Associates. It only costs 14.99. You need to have an iPad or iPhone, but it's awesome for prep. I also took someone's suggestion on this blog to keep in mind the following while taking the LCSW:
Engage
Assessment
Intervention
Goal setting
Interpret
Evaluate
Termination

This may seem simple, and it is, but it was incredibly helpful for focus.$

Seriously, these three things and coming to the realization that it's just a test really helped. I calmed my self and made a point of marking every question I needed to for review. I took the entire time allowed. Try not to psych yourself out.! You've done the work already. If you've been approved for the test you have all the knowledge you need. You need too brush up on what you've already learned. Make sure you really read every question for the BEST,
MOST APPROPRIATE, LEAST APPROPRIATE answer.

AND, if you fail, get over it and take it again!!! I did!

Wishing you luck! We need to support each other. Thanks for this blog! It's been so valuable.

Anonymous said...

OMG! I already screwed that up!!! LOL! In regard to my previous comment.....

Engagement
Information gathering
Assessment/evaluation
Goal setting
Intervention
Evaluation
Termination

Read all of these blogs!

Anonymous said...

well it looks like this blog may be kind of old, but i am looking for help.
I have failed the exam 4 times and not sure where to turn..I feel like I do not even know my own learning style..I have seen in this blog that others were in the same boat, and i would like to know what may have helped, or if anyone out there has any ideas...

Anonymous said...

8/8/12
I recently passed the CA LCSW written exam. Here are some tips. STUDY as much and for as long as you can. In my case, I studied for about 10 months. Also, I used Gerry Grossman's LCSW exam materials, read every book, every page, took the mock exams, and listened to all the cd's. It prepared me well for the exam. Secondly, pace yourself during the exam and WATCH THE TIME!!! I finished my exam with barely minutes to spare...ahh the anxiety!
Also, suspend your personal beliefs, biases, etc. and try to remember the study materials, which are presented from a "textbook social worker" perspective. This will greatly help you in the test.
I can only advocate for what worked best for me. 1) Take your time and study the Gerry Grossman materials ( my personal choice of LCSW study materials). Read every page, take the mock exams, and listen to every audio cd. It is better to study a little each day then to cram it all in...think of the "slow and steady" approach, or the old fable, the "tortoise and the hare". 2) Review the night before the test for as long, as late as you can. 3) Get a good nights sleep. 4) The day of the test, DO NOT REVIEW ANY MORE MATERIAL. I believe that your brain will have and has marinated the information from the night before. Don't confuse it by second guessing answers/responses the day of the test. 5) Be confident, eat a good meal and stay hydrated before/during the test, and pace yourself, ALWAYS keeping track of the time left as some questions and answers may take more thought process than others. 6) Have a good and flexible attitude regarding test results. If you pass, Congrats!! If you failed, you know you need to study a bit more and what areas you need to focus on next time.
I hope this helps. As social workers, we are called to help one another, and I hope that you ALL WILL succeed on passing the test.

modern psychotherapy said...

i'll be taking exam cause i am looking for a job and i would be having an exam..glad that you have shared a lot tips..this would be a great help

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I'm taking my lcsw exam next week. So glad I came across your blog. Looking forward to exploring it. Already the comments here I have found helpful.

Anonymous said...

I'm gald to know I am not alone! I take the exam in 2 days! Really trying to cram and all of your encouraging comments put my mind more at ease! If I pass, I'll offer up some advice as well! God put us all here for a reason, so don't be afraid to call on him for help if you are very discouraged!

Anonymous said...

If anyone is still reading this blog, here are the things that helped me (i just passed the exam on my first try dec of 2012) Took a prep course put on by NASW in the spring, took practice test that the course provided in the summer, studied the ASWB study guide to sw about a month and a half b4 my exam date, and took it's practice test. Know DEFENSE Mechanisms, all DSM IV DIagnosis and main criteria, and like this post said, answer the ? as u think the text book would answer it. A lot of the answers I chose, were not in my opinion "the best" answers, but based on my practice tests, I knew what the text book would choose :) Oh, and most importantly lots of prayers from me and loved ones!!! hope this helps!!!!

Anonymous said...

thank you.

Anonymous said...

I passed! This blog and buying the aswb $75 exam really helped

Anonymous said...

Hopefully this stays somewhat private. I have tried hard to pass my clincial exam since 2008. I plan on retaking this exam again for the 11th time in July 2013. I am reading everyone suggestions closely. Only once did I miss it by one point. Most of the time I am off between 4-5 points. Positive suggestions are always welcomed. Thanks

Anonymous said...

August 2013 I plan to take LCSW exam next month. This blog has been very helpful.

Anonymous said...

can anyone elaborate on the steps of Engagement, Assessment, Goal setting, Intervention, Evaluation and Termination? My question is should we know these steps in detail or what should we know about these steps?
An answer is appreciated.

Anonymous

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said,

I was searching for test taking strategies and ran into this website. I must say that I am shocked of the amount of people that have not passed this exam. I thought I was the only one. I have taken the exam 4 times and no success. It has been extremely frustrating. I really appreciate the positive comments on what the test is measuring. As social workers, we have to continue to support each other. I will continue to take the exam and hope that one day, I will have a praise report.

Anonymous said...

Just want to say Thank You so much of providing your input. I'm currently a MSW student and want to take the text as soon as I can. However, I experience test anxiety. After reading your post, it allowed me the ability to put the test into perspective that I'm already a competent social worker. Once again...a great big hug and many thanks. :) N

Anonymous said...

These are tips that I am very confident will help many of you. I passed the LMSW two years ago, after only one month of studying. The material that I studied: ASWB practice test (only available after approval for sitting for sitting for the exam), NASW Code of Ethics, DSM IV, psychotropic medications. Before taking the exam, I determined the passing score for my state. With 170 questions on the test, determined the minimum correct to pass the test (remember that there are questions not counted towards the score). During the exam, my anxiety was through the roof. My technique for passing: flagging questions that I was unsure of without hestitation; with the scratch paper provided making a tally of questions that I knew for sure that I had gotten correct. Added the tally marks to see how close to passing I was (did this before returning to flagged questions because it gave me an idea of much I really needed to get the flagged questions correct, served as motivation). Returned to flagged questions and read them thoroughly and answered. Did a final review of all of the answers on the test. Before submitting test for grading, I calculated the tally marks on my scratch paper (be sure to add additional tallies from flagged questions if youre sure that they are correct). I knew then that I had passed before even submitting my test, with an hour left to spare. Currently preparing for the LCSW. My plan: same as before. Good luck to you all. Hope this helps.

GNelson said...

I took the LCSW written exam for the first time on January 8, 2014 and passed. I purchased two of the exams from this site, practicing often and reading the rationales carefully. I took each of the timed exams twice and passed them with scores in the 90's range. I do feel that this site was one of the most helpful and certainly one of the most reasonably priced for practice materials. I do wish that there were the same resources offered for studying for the Clinical Vignette exam, which I will be taking in 2 weeks.

I finished the written exam with 40 minutes to spare. I tried to answer to the best of my ability each question and only marked 3 to review, fearing that I would be bogged down with too many to get to and overwhelmed by the number and time constraints. There are so many questions that are complex that having to go back and read again and answer thoughtfully would be impossible. 200 questions, 4 hours, not enough time; try to answer each at first encounter and remember questions are representing practice in a setting with lots of time lots of money and plenty of resources.

Be sure that you are reasonably well rested, have eaten and are well hydrated before the exam. In California, you are allowed to bring nothing with you, no water, no snacks, you are photograhed, and filmed throughout and timed if you use the rest room. Be prepared for this so that you don't add to your natural anxiety.

It may also help to remember that in the grand scheme of things, you probably won't be thinking of this process on your death bed so it's not the most important thing you will ever do and one way or the other you will get through it.

Anonymous said...

I took clinical exam twice and missed passing by one point both times. There were things on the exam I never even heard of. It has been hard to keep motivated but I will lose my good job if I don't pass by July, 2014. Practice exams helped me, staying calm helped me. Also, little known fact that AWSB doesn't advertise . . . if you are in jeopardy of losing your job, you can ask for the 90 day waiver to retest. Have to pay again, but don't have to wait 90 days. I know I have to stay strong!!! Best of luck to everyone!

Anonymous said...

Forgot one comment . . . really have to know defense mechanisms and Erickson's Developmental stages.