How to Pass The MFT Exam
Now that you are finally finished with all of those supervised hours, it is time to start thinking about preparing for the National MFT exam. The big question is: HOW do you prepare?
Some people have prepared by going back over and reviewing their textbooks and notes. This is a good start, but it is just a start. The most important thing you can do to prepare for your exam is to take practice exams. Knowing material is one thing but learning how to apply it in an exam-type environment is quite another. In school, you may have only taken “paper” exams and may be unfamiliar with the look and feel of a computerized exam. It is important that your practice exams be computerized. As you work through the questions the first time, make sure you read all of the rationales for every question, whether you get them right or wrong. Most computerized practice exams allow you to take exams in “study” mode or in “test” mode.
Your first pass through the test bank should be in study mode, reading everything. As you work through the questions, you should get an idea about areas in which your knowledge or skills are weak. Take the opportunity to bulk up your knowledge in those areas by using other sources as you go along. Once you have completed ALL of the exams this way, then circle back and start taking the questions in test mode. This time read only the rationales for the questions you missed. The last couple of exams should be taken with the timer on for the full length of the exam and with no interruptions, just as if you are taking the real exam. (A five-minute break to use the bathroom and drink some water is extremely important however – your performance in the latter half of the exam will benefit. The timer continues to run during the break.)
Make sure that you never skip questions. Even if you don’t have any idea what the answer to a question is, pick an answer. Flag the answer so that you can return to it later for review if you want to, but never leave a question blank. The reason for this is that if you leave a question blank and run out of time to go back and look at it, that answer is always going to be counted as wrong. However, if you pick an answer randomly, you have a 25% chance of getting it right. Usually people are stuck between two answers, however, so guessing at one of them gives you a 50% chance of being right. Flagging uncertain answers allows you to easily return to them.
The National MFT exam evaluates your knowledge but more importantly, evaluates whether you think like an actual clinician. They are looking to see if you have clinical intuition, show common sense, and can demonstrate good judgement. They not only want to see if you can spot a problem, but if you can theorize the causes of a problem and come up with useful interventions that can help clients create lasting change in their lives. For example, say the client is a pre-teen who has been bullying other students. You can see the problem behavior, but you also need to come up with a theory of WHY the client is acting out from the clues provided in the question. Is it because he has been bullied by someone else and feels that they only way to have personal power is to be aggressive? Or is he defending against depressive feelings or low self-esteem? Is there conflict at home, or neglect or abuse? Is there an undiagnosed mental disorder or learning problem? The clues in the case (and in the answers) should point toward a cause, but you often have to “read between the lines” to determine the most likely answer. This process echoes the skills you use with clients in real life. They often have no clue as to why they feel or behave in the ways they do – they just know that they are unhappy. Your job is to follow the breadcrumbs of clues the client gives you to help them figure out what the REAL problem is. The answers to some questions can be fairly obvious, but other questions require you to demonstrate the thinking skills that a practicing LMFT uses every day.
Preparing for your exam in a systematic, thoughtful way will help you learn how to demonstrate that you are not only good at factual recall, but that you are a strategic test-taker, and most importantly, that you can think like a real therapist.
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