I often have students who contact me for tutoring who have had frustrating experiences with the social work licensure exam—either because they missed a passing score by a couple of points, or because they just don’t feel confident about being able to score well or maintain focus during a four-hour test. If you were like me, the last time you took a standardized test even close to being as long as the social work licensure exam had been the SAT in high school—years away from grad school. Also, it’s basically the length of a half-season Netflix binge of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
Still, much like we know about therapy and change, the brain and mind have the gift of malleability and growth.
Here are some mindset tips that I help students with and can help you break through some barriers:
- Let go of perfection.
Expecting yourself to know how to be perfectly competent in every single area of social work is unrealistic, especially because it is such a wide field that ranges from child welfare work to community organizing— all the way to traditional psychotherapy. The test aims to measure a basic, safe, level of competency and as long as you aim to score 80% or higher (many jurisdictions score 70-75% of graded items as passing), you will be in the passing range.
“But Ray, I don’t want to be a mediocre/crappy/dollar-store [social worker]!” Keep in mind that most of your skill will grow through experience and good supervision, not through a multiple choice test.
- Focus on one vulnerable area
Sometimes raising your score in your weakest content area (e.g., human behavior, assessment, intervention, or professional values) instead of focusing on cramming content all at once. If you took the test and missed by a couple of points, strengthening one or two content areas will give you a more reliable buffer and prevent studying from becoming redundant.
- Put answers in order
If you get stuck between two or more answer choices that seem like appropriate interventions, zoom out a bit and think about which of those choices would go before the other—both in order of timeline and priority (for example, stabilizing crisis before working on more exploratory stuff).
- Practice your critical thinking muscle.
The best way to do this to continually take practice tests. Practice tests will help you move away from memorization and more toward meaningful application and integration of the material. Your confidence will also increase as you see your practice scores stay consistent.
- Go back to your “why.”
Why do you want to get licensed? How will this help your career? Which clients do you most feel passionate about advocating for and working with? While this sounds a little “self-help-y” (I could rant forever about unregulated life coaches charging 5x as much as therapists and lifting a couple of our theories or two), thinking about your why will help you tap into your “healthy aggression” and weaken the anxiety or self-limiting beliefs about being able to pass.
- Get individual support, tutoring, or coaching.
Ok, shameless plug here. But having someone to hold you accountable and encourage a consistent study plan can make all of the difference. It’s an investment in yourself and will pay for itself with the direct career jump getting licensed gives you. It’s also a good way to get some feedback about your career goals.
- Advocate for yourself.
Just like we would never invalidate any of the environmental stressors that are present in our clients’ life, extend yourself the same validation. Whether that’s getting therapy to help manage/work through your test anxiety or seeking accommodations like extra test time due to learning differences, there are many valid forms of reinforcing your environment for your success.
Takeaway (TLDR as the kids say): If you earned your degree, you have the skills to pass this test. Practice your application of theory, get academic and/or mental health support, and focus on the energizing why that determined why you entered the field in the first place.