Surviving the Licensure Exam

If you are anything like me you hate taking standardized tests.MSW Surviving The Social Work Licensure Exam Infographic

And I mean LOATHE taking them. The good news is, you are not alone. Almost every social worker I’ve talked to (and I’ve talked to many), feels the same way. Think about it: when you take a standardized test, the answers are either right or wrong. But in the real world, there is typically more than one right answer.

No situation is exactly the same, nothing is typically just “black or white”, and many times we have to help our clients think “outside the box.” With this is mind, it’s no wonder social workers don’t enjoy taking tests.

However, to get licensed in the state you practice in, social workers have to take a national board exam- a standardized test. Some states even require two tests: the first taken upon graduating with an MSW prior to getting a job in the field and then the second taken to become fully licensed. Luckily,where I practice in Florida, social workers only have to take one test, the Florida state board exam to obtain licensure.

While preparing for this exam may seem overwhelming, there’s no need to panic – there is help! I’ve included some tips below to help make the preparation process easier and smoother.

Take the test as soon as you feel comfortable after graduating.

The test is based on the knowledge that you learned in school, not the practical skills you will gather and hone in the field. I suggest that you take the test soon after graduation so the knowledge you learned in school is fresh in your mind. The longer you work in the field, the more it will influence the choices you make on the exam.

Find someone who has taken the test and pick their brain.

Find someone who has taken the licensure exam and get their insight into the exam. What should you be focusing on? What material did they use to prepare? Was it helpful? Do they have notes they can share or let you borrow? How much time do they recommend preparing? Getting someone else’s insight into the test can help you prepare and  ease your nerves.

Test prep courses.

These courses are designed to focus on the main areas the test covers and they are available either online or in person. Many colleges offer in – person review classes, but if you would rather do it at your own pace, there are several helpful online test prep websites out there. And if you really want to make sure you are prepared, you can always do both an online and in – person review. However you choose to review, be sure to study the material thoroughly.

Study a little bit each day.

Don’t wait until the last minute to study. There is a lot of material to cover (an entire Master’s program worth!) so be sure to give yourself plenty of time to review and study. Set aside specific time each day to help hold yourself accountable. Chances are, if you study a little bit every day, you will be less likely to become overwhelmed at the last minute.

Review what you’ve studied.

Be sure to take time at the beginning of each study session to do a review of what you studied previously. This will not only help you you to keep the material fresh in your mind, but will also make memorization less painful.

Study with a friend.

Find a buddy also looking to take the exam and study together. Or think about starting a study group that meets weekly or biweekly.  This will help keep you focused, motivated, hopefully feel less overwhelmed, and  you’ll be able to swap material and ideas.

Go through old notes.

Remember your professors telling you to save certain textbooks and materials to study for the licensure exam? Well it’s time to pull the old stuff out and dust it off. Use what you already have to your advantage!

Heed your own advice – practice self-care.

Sounds like common sense, but social workers are not known to follow the advice they give to clients, especially when it comes to self-care. Be sure you are taking time to decompress and relax while studying, especially right before you are scheduled to take the test.

Practice deep breathing, visualization, or meditation before you begin to study to help you focus and go for a walk when you finish to help clear your mind and relax. Try to take the day off before the exam to relax, get a massage, or just catch up on rest. This should help keep you relaxed and focused before the exam.

Be kind to yourself.

Despite your best efforts, there is always the possibility that you might not pass the licensure exam the first time around. Hey, it happens. I didn’t pass the first time I took it and I was really upset with myself. But I soon realized that I wasn’t the only one to take it more than once. Plus,  I now knew what to expect and what I needed to focus on studying the next time I took it.

So be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up over it. Standardized tests are challenging, so if you have to take it again, forgive yourself and move forward. Remember, you can always take it again.