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Social Work Exam

Social work can be a challenging and satisfying career. Social workers help distressed and marginalized individuals from all walks of life deal with problems and improve their lives.

A person who wants to become a social worker needs a high level of education and emotional intelligence. Most social workers have at least a bachelor's degree in social work (BSW) and must be licensed by the state in which they work. To earn a license, applicants must pass the social work exam developed by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB).

Each state or Canadian province has its own social work regulatory board. These boards are in charge of creating and enforcing licensure requirements across the nations. Because each board may have different requirements, a person should always check to make sure he or she can meet those specific requirements. ASWB serves as a communication tool for the nation's social work boards and provides a standardized social work licensing exam. There are four categories of social work exams: Bachelors, Masters, Advanced Generalist, and Clinical. Which one a person takes depends on the requirements of the individual board and what type of social work he or she wants to do.

The social work exam is electronic and takes about four hours to complete. Exams take place in ACT testing centers across the nation. They may be taken at any time, as long as the candidate makes an appointment beforehand. The fee for the social work licensing exam is $175 and is non-refundable.

ASWB exams are scored on a pass or fail basis. If a candidate passes, he will move forward in the social work licensure process. If he fails, some jurisdictions may allow an ASWB exam review with all costs paid by the candidate.

The ASWB offers an online practice exam and a hard-copy practice guide, but many candidates use additional study materials as well as the ASWB resources. As with any standardized exam, preparation and test-taking skills make a big difference.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is another organization that may be helpful as a person studies for the social work licensing exam. The NASW is the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the world. In addition to chapter meetings and ethics guidelines, the NASW offers a continuing education program that helps social workers meet the requirements for licensure renewal. Members can also search job boards and obtain specialty certifications in social work.

Study Options

Studying for the ASWB exam is highly recommended. There is no need to cram; most candidates probably know all of the information because of their social work degree programs. But while the candidate does not need to learn new material, it is almost impossible to immediately recall any one piece of information from past years of study without a concentrated review. Knowing what types of questions the ASWB exams will ask and which topics they tend to emphasize will help focus the candidate's study efforts.

The ASWB offers study guides and online practice tests for a fee, and also provides free access to the exam outlines through the website and handbook. These exam outlines are essential for ASWB study efforts.

A candidate should take some time to review the content outline of his particular social work exam category, since each category has its own outline. For example, a large percentage of the master's exam questions emphasize intervention theories, methods, and techniques for individuals and groups. So a person planning to take the ASWB Masters exam may want to review specifics on intervention in both direct and indirect practice. Most candidates will also need to review their test-taking skills. Like most standardized tests, the ASWB exam follows a basic model of questioning. All questions are multiple choice, with four possible answers. Only one of those choices is the correct one, while the other three are incorrect to varying degrees. If the test taker can rule out at least two of the incorrect choices, then he or she can spend more time deciding which of the remaining two are correct. Using the process of elimination can greatly reduce the anxiety level during a timed test.

ASWB Prep Options

With a little extra effort, a candidate can dramatically increase his or her chances of passing the exam. The candidate should take advantage of the free exam outline available on the ASWB website and in the exam handbook. If possible, the outline should be printed and kept with other study materials. Regular reference to it is recommended. The candidate should consider a study program. In addition to the exam outline, it may be helpful to sign up with a study program designed specifically for social work candidates taking the ASWB exam. These study programs often have inside tips from experts. They are also useful for honing test-taking skills, which are a very important part of the timed test format.

Answering questions accurately and efficiently can be difficult when working against the clock, but learning test-taking techniques can help immensely in a person's ASWB exam prep efforts. The candidate should also get organized for test day. He or she should make sure to understand exactly how to find the ACT center where the exam will be given. Gathering all the needed materials together in one place is also a good idea. Among these materials are the candidate's ASWB authorization letter from the registration process; a photo identification card, such as a driver's license; and directions to the ACT center. Arriving about 30 minutes early is recommended.

Exam Review

A person who fails the ASWB exam the first-time should not despair. The exam can be repeated, but before taking it a second time, the candidate should secure a copy of the diagnostic information from the failed test. While this information will not specifically list the missed questions, it will reveal the areas on which an exam review should focus.

The candidate should contact the social work licensing board and let them know that he or she wants to take the exam again. A wait at least 90 days is required, which allows time to review the diagnostic information and study for the next exam.

The goal in studying for the ASWB exam is to review the main points that particular social work licensing exam will cover. Fortunately the ASWB exams are straightforward, and each has an outline that describes which areas are covered.

An ASWB exam review should not only include study material from the outline and diagnostic information from the first test, but practice exams as well. The practice test should be taken within a four-hour time frame so that the candidate will have a good understanding of what is expected on test day.

But merely taking a practice exam isn't enough. Once the practice exam has been scored, the candidate should review the correct and incorrect answers. Such a review should help him or her understand why the incorrect answers were wrong and what the correct answer should have been.

Practice Tests

ASWB practice tests are essential to a study program. These tests give a feel for how the real ASWB exam will proceed.

Once registered for the ASWB exam, the candidate can purchase full-scale online practice tests for the Clinical, Masters, or Bachelors ASWB licensure examinations through the ASWB website. The practice tests are offered on the internet only. The candidate pays for access to take the exam one time, and then has 30 days to review the questions, answers, and rationales.

Many independent study programs also offer ASWB practice tests. Before purchasing a practice test, a person should make sure that he or she understands which ASWB exam will be taken. If one is unsure, a check with the social work board is appropriate.

While taking the ASWB practice tests, it is a good idea for the candidate to make notes about anything he does not fully understand - acronyms he cannot define, phrasing he is unable to remember, and intervention techniques that are not fully familiar. Even if it is not a main point in the practice question, it may appear on the real exam.

The practice test and answers should be printed out and kept with the candidate's other study materials.

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Last Updated: 10/01/2013

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