Social Work

How to Prepare for the LCSW Exam

How to Prepare for the LCSW Exam
If you are advancing your career as a social worker, you know that this field is challenging and demanding. Image from Unsplash
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Noodle Staff January 10, 2019

Allow Noodle to explain what to expect when you take the AWSB LCSW exam and how to prepare for it the best ways possible.

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The Licensed Clinical Social Worker Exam is the key to many job opportunities in the field of social work. Required exams vary depending on the state, but all states require licensed clinical social workers to pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Clinical Level exam.

If you are advancing your career as a social worker, you know that this field is challenging and demanding. The LCSW exam is designed to ensure that you are ready to meet those demands before you are granted a license. It’s not impossible to pass the LCSW exam, but it is difficult to do well if you do not prepare.

Here you will find an explanation of what to expect when you take the ASWB LCSW exam, and you will learn how to prepare for it in the best way possible.

What is the ASWB LCSW exam?

Most licensed professions are required to take exams in order to get their specific licenses. Social work’s version of this is provided by the Association of Social Work Boards. The ASWB LCSW exam is required in every state in the U.S., the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and some provinces in Canada in order to obtain a Licensed Clinical Social Worker certificate.

There are five categories of social work licensure exams available, but not every state offers all of these exam categories. Each jurisdiction has its own requirements. You will need to check with your state’s board to see which exams are right for you.

The five categories include Associate, Bachelor’s, Master’s, Advanced Generalist, and Clinical. The exam you will need to take will depend on the license you are trying to get. However, for this article, you will be given steps to prepare for the Clinical exam.

It can be intimidating to take a test when you don’t know what to expect, but the exam itself is set up to be a fair assessment of your knowledge. In fact, in 2017, the first-time LCSW exam pass rate for the 16,045 tests administered was 78.4%. As a whole, though, many of those first-time passers said that without solid time and effort put into LCSW exam prep, they might not have earned passing scores.



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Preparing for the LCSW exam: What to expect

Researching how to prepare for the LCSW exam can be overwhelming. In this article, we will give you a step-by-step breakdown of what you can expect to see on the test and the best ways to prepare.

Step 1. Begin the steps to register for the test. In order to take this test, you will have to sign up with the Department of Regulations. They will provide you with a large packet of information. The forms you need to fill out only consist of a few pages of that packet, however, so don’t be overwhelmed. If you make a mistake, they will let you know and give you the opportunity to fix it before your test.

You should note, however, that this process will not be complete overnight. Don’t wait to sign up with the Department of Regulations until after you have already started studying. Once your forms are submitted, you will have three years to register for and take the exam — so it’s best to sign up first.

Step 2. Request disability accommodations if necessary. If you will be requiring accommodations on your exam, you will need to submit additional paperwork. Accommodation requests take time to process, so get started early. The testing centers where the exam is offered usually give students basic booths with a quiet environment, though these are not distraction-free. Accommodations for disabilities may include extended time, a small private (distraction free) room, and opportunities to stretch.

Step 3. Find local or online LCSW prep courses. Many people ask, “Is the LCSW exam difficult?” The answer is, it is only difficult if you don’t prepare. Luckily, there are many free or inexpensive ASWB LCSW exam prep courses available. You should definitely sign up for one of these courses; preparing entirely on your own will add additional unnecessary stress.

Step 4. Register for the test. The ASWB LCSW must be completed at a Pearson VUE testing center. When you are ready to schedule your test, simply call the testing center or go online and register. The current cost of the Clinical exam is $260. Some states will require you to take another exam prior to receiving your license. For example, if you live in California, you will also need to take and pass the LCSW Law and Ethics exam.

What does the LCSW test look like?

The LCSW exam is four hours long, and features 170 multiple choice questions. Twenty of these questions are pre-test questions, which means they will not count against you. They are simply experimental — that is, being weighed for use on future tests.

LCSW exam questions: Each exam offered by the ASWB is set up in a similar format. They all contain 170 four-option, multiple-choice questions that measure competencies in each of the four areas of social work:

• I. Human Development, Diversity, and Behavior in the Environment (24% of the test)
• II. Assessment, Diagnosis and Treatment Planning (30% of the test)
• III. Psychotherapy, Clinical Interventions and Case Management (27% of the test)
• IV. Professional Ethics and Values (19% of the test)

You can download the content outline, which summarizes the content that you should know for each tested area, here.

How to prepare for the LCSW exam

LCSW test prep courses and books are available just about anywhere. It is highly recommended that you join a local or online course, take timed practice exams online, and study from multiple sources before you take your test.

Some sources that you can choose from to help you prepare include:

As you can see, your options for information and exam prep are extensive. As long as you find a source that is reputable, your preparation will pay off and you will gain the confidence and knowledge needed to pass the LCSW exam.

Preparation is the key to success in the ASWB LCSW exam

While stressing over an exam is never recommended, the LCSW exam is not something that you should take lightly. Proper preparation for the LCSW will help you develop your understanding of the concepts necessary to become a successful licensed clinical social worker.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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