Study Group

Study Group

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Help Studying for the Exam

This blog is designed to discuss both the written and the vignette LCSW exam for the State of California. Please feel free to contribute your thoughts or feelings about the exam. In this way everyone can learn together.

Some Comments About the Second Test:

Many people I supervise find the second test much harder. This is because the second test seeks to use the highest taxonomic level of cognitive skill which is evaluation (Osterlind, 1998).

Taxonomy refers to the classification of concepts, as well as to the principles underlying those classifications. In the second test you are required to apply principles you know when classifying answer elements as good or bad. In short, you must know the principles of social work practice, or core body of knowledge for social work, and then apply what you know to the vignettes.

This is the reason that many people who study very, very hard for the second test experience a reduction in their ability to evaluate which answers are correct. We often hear the compliant, “The more I have been studying for the vignette questions the worse I am scoring on the practice test.”

This is because vignette questions are asking something different from you. For this reason we have to focus our study differently. Obsessive study methods focused on memory and recall that paid off for many test takers who passed the first BBS exam can lead to increased confusion and attraction to elements that are incorrect distracters when taking the test.

Don’t get us wrong, studying is good and there is a direct relationship between spending time studying for the test and passing (Hinrichsen, 1974).  Developing an understanding of the central principles of social work practice always plays a vital role in passing the Board Licensure Examination.  However, memorizing highly detailed material is as likely to impair your ability to isolate and choose the correct elements from various answer groups. We advise prospective test takers to keep things very simple by studying the central principles of social work practice when approaching the written vignette and then to practice applying those central principles.  In general, you should practice by taking practice tests that hone your skill at test-taking as opposed to studying for the test by reading or memorizing material.

Good preparation should include learning some very basic principles about risk assessment, cultural competence, ethics and law. The art of passing is applying these principles during the test to choose correct answers.  The reason even honor students aren't spared from failing in the Board Licensure Examination is that factors like rationalization, over-confidence, over-preparation, and anxiety can get in the way of making rational decisions during the exam. Most of us in the industry know that obsessive accumulation of detail can get in the way of reading the questions, assessing what the Board is asking for, and applying your knowledge to choose the correct answer.

Good results always favor those who had a good preparation. The trick in passing Board Licensure Examination is to understand that it will not rely entirely on how knowledgeable or intelligent you are. But you will increase your chances of passing if you develop a simple understanding of important principles over attempts to study everything you could see on the test.

It helps to have studied hard in college, it helps to have had a wide variety of clinical experiences and it clearly helps to have had great supervision. None of these is necessary to pass the test. However, if you do not have a good understanding of core subject material you have little chance of outsmarting the test.

Immerse yourself in practice test problems. Start with what you know and build on your current ability. It is not helpful to continue to retake practice questions where you are scoring 50% or less over and over. Most students feel overwhelmed when they retake practice exams they are failing consistently. If you are overwhelmed, focus on an area of strength and master it. If you feel weak at everything, choose one of the smaller content areas and work to understand it. (Ethics is a good starting point as you can read the entire ethics code in an hour).

Participation in this blog is free and we seek to make it as helpful as possible. It is a moderated blog meaning I or another moderator review the content you write before posting it. I do this only to ensure accuracy. Your comments will not be filtered for being challenging or critical as long as they are respectful and accurate.

For more on the learning curve and the relationship between study and performance see the following.

Allen, G. J., Lerner, W. M., & Hinrichsen, J. J. (1972). Study behaviors and their relationships to test anxiety and academic performance. Psychological Reports, 30, 407-410.

Hinrichsen, J. J. (1974). Prediction of grade point average from estimated study behaviors, Psychological Reports, 31, 974.

Wagstaff, R., & Mahmoudi, H. (1976). Relation of study behaviors and employment to academic performance. Psychological Reports, 38, 380-382.


  1. I wish I would have read this before I took my second test.

  2. I just took this test after studying with and it was amazing. however i wish i would have read this sooner. i will be passing it on to others who could use it. thanks