Studying Content Versus Taking Practice Exams

Scipio Aemilianus cramming himself for a speech after a hearty supper. Image by John Leech, from: The Comic History of Rome by Gilbert Abbott A Beckett. Bradbury, Evans & Co, London, 1850s
Scipio Aemilianus cramming himself for a speech after a hearty supper.
Image by John Leech, from: The Comic History of Rome by Gilbert Abbott A Beckett.
Bradbury, Evans & Co, London, 1850s. Wikimedia Commons.

One of the most essential things for succeeding in taking the social work exam and not failing is to memorize absolutely everything.

Kidding (I will have a blog post on managing test anxiety shortly)!  However, this is an important question for preparing for the exam:  What works better, studying the content, or taking as many practice exams as you can?

To decide whether it’s better to study material or take practice exams, think about social work school and practice.  We are sent into the field as interns, often while we’ve just started taking first semester classes; we are student-practitioners thrown into field experiences while still developing a knowledge-base.  For example, as an intern, I once remember telling a supervisor I had trouble diagnosing a client because we had not gone up to that chapter dealing with a certain diagnosis cluster in the DSM yet.  Despite the look that I got, I thanked the universe for supervision!

It can be a scary experience because it strays from the model of forming a knowledge-base and then, only then, following it with practice.  However, this model helps us “live-process” and assimilate the congruence (and incongruence!) of what we read in our textbooks with what we encounter in our work.  My point is, knowledge and practice are reciprocal.

Ok, so which one is better?!  The short answer is, of course, both.  Everyone has a different learning style and some may feel more comfortable reviewing their course material and body of ethics until they feel confident in their knowledge-base.  Because there’s so much material to review, it can be helpful to refer back to old course syllabi and look at readings or areas that might have been a challenge or—and most of you would never do this—were skimmed.

Others may be more comfortable taking as many practice questions as possible because:

(1) It allows them to emulate test conditions by timing the questions, getting a feel for what type of questions are asked, and looking at the type of internal reactions questions provoke (anxiety? confidence? blank?), and

(2) These internal reactions are an easier filter for determining what type of material to review.

And yet others (all of us) will realize that beyond school and through continuing education, we will continue to be lifelong student-practitioners.

Resources:

ASWB Study Guide (Make sure it’s the generalist LMSW level and not LCSW level book)

Social Work Test Prep (Practice questions and bookstore with content review.  Full disclosure— LMSW Exam Tips is partially affiliated with SWTP)

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