In many states, if you want to become a licensed master social worker (LMSW), then you need to pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Clinical licensing exam. Known for its rigor, this exam determines whether or not you can practice clinical social work in your state. The exam usually consists of 170 questions and depending on which version of the exam you get, you’ll need anywhere between 90 to 107 correct answers to pass it. However, there are many resources available online to help with your ASWB exam prep.

LMSW Definition

If you already know this information because you’re already planning to take the ASWB exam, then skip ahead to the next three sub-headings. For those just beginning to explore social work as a career path, this information will be valuable.

In most states in the US, you can become a Licensed Bachelor of Social Work if you earn your BSW from a school accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). For that, you need to demonstrate thorough field knowledge in ten competencies the CSWE lists as necessary to gain licensure. Yet, as the name implies, to become a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW), you need an MSW degree. Earning your BSW gets you training in generalist social work practice, but pursuing an MSW opens opportunities for specialized skills and training.

But getting your MSW does not mean you have gained your LMSW. One is a degree, the other is a license. The benefits of getting your LMSW include:

  • Ability to open your own private practice
  • More career options
  • Higher wages
  • Greater professional accountability and regulation to social work’s Code of Ethics
  • Title protection
  • More opportunities to work in policy reform

Furthermore, earning your LMSW qualifies you then to pursue becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), if you so choose. That comes with additional benefits and responsibilities, but that’s a topic for another blog.

Format of the Exam

The exam includes the four following sections:

  • Human development, diversity, and behavior in the environment
  • Interventions with clients and client systems
  • Assessment and intervention planning
  • Professional relationships, values, and ethics

As you might expect, each section covers roughly 25% of the exam.

The exam consists of 170 multiple choice questions answered over 4 hours. Of those 170, 20 of those questions will be unscored, serving as test questions for ASWB to possibly use in future exams. But they do not tell you which questions will not be scored, so take each one seriously. Also, the tests are not monolithic. Not everyone takes the same test. For that reason, you need between 90 to 107 correct answers to pass the exam.

ASWB Exam Prep Tips

Consider the following:

  • Nerves – If you’re nervous, take the advice you give to your clients so often. Take deep breaths and make sure you do something that makes you feel good the day before.
  • Registration – On the day of the exam, you’ll need to provide two forms of ID, have your picture taken, and relent all electronic devices. Some places may even require you to have your palm scanned. We tell you this now so it won’t throw you.
  • Time management – Most people believe four hours was more than enough time. So use it well! This means you’ll have an hour per section. If you notice you’re moving much faster than that pace, then feel free to double-check your answers.
  • Breaks – Do not count on scheduled breaks. They don’t have them for the entire 4-hour period of the exam. You can use the bathroom and stretch, but that counts as part of the 4 hours.
  • Ethics and Values – Nearly every resource will tell you to pay particular attention to the ethics and values that inform social work practice during your study. Although each exam section listed above covers roughly 1/4 of the exam, knowing the values has the most weight.
  • Correct answers – Since you don’t know how many correct answers you need in order to pass, don’t let that occupy your mind.
  • Letter of the Day – Before the exam, pick a “Letter of the Day,” whether that’s A, B, C, or D. If you have no clue what the answer could be on a certain question, select the letter you chose.
  • Acronyms – Learn all the helpful acronyms you can.
  • DO NOT CRAM – Do not cram for the exam! It’s far more beneficial mentally that you get at least 7 hours of sleep the night before than if you get only 3 or 4 because you spent the night studying.
  • 5 Minute Rule – If you’re the type of person who likes to review everything before taking an exam, I suggest you plan to give yourself a mental break from that at least 5 minutes before you go to take the exam. That break can help your mind settle, and can help your recall.

ASWB Exam Prep Resources

Finally, there are a ton of online tools, helps, and resources available to you to help you in your ASWB exam prep. Here’s just a few you should consider:

  • Social Work ASWB Masters Exam Guide – Perhaps the most valuable resource we can list. This guide includes everything you need to know about the exam and how to prepare for it. It also includes a full 170 question practice test, as well explanations for the correct answers.
  • ASWB MSW Practice Exam App – Available for iPhone and Android, this app includes 800 practice questions according to the 4 sections of the exam.
  • Resources at ASWB – Believe it or not, ASWB does not want you to fail. They have plenty of resources on their website. If you can have a conversation about the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities, then you can pass the test.
  • If you feel you need more help, STUDY provides multiple online practice tests.

With these ASWB exam prep resources and the tips above, you can be certain you have all the tools you need to pass!

John Sherk

Master of Divinity (M.Div.) | Westminster Theological Seminary  (2020 Graduation)

Bachelor’s of Social Work, Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Bible | Cairn University

December 2019

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