What To Do If You Failed The ASWB Exam


As an exam tutor and educator, it’s not uncommon that some of the students who come to me for support are students who feel discouraged after failing the social work exam, either on the Masters or Clinical level.

There is also a lot of anxiety that can come from this since many students need the Masters exam to get an entry-level job after graduation. For Clinical exam candidates, there’s the discouragement of feeling further away from that leadership role, that supervisory promotion, or even pursuing the dream of private practice.

There can also be a lot of shame associated with failing the test, which is why I usually advise students with the following:

  1. Don’t internalize it.
    It’s true that the test aims to measure competencies and to make sure that clients are getting a basically competent and ethical level of care. However, failing the test does not make you a bad social worker.

    Often, it just means that most of us are used to the reflective learning style of social work school. We mostly wrote insight-oriented papers, presented cases, and dissected process recordings. Taking tests was rare because our work with clients and skill development mostly happened through the careful integration of experience and theory, not fill-in-the-blanks.

    Since the test is standardized, it will require you to think like a social worker would in any part of the country (versus what a specific agency would do in a scenario or state) and often retraining your brain to approach the questions this way and “reading the skill that’s being tested” will make a difference.

  2. Give Yourself Time
    Depending on your job situation, taking the test again may be of understandable urgency, but you still don’t want to jump immediately right back into studying. Give yourself some time to process the disappointment and/or frustration and get support after failing the test. You will want to go back into preparing with a different mindset, and shaming yourself into performing harder may just make things worse.

  3. Connect to Peer or Professional Support
    Whether that’s working with a tutor, getting help from a colleague who passed it, or seeing a therapist if you struggle with test anxiety, outside feedback can help you more effectively target how to improve or how to address stressors that got in the way.

  4. Research your options
    If your job is at risk, make sure to research your state’s specific time windows for retaking the test (usually 90 days) or obtaining a limited permit in the interim. While you don’t want to rush re-taking it, make sure you have the information that will minimize how much of a roadblock this setback becomes. You may also qualify for an accommodation (e.g., extra time) if you have been assessed to need one by a medical professional.

  5. Remember your whys
    This tip is a bit more motivational (also, fine, I admit I needed a number 5 to make the list feel complete) but remembering your why you want to be licensed (e.g., career advancement, choice in populations you want to specialize in) can increase your confidence. It can remind you that if you earned your degree, you definitely have the skills to pass this test. I kept some of my old textbooks and some of my graduate papers to remind myself of the feedback I got from my professors and remember what I was doing well and why I got into the field. Maybe there is an old memory or experience that will remind you of the same.

Image credit: “Resilience” by “Lou” on Flickr. Creative Commons License.


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