Magic Tricks: What Not To Do For The Exam

social work magic trick
Credit: Flickr user Jin Thai. Author’s Title: “I could be your magician.” License: Creative Commons attribution license.

One of the very first pieces of advice that I tell students (and although I’m not affiliated with the ASWB, I think that they would agree with me too) is that the number one thing to avoid doing on the exam is using “tricks” or “tips.”

Sometimes this impulse comes from attending well-intentioned bootcamps that will attempt to give students “quick-go-to shortcuts”, or created as a result of the anxiety of having to prepare for an exam that seems to have a lot of material to review (or just plain bad advice received along the way).

What are some examples of tricks?

  • Leaning toward answers based on length (e.g., “‘A’ must be the answer because it’s longer, more verbose, or includes more complex social work terms”).
  • Statistically choosing answer choices (e.g., “The next one must be ‘C’ because I haven’t answered ‘C’ in a while).
  • Simple association (e.g., “Questions about ‘x ‘will generally have answer ‘y'”).

While some general guidelines may be true, they are often true because they’re just plain good clinical practice guides, not because “a is almost always b.” And this is where guides surpass tricks.

What are some examples of good guides?

  • The primacy of safety when it comes to depression/hospitalization/assessment questions.
  • Ruling out medical concerns before diagnosing mental health concerns.
  • Choosing an answer that most fulfils a social work value (e.g., Which answer most embodies self-determination? Empowerment? Advocacy?).
  • The concept that assessment and treatment are ongoing and collaborative processes.

Upshot: While we all have different learning styles and approach our study methods differently, remember that the exam is not a memorization test. It’s okay to not know everything, and trying to rely on shortcuts and tricks will only risk more confusion. When feeling like you need a trick to pass, remember that you’re being asked about the “big picture.”

(Is that a trick?)

Happy Social Work Month!


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