How to Apply Critical Thinking Skills on the MFT California Clinical Exam

Once you have reached your goal of meeting the required supervised professional experience hours and passed the California law and ethics exam, you finally face the last hurdle toward licensure – the clinical exam! You will want to keep a few strategies in mind to tackle the exam questions efficiently.

Set yourself up for success

It’s hard to think critically when you have not had enough time to prepare. Study all the material provided in your courses. Some of the packages provided by AATBS include a coach. If you have invested in this service, don’t forget to take advantage of it. Check in with your coach about topics that you are struggling with or types of questions with which you need more one on one support to master.

Use your preparation for the exam to determine your test taking style. Some people prefer to read the last sentence of the question prompt first. This strategy allows you to process the information in the entire prompt through the lens of the question. Use your practice exams to get a sense of how you best process the information in a question.

Arrive to your test well rested, fed, and wearing comfortable clothing and shoes to reduce distractions.

Assess the skill the question is testing you on

This exam is designed to assess your knowledge of diagnosis, treatment, treatment planning, California mental health law and ethics, clinical evaluation, and crisis management. The exam also assesses your ability to apply that knowledge in real world scenarios. Keep this in mind as you read each question. What is the question asking of you? Is it asking for you to diagnose a client? Is it testing your ability to plan for a crisis? Are you being asked to know mandated reporting laws?

Look for clues

Read each question carefully in its entirety before attempting to answer. As you read a question, notice the clues that are being provided to you. What is the age of the client? Setting of treatment? What stage of treatment is taking place? Is there something unique noted in this prompt? These clues will help you to deduce the best answer.

  • Age: Is this client under 18 or over 65? Age of client will provide a lot of clues. For example, if a client is under the age of 18 or over 65 and experiencing abuse, the best answer might indicate the need for mandated reporting and/or safety planning.
  • Who else is involved: Does the question mention anyone aside from the client (e.g., caregivers, other treatment specialists, family, friends, etc.)?
  • Presenting problem: What are the criteria of the client’s presenting problem? What diagnosis might best fit with the indicated criteria? Is there an identifiable crisis?
  • Setting: Where is treatment taking place? Hospital? Private practice?
  • Stage of treatment: Is this in the early, middle, or late stages of treatment?

Take notes

Many test taking facilities will provide scratch paper to take notes. Utilize the scratch paper to write down the most pertinent information from the test question if you feel really stuck on a question. Eliminate any answers that don’t align with the clues of the prompt. Then review the question to see which answer best fits.

Quick Review

The acronym S.A.L.T. may help you remember these strategies. Utilize it during your exam preparation so that you’ll feel best equipped when exam day approaches!

  • S – Set yourself up for success
  • A – Assess the question. What skill is this question testing you on?
  • L – Look for clues. Identify who the client is. What is the presenting problem? Where is the setting? Who else is involved? How old is the client?
  • T – Take notes on your scratch paper to determine the clues that are most pertinent to the question

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