Christina Passed The Social Work Licensing Exam JFThe journey to social work exam licensure can seem long and overwhelming. The best thing to do when you're faced with an impossible-seeming mega-task? Break it down into parts. You don't have to worry about the entire licesnsing process, just focus on the next indicated task ahead, one by one.

Here are the four steps you'll have to take to pass the ASWB exam and get your social work license.


Step One: The Paperwork

The first step in becoming a licensed social worker is applying with your state licensing board. Different exam levels require different amounts of experience. Requirements vary from state to state. Your state licensing board has answers to any questions you may have about those details. They're a few clicks away. 

Once you've been approved by the state board, register for the exam with the ASWB at As of this writing, registration fees are $230 for Associate, Bachelors, and Masters-level exams; $260 for Advanced Generalist and Clinical-level exams.

You're still not done with the purely logistical, paperwork portion of exam prep. Once you've received an Authorization to Test from the ASWB, you're clear to book an exam date via PSI.

And now, finally, with your appointment made, the real work begins.

Step Two: Learn the Exam

The next step in the road to getting licensed is getting your bearings. What's on the exam? How long is it? How many questions?

Some answers: The exam is 170-questions long. A portion of those questions--twenty, to be exact--don't count toward your final score, but you're not told which ones they are. You'll have to stay focused and do your best on all 170.

The exam is made up entirely of multiple choice questions with three or four answers each, mostly in vignette form. Questions are not related to one another--each stands alone. Trick questions are not a part of the ASWB approach. Nor are "none of the above" or "all of the above" answer choices. Many questions end asking for the MOST likely, NEXT move, or BEST choice in any given situation. 

You have four hours to complete the exam. That's 240 minutes for 170 questions, or a little bit less than a minute-and-a-half per question.

The social work exam at all levels is meant to assess knowledge, skills, and abilities expected from beginning social workers. You do not need to memorize the entire DSM. You don't need to know every detail of every developmental theory ever conceived. You do need to know the basics--essential social work wisdom that might reasonably be expected to have been acquired by social workers starting out in their careers.


Step Three: Prepare for the Exam

While you can set aside deep exploration into obscure wings of social work know-how, that still leaves a lot to know. There are a lot of social work essentials. Your MSW textbooks should be helpful. The NASW Code of Ethics is a core part of lots of exam questions.

The best way to prepare for the exam is to take realistic practice tests. With good, 170-question tests, you increasingly gain a sense for the pace and feel of a four-hour exam on social work essentials. You learn your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to both content and process. You gather insight into which topics you need to review and into what it's like for you to sit for a big, four-hour test. Do you need breaks? A snack? Knowing ahead of time gives you a meaningful advantage on exam day. 

Got practice? Getting passing practice test scores? You're ready for the next and final step.

Step Four: Pass the Exam

The last step is the quickest one: Go in, take the exam, pass the exam.

It's the easiest of the four steps when you think of it that way. Half a day and it's over. 

That's it. You're licensed. Celebrate!

Congratulations in advance. Good luck!


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