Many social workers are intimidated by the use of theory and may wonder how theory applies to the social work exam. Theory helps us understand two basic concepts that apply to the social work exam and to social work itself: 1) how people develop problems 2) how to help them with their problems. Taking those two concepts into consideration, we are able to see that theory applies to the following content areas of the exams: 1) human growth and development 2) human behavior in the social environment 3) treatment planning and 4) interventions or psychotherapy (depending on your level of exam).
Understanding biology, brain function and anatomy, medication, and various forms of brain impairment are important areas of the exam with which to feel comfortable. Although this material is not the most emphasized area of the exam, it surfaces enough that you should plan to spend a considerable amount of time reviewing the material and increasing your knowledge and comfort with concepts in these domains. If you map what AATBS study sections encompass biological bases of behavior, it would include material from the following domains: psychopharmacology, physiological psychology, lifespan, and abnormal psychology. When you approach this material, know that many of the questions will be straightforward, relaying on memorization of concepts, terms, and theories.
One of the most problematic issues for many candidates taking the social work exam is the tendency to use “autopilot”. We all operate on autopilot much of the time and this mode of thinking can be very useful. After all, if you had to think carefully each time you tie your shoes, load the dishwasher or brush your teeth, you’d be mentally exhausted in no time! Autopilot lets us perform these overlearned behaviors with little or no mental effort required. However, autopilot is not a good way to approach your exam, and yet, many people use it much of the time.
To prepare for this exam, a candidate needs more than simply knowledge of the field; he or she also needs to have a very specific set of test-taking skills. Such skills include knowing how to interpret the various questions as well as the best practices for choosing the most likely answer. This article walks you through some of these skills and best practices.