All About The Social Worker Certification Exam

The social worker certification exam is the exam that you need to take once you have finished your studies in order to become licensed. Social work certification or licensure is necessary in order to minimize abuse perpetrated in the name of social work and to ensure that proper counseling is only given by those practitioners who are qualified to do so. Licensure weeds out those who are not dedicated to the betterment of society and guarantees the existence and continued of the social work industry as a whole.

There are essentially two main types of social workers: clinical social workers diagnose and treat behavioral, mental, and emotional issues and direct-service social workers help people solve problems they experience in their everyday lives and teach them how to cope. Some positions requiring only a Bachelor’s degree whilst others require a Master’s degree. Licensure is required for clinical social workers.

While most states have some type of licensure or certification requirements, licensure varies by state. Becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker generally requires a Master’s Degree in social work, and 3,000 hours or 2 years of supervised clinical experience and requires the individual to sit for the social worker certification exam in order to gain licensure.

Licensure is provided by the Association of Social Work Boards. ASWB develops and maintains four types of social work licensure examinations:

  • Bachelors – The basic test for social workers who have attained a Bachelor of Social Work degree but have no post-degree experience.
  • Masters – This is a generalist test for social workers with a Master’s Degree and no post-degree experience.
  • Advanced Generalist – This is a more advanced test and is taken by social workers who have a Master’s Degree and have completed a minimum of two years of post-degree experience in non-clinical settings.
  • Clinical – This is an advanced social worker certification exam taken by social workers who have a Master’s Degree and have completed at least 2 years post-degree experience in a direct clinical practice setting.

Each of the above levels has questions that are specifically designed for use at that level only and a specific content outline with a percentage of questions assigned to each content area. More information on this can be found in the ASWB Candidate Handbook.

You will need to contact the board in the state in which you wish to practice to ascertain which categories of licensure are applicable to that state, as not all states use all four categories of licensure.Social Worker Certification Exam

The social worker certification exam for each category contains 170 four-option multiple choice questions, which are specifically designed to measure the minimum competencies in four categories of practice. Out of the 170 questions, only 150 will count towards your score; the other twenty questions are what are referred to as “pretest” items and are included in order to test their effectiveness for possible use in future examinations. The pretest questions are scattered randomly throughout the tests. Candidates are allowed four hours in which to complete the exam, which is an electronic examination.

There are no fixed dates for exams, and candidates that wish to sit for the social worker certification exam must go to the Pearson VUE’s website to schedule a time to sit for the examination as one of the Pearson Professional Centers that are distributed throughout the U.S. Many jurisdictions can make special arrangements for those candidates whose first language is not English, and there are also special accommodations available for candidates with disabilities.

How to Register for the Social Worker Certification Exam

  • In order to register to take the examination you require approval from your board.
  • You will need to check with your jurisdiction’s social work board, and check your candidate handbook.
  • You can check your board’s website in order to access the contact listings within your jurisdiction.
  • Once you have your board’s permission to register for the test you can approach ASWB by telephone or you can register online There is a fully-detailed explanation of the registration process in the ASWB Candidate Handbook
  • Once you have registered with ASWB you will be able to make an online appointment to be tested at a Pearson VUE test site. This can be done approximately 24 hours after registration in order to allow ASWB and its testing vendor time to transfer and check your data.
  • Should you not successfully pass your social worker certification exam the first time round you can re-take the exam after waiting at least ninety days. This delay is meant to allow you time to increase your knowledge on the portions of the exam where you scored the least. Each item on the exam targets specific skill, knowledge or ability, and are designed to measure a candidate’s knowledge, skills, and abilities relevant to safe social work practice.
  • It is imperative that candidates for the exam fully understand the exam’s mechanics and intent, and pay attention to the qualifying words such as “FIRST” or “NEXT”, or “MOST likely,” “MOST appropriate,  or “BEST” as these are very important.
  • Conduct an honest appraisal of your strengths and weaknesses prior to retaking the test and put some extra work and study into your areas of weakness in order to build them up and you should have no problem passing the test the second time around.

Candidates for the social worker certification exam must note that as of January 1, 2012, the Association of Social Work Boards implemented a new content outline for the Advanced Generalist Examination as the result of a practice analysis completed in 2009. The next scheduled changes to the ASWB examinations will most probably be made in 2015, as per content contained in the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which will be published in May 2013.

Short Pointers Regarding The ASWB Social Worker Certification Exam

  • Re-taking the exam: the amount of times that you will be allowed to retake the exam is determined by your state’s social work licensing board.
  • National Passing Score: the score that you get on your examination is a national passing score, but this does not mean that you are automatically licensed. Each state has its own licensing processes and some states require additional steps, so it is best to always check with the board in the state in which you wish to practice what their licensing requirements are.
  • Scores are not given: as licensing boards are only interested in whether you passed or not, not by how many points, you will only be given a pass or fail, not detailed scaled scores. You will, however receive details on the number of questions that you answered correctly.
  • Pass marks in various states: Although some states require a score of 70 as a pass mark and others require 75, it is not easier to pass in one state than in another, as this is just two ways of reporting the same thing. ASWB translates passing scores into the scoring “language” of a particular state, hence the score being reported as pass or fail and not in points. This means that if you passed in a jurisdiction that requires a 70 as a pass mark you will also have passed in one that requires a 75 as a pass rate. In other words, passing the minimum score, whether 70 or 75, indicates the same level of performance on the social worker certification exam.
  • Result Reviews: Examination results can be reviewed for a fee of $50, but be warned that since testing began in 1998 no review has ever resulted in a changed score.

It is highly recommended that candidates for the social worker certification exam take one or more of the free practice tests before attempting the real one to gain licensure. There are many sites on the Internet that provide practice tests and other forms of help for those preparing to get their licensure. Some of the sites use online practice test software that is incompatible with Google Chrome, so you may have to use Internet Explorer or Firefox. These practice tests help a lot as they give you an idea of what type of questions to expect in the exam and thereby enable you to prepare adequately so that you can pass the licensure examination first time.

There are also many sites that offer one-on-one tutoring for those preparing for their social worker certification exam. If you are not sure that you are adequately prepared or have already taken the test and failed to master it, then it may be in your best interests to engage a tutor or coach to assist you to get through the exam study process. This tutoring can be done face-to-face, via e-mail, phone, chat-rooms and Skype. If this type of one-on-one assistance is not for you then there are also various tutoring packages that can be accessed on the Internet in order to prepare you for your social worker certification exam.

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