Sunday, November 02, 2008

What would you do first?

These questions are, quite possibly, the most annoying questions on the entire LCSW exam. I remember studying my materials, taking a practice exam, missing numerous questions and scratching my head until it felt like it was bleeding. Invariably, I would wind up missing a few of these "what would you do first" type questions.

The first thing to try and combat my own neuroses about these questions was take them to my supervisor. I would ask him the questions I missed and give him the answers. Interestingly enough we would often agree on the first things we would do, and we would often be wrong according to the materials. How did this seeming exercise in futility help me?

First, it gave me another opinion on the exam. My supervisor was an MSW, DSW and had been in public and private clinical practice for many many years. Hearing his opinion on the question helped me believe in my own gut instincts related to Social Work practice. It also added some perspective to the questions and answers.

Second, our conversations helped me laugh a bit at the exam and alleviate some of the stress and discomfort I was experiencing related to taking the test. Thankfully, we had the kind of supervisory relationship where we were able to talk freely and laugh at both our successes and failures. The relationship provided me an opportunity to study for the exam and understand that Social Work practice is a complex entity that cannot be fully encapsulated in multiple choice questions.

Finally, our conversations helped me reframe the questions so that I could take my incredulity out of my reading of the questions and answer them as best I could. For me, that reframing of the question proved vital. When I would encounter a question that me what I would do first, I would read the question as "Blah, blah, blah, what would the book do first in this situation?" (Usually with the first part of the question replacing the blah, blah, blah). I needed to "divorce" myself from the question so that I could think as the materials would want me to and answer the question appropriately.

So, how might this help you prepare?

(1) If you still have a supervisory relationship, use it for preparation when you have the opportunity. Bounce your missed questions off of the supervisor and learn from their experience in the field. If you don't have this kind of relationship, then find a Social Worker whose practice you admire and sit down with them and ask for their help. You may find that they answer a question the same way you do and you can feel some vindication. They may answer it "correctly" and can help you understand their rationale.

(2) Find a way to put the questions into words that you can stomach. Social work is a wonderful, diverse and complex discipline. Not everyone practices it in the same manner, nor should we. However, the exam attempts to measure your knowledge according to the assumption of a "perfect" world practice. Therefore, we have to put aside some of the methods we have learned and enter a "perfect" world in order to answer the questions as asked. Read the question with whatever reframing you find most helpful, then answer according to your understanding of the study materials you used rather than the experiences you have. Your experiences are important, yet for the exam your ability to study and recall is more important.

Good luck in your studies, I hope this helps.



Maryjane said...

Those questions make me so crazy!!! Thanks for the advice, it definitely makes me feel a little better. Your site is very helpful! I have 1 more week until my exam...

niebuhrian said...

good luck with your preparations and when you take the exam

Anonymous said...

I've taken the exam for the fourth time last week and failed. The study materials I used (aatbs and swes) helped with recalling info and diagnosis. However, I believe I still have difficutly with the therapeutic and assessment process i.e. what to do first? whether to assess, refer..that test was sooo tricky for me.

niebuhrian said...

I'll take a look at those sections in the study guides and see if I can develop a pattern related to how the questions are asked and answered. Sorry about the frustration of having to take and retake the exam...

Loteni said...

I've been racking my brains trying to figure out what was wrong with me! I took the exam this past week and got that instant "Fail" notification! What was more dissappointing is that I failed by 1 point! I've just been bothered by the whole experience since then and questioned whether or not I was even a good clinician?! I stumbled onto your site and read through your blogs, and I can't thank you enough for 'normalizing' the experience for me and for your helpful tips. Your study style is exactly how I learn best, so I am going to get started mastering the first 7 content areas of the exam. Thank you thank you again for your insight and words!

brett said...

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Dr. Linton Hutchinson said...

The following Information will make the difference between passing and failing your exam:

When faced with the dreaded "What do you do NEXT/FIRST" questions - Know these seven tasks
in order. Always look for these within the answers and given two options, choose the one that
is closest to the top of the list:

Feelings - acknowledge clients

... and this is how you will remember them in order from Choosing First to Choosing last:

Feelings Assess Refer Educate Advocate Facilitate Intervene

Farmer Aladdin Raises Expensive Apples From India

With friendly greetings,


Shannon said...


Does that work? I failed the IL LCSW exam yesterday- I was and still am mortified. I graduated with a 4.0 from my masters program and was accepted to a doctoral program upon graduation. I have never failed a thing in my life--and I failed this expensive, important test.

I have a feeling it had largely to do with the "what would you do first?" questions. I just felt like "put the client at ease" or "acknowledge the client's feelings" couldn't be right every time, even though in practice, that IS the first thing you'd do. From your list, it looks like I should have gone with that practice knowledge instead of what I thought "couldn't be right." I spent so much time trying to figure out the trick to passing that I missed the content of the questions entirely.

Thank you for this information, and to the author of this blog, thank you for this blog.


Anonymous said...

I ordered Linton's study materials to prepare for the lmsw exam. I passed the Acsw exam in 1983 but hadn't practiced social work since 1985. I moved to another state in 2009, studied Linton's materials and passed the exam with a score of 94%!!!!! God bless you Linton!!!

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to drop a line and say thank you. I used your website in studying for the LCSW exam in PA. I took the exam today and passed.

Lynn said...

I took the LCSW exam yesterday. I study using Dr. Linton's site, which I enjoyed using. However, I failed the exam and was devastated with all of the questions asking me what to do first. I wrote the information on what to remember when asked such questions on a broad so that I would not forget, and made sure I took the client's feelings etc. into account. I was frustrated that I failed. Your blog was encouraging to help me feel like I am not a terrible clinician.

Anonymous said...

CS with over ten years of clinical experience and I have failed the clinical exam 10 times.

Each time, I have failed this exam has been between 1 point to 5 points. I have taken Dr. Linton's paid site several times, attended expensive workshops, many practical exams, index cards, study groups, paid individual trainer, expensive study materials, hypnosis, memory pills not to mentions many, many hours of studying.

I will not give up and I am taking the exam again this July 2013. Positive feedback would be helpful. Thanks and Best Wishes!

Anonymous said...

I take my exam tomorrow and have appreciated all the postings. A person can only study so much, until you need to walk away from the material, tell yourself that you know the material and take the test.....will post my experience tomorrow!

Anonymous said...

I posted the previous post and passed! the test was far more challenging then I, study, study! Study everything!