How To Prepare For A Social Work Exam

Earning a social work license can allow you to begin your social work career. Learn more about the licensure exam here.

Updated September 16, 2022

Edited by Veronica Freeman
How To Prepare For A Social Work Exam

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Studying for Social Work Licensure

Candidates for social work licensure must meet education and examination requirements. Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) need at least a master's degree. However, licensed social workers (LSWs) in some states need only a bachelor's degree. Licensure candidates must pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam and a state-specific ethics exam. Candidates must also undergo a criminal background check.

Aspiring LSWs and LCSWs can study independently or take an exam-preparation class. Individuals can access many free and low-cost exam-prep resources online. This guide provides links to study guides and explores the process of obtaining licensure for social workers.

What Is Social Work Licensure?

The social work licensure process ensures that LSWs and LCSWs provide quality service. Master's degree-holders can take ASWB's master's, advanced generalist, and clinical exams. Recent graduates can take the master's exam. The latter two exams require at least two years of supervised work experience.

After submitting an initial license application with their state, candidates sign up for an exam. ASWB exams take place at authorized Pearson VUE testing centers. Questions vary by exam. The master's exam covers human development, assessment and intervention, and professional relationships. Candidates who pass the ASWB exam and state ethics exam submit scores to their state licensure board. Application processing times vary.

LSWs and LCSWs should research their state's social work licensure renewal requirements. California LCSWs must earn 18 continuing education credit hours during their first two-year renewal cycle. Later renewals require 36 credit hours.

Frequently Asked Questions About Social Work Licensure



What's the difference between an LSW and an LCSW?

LSWs work with clients in nonclinical settings and perform more administrative tasks than LCSWs. LCSWs need additional education and training and can provide more client services than LSWs.

What qualifications does a social worker need?

Some entry-level positions require only a bachelor's degree in social work. However, aspiring LCSWs need a master's degree and supervised experience.

Can you get an LSW without a master's?

In many states, LSWs need only a bachelor's degree. These social work licensure candidates must pass an ASWB examination and their state's ethics examination.

What is the highest level of social work licensing?

The LCSW credential is the highest level of social work licensing. LCSWs can work for themselves, while other social workers must work for an employer.

Social Work Licensure Exam

Each social work licensure exam features unique costs and questions. The following section discusses the master's exam. Recent graduates take this exam to enter the social work field and gain the experience necessary to obtain LCSW licensure. Candidates should consult the ASWB website for the latest details.

1. LSW Exam Length

Like all ASWB exams, the computer-based master's exam lasts four hours. The exam does not pause for breaks, which individuals may request by raising their hand. Test-takers may only use the restroom closest to the testing room. Pearson VUE requires test-takers to carry their photo ID when visiting the restroom.

2. LSW Exam Questions

The master's exam features 170 multiple-choice questions. However, 20 questions spread throughout the exam do not affect the final score. The exam covers many content areas in four social work domains. Questions assess test-takers' knowledge of basic human needs, medical terminology, evidence-based practices, and service delivery methods.

Social work licensure candidates can increase their chance of passing on the first try by studying with the ASWB content outlines guide.

3. LSW Exam Cost

As of March 2022, ASWB charges $230 each for the associate, bachelor's, and master's exams. The advanced generalist and clinical exams cost $260 each. ASWB accepts major credit cards and waives exam fees for specific groups.

4. LSW Exam Registration

Exam-takers first create an ASWB online account. Candidates answer demographic and exam-eligibility questions. Individuals should ensure their photo ID and exam registration form use the same name. After paying, candidates receive an exam authorization form and select their testing location and time.

5. What to Bring to the LSW Exam

Test-takers must bring two forms of identification, such as a driver's license or passport. Pearson VUE provides a locker for prohibited items, including cell phones, coats, and jewelry. Test-takers may also leave these items in their car. Pearson VUE allows comfort aids in the testing area, including mobility devices, earplugs, and tissues.

Social Work Practice Exams and Prep

Additional Resources for Social Workers

Aspiring social workers and licensed professionals use ASWB resources, including exam-preparation guides and professional development classes. The ASWB website features information on the association's work to improve the social work profession nationwide. Social workers can join a committee to contribute to ASWB's mission. Social Work Today provides readers with the latest research and news. Recent articles cover legislation, self-employment, and ethics. The publication offers some free articles. Additional resources include links to top outside organizations. As of March 2022, a three-year digital and print subscription costs $40. The New Social Worker appeals to graduate school applicants, job-seekers, and professionals looking to improve their skills. Blog posts discuss entering the workforce in an economic downturn, applying to leadership positions, and performing self-care. Readers can stay up to date by following The New Social Worker on social media. Students, LSWs, and LCSWs can join NASW to access legal resources, publication subscriptions, and continuing education classes. Members also receive free ethics consultations and can join local chapters. NASW uses membership dues to advocate for social workers at the federal level. Nonmembers can use the association's job board. SocialWorkersToolBox.com offers free resources on childhood adoption, drug abuse, mental health, and parenting. The website features free books to help young children stay safe online, overcome anger issues, and build healthy family and peer relationships. These books do not require an account to view or download. Housed within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, SAMHSA provides resources to social work professionals and people needing help. LSWs and LCSWs can apply for an SAMHSA grant to improve their private practice or perform research. SAMHSA offers practitioner training on technical assistance, suicide prevention, and rural opioid technical assistance.

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