RelievedCongratulations to SWTP reader Eva, who passed the California Clinical Vignette exam earlier this week.  Here, some emails that preceded exam time, and an explanation of how she made it happen:

Hi, I was glad to find your site - it was helpful in preparing and passing the first exam. I'm planning to take the second exam tomorrow. I just got into the "hard" questions for AATBS. They seem absolutely ridiculous in terms of the language used to phrase potential answers: it is sooooooo incredibly confusing. I am considering not even taking them because it might erode whatever confidence I was feeling so far. Are there any questions on the exam that are like the "hard" questions? Or, do you think I'll be ok with reworking the medium questions and retaking the mock exams? Thanks in advance, Eva

Eva, Those hard questions are impossible, nearly unanswerable, and nothing like the questions on the real exam, in my experience. Their only value is in helping you mega-hyper-concentrate on every word in each question and answer...which you're already doing if you're getting the medium questions right. Probably best to do with the exam tomorrow: quit studying. You're ready. Good luck! Let me (or the blog) know how it goes. Best, Will

Thanks so much for your reply. Helps to know I was going in right direction when I decided to take a break and just focus back on mock exams. Geez, those hard questions are enough to make you really worry...taking a deep breath, eating and taking one more mock exam. Thanks again for your quick reply- I'll keep you posted re: tomorrow ;)

Hey Will, I just got back from my test. I passed!!! I have no idea how well or poorly I did other than the 17 I had to get right. I really had no sense of my performance during the test, which is frustrating. Still, I am thankful I passed and enjoying the completion of this stage in my life. Thanks again for your help - I appreciated your encouragement yesterday very much. Eva ps - you were absolutely right about the hard questions - why do they even put them in there? it could just erode your confidence for no good reason. that, and i felt like the practice exams were not super helpful - the real exam was much more subtle - it was much harder to decipher the "rightest" of the right than on the practice exams....breathing easier now ;)

After congratulations, Eva accepted my invitation to share her process with Social Work Test Preppers.

The strategy of folding your paper into 10 squares (per side = 20 total per page - they give you two sheets at the exam) so that you can rate each potential answer is useful. I tend to work as intuitively as possible, trusting my gut and knowing that I have the all the information I need in my head to get the right answer. Even so, as I quickly discovered while studying, there is so much information that it is hard to keep track of it. So, the system of ranking each part of each answer can be a useful way to keep track of it and still work intuitively. Basically, at the very least, it helps you to eliminate answers more quickly and just focus on narrowing down the remaining 2 or 3 choices so that your brain doesn't go on overload during the exam.

I found that the real exam was much more subtle in its answers (it was harder to distinguish between "right" and "most right") than the practice exams, so having a tool to knock out one or two answers was really helpful. Even so, you still have to rely heavily on your gut. The strategy is as follows: Make/draw 10 squares for each side of two pieces of paper: 1. fold paper 4 times (leaves you five rows) in the portrait direction 2. fold paper lengthwise (portrait) in half 3. draw a cross in each square (kind of like a window); each space allows to rate one answer 4. draw a cross in each of the four squares; each space allows you to rate one of four aspects of an answer 5. if each answer has a fifth element, you can use the center of the cross for the fifth element 6. i labeled each answer 1-4 and then added the question number to be able to go back and compare my rating with the aatbs rationale to improve my ability to rate accurately Rating system (you'll find this in aatbs, and i believe in gerry grossman too - they might explain better, but this is how i broke it down): 0=not something that responds to the question (wrong) 1=maybe 2=responds to question accurately (right) Highest number = "rightest" answer; sometimes you'll get two answers that are even - then you compare based on gut. you'll usually fall off on the right side if one has to do with safety - assessing/evaluating suicidality/homocidal intentions or referring to a doctor/psychiatrist. In other words, you'll have to assign a higher value to one based on the importance.

The other thing to keep in my mind is that all these test prep companies make money off of our anxiety - so, really, managing your anxiety is going to be the most important aspect (at least, it was for me). Just to give some balance here - some people study months and months. I studied all day for four days for the first exam, and studied three straight days for the second exam. I took the second exam two weeks after I got the BBS notice (about six weeks after exam 1). I know I do better if I study a lot before the exam because of the way my brain works, I forget a lot of stuff quickly - so go with what works best for you. To some extent it is about what you know, but mostly it is nailing the strategies - understanding what to look for and how to knock out incorrect answers as quickly as possible. If you study the knowledge base in the best way that works for you (cramming vs. studying every day over a longer period of time) and then really focus on specific strategies (such as the squares) that help you understand the "rules" of how the test works, and you'll be successful. Three things I did that helped: 1. Since your time doesn't start until you hit "enter" on the computer, take your time setting up your squares. it actually helped me focus, and feel more prepared by taking that time. It slowed down my nervous energy a bit, and got out a little anxiety by doing "busy work". 2. I focused on visualizations for days ahead of time - seeing the "congratulations, you passed!" message when i hit enter at the end; calling friends to tell them; updating my facebook account to say LCSW; etc.

Whenever I started to experience some doubt or anxiety, I went straight back to one of those visualizations and the feelings of relief and excitement they engendered. I also imagined myself going through questions and clicking on answers to get the "green" button that comes out of the aatbs practice exams when you get the answer right. 3. Know ahead of time how much time (more or less) you have for each question and give yourself some buffer time. For example, I knew that I had about 2:30 per question - or about :50 minutes per 20 questions to give myself about :20 minutes of time of buffer for the second exam. It helped me keep my pace without having to figure it out during the exam. It's also nice to know you have time to go to the bathroom, eat a snack if your brain is drained, etc.

November 18, 2009
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