Top 5 LCSW Exam Prep Tips

1 – Practice

While occasionally we will hear of someone who took their exam without studying, the fact of the matter is that this is a VERY rare occurrence! Most people need to study and, on top of studying, they need to practice taking test questions. The two tasks can be combined, but they are not the same thing. The single best thing you can do to prepare for your LCSW exam is to complete lots and lots of test questions! While you’re doing test questions, you are also reviewing material. This does not work the other way around. You can go back and read all of your textbooks and review all of the notes you took in class, but, other than the knowledge review, it will not help you with test taking strategy. The only way you can prepare for taking the test is to practice taking the test.

2 – Common sense

Use your common sense! The social work exam is not just measuring factual recall; it is also assessing whether you think like a real-life practicing social worker. Always be asking yourself, “Does this answer make sense?” and “Would I do this in real life?” While there are a few exceptions, what would be practical and helpful is a very good guide for how to answer test questions.

3 – Manage your Anxiety

Anxiety is your worst enemy when sitting for your social work exam. It is vital that you find some ways to manage your anxiety so that it doesn’t manage you. First, accept the fact that you will be anxious. Like the weather, it is just a fact of life. What you do about the anxiety is what matters. Learn to counteract negative automatic thoughts (“I’m going to fail this exam for sure!”) with more positive, helpful thoughts (“This is hard, but I’m doing okay”). Practice relaxation breathing while completing questions. Develop a consistent strategy for approaching questions that will keep you feeling grounded. Seek out counseling if that will help.

4 – Never Leave a Question Blank

If you don’t know the answer to a question, it may be tempting to leave the question blank, however this is a very bad habit. In the real exam, you may forget that you left the question blank or not have time to go back and guess an answer, and there you are – a missed point. Instead, when (this is a WHEN, not an IF) you encounter a question you can’t answer, just guess. By guessing, you give yourself a 25% chance of getting the question right. Usually, you’re trying to pick between the two most likely answers, so guessing gives you a 50% of getting it right. Leaving the question blank gives you 0%. Flag the guessed answers so that they are easy to come back to, and if you have time at the end of the exam, go back and look at them again. If you don’t go back, there will still be an answer in the slot.

5 – Read the Question Stem First

The question stem is the last sentence in a vignette that actually asks the question. For example:

“Mary and Sam bring in their 15 year old son Todd because they say he is ‘out of control’ because he spends all of his time with friends, and doesn’t listen to their advice any more. Todd says that he thinks they are ‘being ridiculous’ and just need to ‘get over it.’ When the social worker meets with Todd alone, he denies drug and alcohol use and says that he just needs to be himself, ‘without my parents looking over my shoulder all of the time.’ What interventions might the social worker use with Mary and Sam?”

“What interventions might the social worker use with Mary and Sam?” is the question stem. Reading the stem first gives you an idea about what you’re looking for by reading the case. It can also tell you what you don’t have to pay a lot of attention to as well. In this situation, you know that the question is asking about interventions to use with Mary and Sam. Note that the question is NOT asking about Todd. Therefore, any answers that focus on Todd are automatically wrong. Interventions that focus on the entire family system are probably wrong. Therefore, you can focus your analysis on interventions that focus on Mary and Sam. By reading the question stem first, you can save a lot of unnecessary mental expenditure.

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