Monday, December 1, 2014

Building Blocks: NASW Standards of Practice

Feel like you've got your DSM and Code of Ethics down? Here's a building block of social work exam prep that isn't necessarily part of the foundation...but then, that's not what a building block always is. This one's one of the higher floors, one that you might not get to right away: the NASW Standards of Practice.

Over the years, the NASW has generated thousands of words about how best to go about being a social worker and packed them into this series of guideline brochures. Think about it this way: If you're setting out to write exam questions based in best practices, where do you turn? The Code first, of course. Maybe a textbook or two. But eventually, you're going to find yourself at these practice standards So, while knowing everything contained in each of the brochures just isn't going to happen for you, it's worth browsing around and filling in any big gaps in your social work knowledge. Just about everything gets covered. Here are the standards updated in 2013.
This is the very stuff that shows up over and over on the exam. So, if you have the time, dig in! Enjoy!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Building Blocks: The DSM

Diagnosis is going to show up on the licensing exam. It just is. And there's one big book that has all the diagnostic information you could ever hope to find: the DSM. Which DSM are you supposed to use? Depends upon where and when you're taking the exam. In California, DSM-5 questions will appear in December, 2014. For the rest of the ASWB-exam taking world, the exam will switch to DSM-5 in July, 2015.

The trick with studying diagnosis for the social work exam is that there's far too much information for you to possibly hold in one brain. It takes a giant, small-print book to get it all down. First step may be to throw away the giant volume and instead turn to the Desk Reference version ("The Desk Reference to the Diagnostic Criteria from DSM-5 (TM)," it's called). It's smaller, more to the point, and still contains more info than you'll likely need for the test.

Another way to approach the DSM is to focus on the big diagnoses. If it doesn't show up in regular social work practice, it's pretty unlikely to show up on the exam. Learn anxiety disorders, depression, personality disorders, childhood disorders. But set aside the obscure, the rare, and the stuff you've just never heard of. If by some chance that stuff shows up on the exam, sigh, take your best guess, and move on. Otherwise, you're overstudying, cramming your brain full of unnecessary facts, and generally making life harder than it needs to be. Got it? Get on it!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Building Blocks: The NASW Code of Ethics

You can't construct your fortress of licensedness without some basic building blocks. ("Fortress of licensedness?" I don't even watch "Game of Thrones.") There are a handful of essential elements that go into social work licensing exam readiness. Let's take a look at a big one: the NASW Code of Ethics.

Think of how exam writers must approach coming up with exam questions. (And, by the way, once you're licensed, you can become an exam writer. The ASWB hires pretty regularly. They just announced new hiring on their Facebook page.) " work question...blank page...what am I supposed to ask?" They look at the ASWB's exam outlines (available to you on; that's another fortress-building element, come to think. Maybe mortar?). They see there's a big section on assessment and diagnosis. They see there's a big section on ethics. "Ethics!" they think. "I know exactly how to get started on those questions. Computer boot up!"

They open of the NASW Code and get started from the top. Section 1.01, "Social Workers Commitment to Clients." Here's what it says:
Social workers' primary responsibility is to promote the well-being of clients. In general, clients' interests are primary. However, social workers' responsibility to the larger society or specific legal obligations may on limited occasions supersede the loyalty owed clients, and clients should be so advised. (Examples include when a social worker is required by law to report that a client has abused a child or has threatened to harm self or others.)

Okay, so what question would arise from this? Easy! There's even an example ("Examples include..."). A question about reporting abuse and/or threats to self or others. They type. Something about a client situation that may or may not require a report. Something not too obvious. Answers are, in brief, A. Report, B. Report not necessary, plus two "distractors"--answers that are appealing, splitting the difference between the basic "yes" and "no" answers. Like this: C. Wait to see if client continues with behavior before making a report. (Would that ever be the right way to go? Either something's reportable or it's not.) D. Seek supervision (Sometimes this is the right way to go. But as a soon-to-be licensed social worker, you should probably have a handle on reportability questions--at least on the exam.)

And so a licensing exam question is born. You'll see one just like it on the real exam--be surprised if you don't! And now you're ready for it. Yay!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Social Work Exam Study Guides

You spend a lot of money preparing for the social work licensing exam. How much of that spending is actually necessary? Hard to tell. People spend upwards of $800 on exam prep packages and don't pass. People spend next to nothing and ace the test. It's not about what you spend. It's about how ready you are when you go in to take the exam. You're studying to be a licensed social worker, not a stock broker. The amount you spend shouldn't exceed what you expect to make in a fairly short amount of time.

So what's essential to have to prep? You probably don't need one of the expensive study guides. The ASWB publishes for free on their website content outlines for each of the exams (clinical, masters, etc.). This lays out what you can expect to see on the test. All the pricey study guides do is fill in the some of the info--info you can easily fill in yourself for free with the help of the machine you're reading right now. The outline includes ethics? Read the NASW Code of Ethics. It's free on the net. The outline includes diagnosis. Well, you've probably got a DSM handy somewhere. Or can borrow one. You don't need to pay someone to summarize DSM diagnoses for you.

Also, what about all those textbooks from school? They should come in handy too.

You get the idea. Save the money for a massage. Maybe some practice tests. Take care of yourself. Be realistic about how challenging the exam is. It's passable. You don't have to baby yourself. And you don't have to go broke passing it. All good news, I hope!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"I Don't Want to Study for the Social Work Exam!"

By the time you're preparing for the social work licensing exam, you've been through lots and lots and lots of school. You've studied--and passed!--lots and lots and lots of tests. You're probably (hopefully!) working. Probably for not so much money. You're a social worker through and through. You walk the walk, you talk the talk. And now they want you to spend a bunch of money and time and stress yourself out taking a giant licensing exam. For most social workers, the first, loudest, and maybe most rational response is I DON'T WANNA!

Who can blame you? But here's the thing: you probably didn't want to do a bunch of the stuff you had to do to get this far--especially tests--especially finals! But you did it. This could be the last big exam you're ever asked to take. And with this one, the reward isn't just a better grade, or moving on from junior to senior year. With this one you get a social work license. You advance your career. You achieve a long-sought goal.

Remember when you started in social work how licensed social workers seemed like these almost mythical figures? (At least they did to me.) Well, now that's almost you!

All you have to do is put in some hours, learn (mostly relearn) some basic social work material, and get yourself emotionally and physically prepared for the exam. Of course you don't want to. And you don't have to! But should you choose to (and I think you will). Take that frustration and stress and picture how it will dissolve the moment you finish the exam, hit the submit button, and get that instant result: PASS

That will be you. You can do it. It's just a matter of time.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Very Most Basic Thing to Do to Prepare for the Social Work Exam

What's the very most basic thing you can do to prepare for the social work licensing exam? Other than get your MSW...other than understanding the basics about how multiple-choice exams operate...other than scheduling your exam and getting some sleep. The very most basic thing you can do setting out on your exam prep journey: Review the NASW Code of Ethics. Do you have a copy? They passed them out at graduation where I went to school. No copy? No matter. The whole thing is on the web, easily accessed with a click. Read it through. So many of the decisions you'll be faced with on the social work exam are rooted in the code. Getting well-versed in the basics of social work is the most basic thing you can do to prepare for the exam!

Can't bear to read it over right now? Then before you start on practice questions, just look at these brief, brief excerpt and you're on your way!

The mission of the social work profession is rooted in a set of core values. These core values, embraced by social workers throughout the profession’s history, are the foundation of social work’s unique purpose and perspective:
  • service
  • social justice
  • dignity and worth of the person
  • importance of human relationships
  • integrity
  • competence.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

SW Exam....Study break

If you are preparing for the social work licensing exam, it's likely that you have been studying a lot. If this is true, it's okay to allow yourself to have a break sometimes. This is going to be my last post for a while. I am going to take a short break but will pick up my studying very soon. I wish you the best of luck.

Have confidence, relax, and use the tips you've learned and you'll do great.

Here is one last tip for the sake of being a studying and learning-a-holic (something I made up, which will not be on the test, I don't think):


·         Maslow believed that people’s basic needs had to be met before they can live fully which includes self-actualizing through learning. TIP: So, this means to meet your basic needs before taking the exam and even before studying to help you have better results.

·         The basic needs are listed in a pyramid form with needs on the bottom requiring fulfillment before higher needs can be accomplished.

·         The basic needs:
o   Physiological (health, food, sleep)
o   Safety (protection, shelter)
o   Belonging (love, affection, being in a group)
o   Esteem (self-esteem and esteem from others)
o   Self-actualization (reaching one’s potential)

(image courtesy of BetterBizIdeas)

Friday, June 27, 2014

Diagnosis on the Social Work Licensing Exam (Continued)

(image courtesy of OpenClips)

It can be overwhelming to try to figure out what you should study and how to remember everything that is related to diagnosing. However, you can be prepared. 

Social Work Test Prep recommends paying particular attention to the more common diagnoses such as “depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, ADHD, [and] personality disorders.” They also recommend familiarizing yourself with diagnoses that are somewhat similar in certain ways such as schizoaffective disorder versus schizophrenia.

Here is a great link for learning more about all the diagnoses on the DSM-IV:

Even though there won’t be DSM-5 material on the exam until July, 2015, if you are curious about the changes that have been made on the DSM-5, here is a link that provides you with some quick information.


·         Adjustment Disorders: significant difficulty adjusting to a life situation compared to what would normally be expected considering the circumstances.

·         Anxiety Disorders: anxiety symptoms (heart races, tension, breathing more heavily) that occur without any recognizable stimulus or when the stimulus does not fit with the reaction

·         Mood Disorders: inappropriate, exaggerated, or limited range of feelings
o   Disorders in this category include: Bipolar Disorder, Cyclothymic Disorder, Dysthymic Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Diagnosis on the SW Exam

photo by Pawel Loj

Questions about diagnosis could very well be on the social work licensing exam. The immediate response for some people in regards to this topic being covered is “Yikes!” Other people might feel like they have a little better grasp on the subject.

Depending on your social work program, you may or may not have had good training regarding diagnosis. In my case, I had some but I still feel like I need more freshening up on the topic. It helps to consider the work experience that you have had or that you currently have when trying to get more comfortable with diagnosing.

Since I have interned as a therapist for zero to six year olds and am now an employee as a therapist (at a different agency) for mostly children five to seventeen, I am considering the actual real-life examples I have had when trying to “memorize” the diagnoses.

The other tricky part is the fact that the DSM is changing from the DSM-IV to the DSM-5. However, the ASWB website states that there will not be any DSM-5 information tested on the exam until July 2015.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Bite-Sized Pieces

                                                                           Child Eating Watermelon by Petr Kratochvil

Prepping for the social work licensing exam can be an overwhelming task. However, it is totally do-able. I suggest taking it in bite-sized pieces. Every little step you take will bring you a little bit closer to your final goal of being prepared to ace the exam.

Here’s a bite-sized piece of study material:

  • One of the most popular tips that I come across is to answer the questions on the social work licensing exam “by the book” (see the Social Work Test Prep site--link on sidebar) while considering safety as the primary concern.
  • With that being said, a “by the book” answer would definitely consider the Social Work Code of Ethics from the National Association of Social Workers.
The profession of social work is founded on a set of CORE VALUES. These core values are:
  • service
  • social justice
  • dignity and worth of the person
  • importance of human relationships
  • integrity
  • competence.
These six core values are what help to make social work a unique field. Additionally, while taking these values into consideration, the profession of social work looks at the individual in his or her broader context, such as his family, neighborhood, state, country, culture, and other societal influences.