When and For How Long Should I Study For The Social Work Licensure Exam?

Many students who contact me for tutoring often ask how long they should prep for the exam. For students taking the Masters Exam (the LMSW in many states), my general recommendation is to start studying as soon as you can after graduation. It can take several weeks to submit the required paperwork for your state—transcripts and application—so it’s a good time to take advantage of both having the content knowledge fresh in your head as well as waiting time you will be spending anyway.

For candidates taking the Clinical Exam (the LCSW or LICSW in many states), your timing will vary since most of you will complete your supervised clinical hours at different times. Since most Clinical Exam candidates are already in the field, it will be important to plan ahead study and set aside time away from work both to prep and also to take the test. You don’t want to cram the examination in the middle of a busy work week or during a particularly busy or stressful time of the year at your work setting.

As far as length of study time, you don’t want to study too far in advance (more than several months) to avoid information burn-out. You also don’t want to wait until the last minute (less than two weeks) to avoid triggering test-anxiety and cramming. Everyone’s timeline will be different, but anywhere from a couple of weeks to under two months tends to be an average timeline for many students I have successfully worked with.

Sample Study Timeline (3 to 6 weeks, depending on your study style)

  1. Start submitting paperwork for your state. You will have to be approved to take the test in your state before setting up a test date.
  2. To plan your content review, look at the ASWB’s KSAs (knowledge, skills, and abilities) outline. It will outline what content you need to review for each of the four sections of the test. Remember that the test is assessing practitioner skillsets (e.g., Do you know what goes into a biopsychosocial? A risk assessment?) and not your memorization skills (even though some questions will be recall).
  3. Take a baseline practice test as a “cold rehearsal”. Taking a baseline practice test will help you see where you’re starting from. It’s okay if you don’t do as well as you expected to, since this will just give you a barometer for how much you need to go back and review.
  4. Use your baseline practice test score as a guide to target which content areas to go back and study. This can help with avoiding study burnout and not redundantly studying what you already know.
  5. Once you go back and study both rationales and content for any of the answers that were incorrect, take at least one or two more practice tests until you’re scoring within the ASWB’s passing range (90 to 107). Aim for at least a 110 or higher to give you a more comfortable cushion.

Links to External Resources

Free Study Guide from Social Work Test Prep

Full Practice Tests from Social Work Test Prep

ASWB Content Outlines for Masters and Clinical Exams


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