Major Changes Coming to the Social Work Licensing Exams

One of the frustrations students face when taking the social work exam is questioning how well the exam measures how “good” of a social worker they are. After all, even if we aim to be evidence-based practitioners, much of the work we do can be highly subjective and relational–hardly something a multiple choice test can fully capture. On top of that, most of the teaching in social work school (pedagogical philosophy if you want to get all fancy) is done through the more narrative and practical lens of case studies and field work than a quantitative one (research classes being an exception).

This is all to say that the science of psychometrics and test-creation isn’t perfect and has also been historically flawed. As social justice practitioners, we have to account for variables like ableism (many students have struggled to pass the LMSW and LCSW exams because of challenges like ADHD and other diagnoses) and cultural competence and humility being factored into any kind of psychometric instrument like a professional exam.

While I’m no expert in psychometrics, my teaching experience as a tutor and adjunct lecturer has taught me that the tools we use to teach and assess skills must always evolve and be responsive. That said, I’m glad the ASWB is listening to folks by implementing the following changes (source: ASWB):

  • Multiple choices responses will be reduced from four choices to three. This will be slowly phased in with having a mixture of both types of questions until its full implementation by 2025. I think having less “distractors” is set to be a benefit for students who struggle with process of elimination or being overwhelmed by vignettes. The hope is to place more focus on knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA content) versus test-strategy.
  • Access to food will be allowed. It’s tough to take a four-hour exam, especially for those with specific dietary or medical needs. According to the ASWB, students will be able to bring a snack to consume in the waiting area during the test.
  • Tamper-proof cellphone bags no longer required. To be honest, this doesn’t seem like much of a testing environment enhancement since all electronics are stored in a locker anyway. However, it seems like a step toward less rigidity in the test check-in process, especially for people who become more anxious on the day of exam.

This may not be an entirely comprehensive overhaul, but hopefully this is just a start in bridging the gaps that get in the way of some MSW students who struggle with the licensure exams. I’ll continue to update the blog as more information becomes available.

Happy 2023!

Image Credit: Anthony Quintano, licensed under Creative Commons license on Flickr.


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