Becoming a Licensed Social Worker
If you’re looking for great books to help you with your social work test prep, you may be at a loss as to where to begin. Luckily, this guide should be able to help you with that. The first step you’ll want to take is to figure out which exam you’ll be taking.
Although all social work applicants take the ASWB exam, there are five different versions of the ASWB that prospective social workers will take at different levels throughout their careers.
The ASWB exam you’ll be taking will correlate to your degree/experience level. The levels are generally broken down into the following categories:
- Associate’s Level
- Bachelor’s Level
- Master’s Level
- Advanced Generalist
We’ll discuss this in a little more depth later on, but this should give you a quick idea of how it works. If you’ve recently earned your associate’s degree and are just getting into the social work field, you’ll be taking the first level of the ASWB exam. If you’ve recently earned your bachelor’s degree, you’ll take the second level of the exam and so on and so forth.
What is the ASWB?
ASWB literally stands for “Association of Social Work Boards,” which is the group that regulates and oversees the testing process for you to become a licensed social worker or a licensed social worker assistant at the associate’s level.
As discussed above, these are the exams you must take at each level of the career advancement process, and the test you take will correspond to the appropriate level of education and hours of hands-on experience that you have.
These aren’t tests like the SAT or ACT that anyone can take. If you don’t have the specific education and experience to back up the score, your test scores are useless.
What is the Exam Setup Like?
Whether you’re taking the level one exam or working on the highest level – level five – of the exam, the general setup is the same. Each exam measures the skills and knowledge in social work-specific content areas that a prospective social worker has gained. The four main topics covered on the exam include:
- Human Development, Diversity and Human Behavior in the Environment
- Assessment, Diagnosis, and Treatment Planning
- Professional Ethics and Values
- Psychotherapy, Clinical Interventions, and Case Management
There will also be questions concerning social and economic justice, which some people link in with the “professional ethics and values” section and others consider it to be a separate section altogether.
When speaking of the exam, though, you’ll hear most people refer to it as having “four main sections.”
There are 170 total questions on the exam. Of these 170 total questions, there will be 150 questions taken from the four main social work content areas. These 150 questions are the only ones that will be scored.
There are 20 additional questions sprinkled throughout the exam that won’t be scored. These are basic “data collection” questions that simply help rate how effective the exam is. All the questions are multiple-choice, and there are four answer selections for each question.
The test is administered electronically at multiple Pearson Professional Centers across the nation. Unlike many other licensing exams, there are no set dates when this exam is administered. Instead, you can register for it at any time by visiting the website and setting up an appointment. You’ll have four hours to take the exam.
All the exams are relatively similar. The only exception to this is the final exam, the ASWB LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) exam.
Although the layout for this one is the same as the others, the content is much more advanced than the material on any of the lower-level exams. Depending on which level of the exam you’re taking, a passing score could range anywhere from a 90 to a 107 at the higher ends.
What are the Different Exam Levels?
Associate’s Level ASWB
You’ll take the first level of the exam after earning your two-year associate’s degree in social work or a related field. If you successfully pass the exam, you won’t be a licensed social worker because all states require at least a bachelor’s degree or higher for that, but you can become a licensed social worker assistant.
This will legally allow you to work in social work fields alongside licensed social workers, but you won’t be able to manage cases yourself.
It’s important to note that not all states offer this exam or recognize it as being a true license. For that reason, this may not necessarily be the first exam you take when you initially sign up for the ASWB. It’s very possible that you’ll start at the bachelor’s level instead.
Bachelor’s Level ASWB
Once you complete your bachelor’s (four-year) program in social work, you’ll take the second level of the exam. If you pass the exam, this will give you LBSW (Licensed Bachelor of Social Work) licensure, and in many states, you’ll be able to become an actual social worker with this particular license.
There are still some states, though, that require a higher level of education before they’ll allow you to become a social worker.
Master’s Level ASWB
Once you’ve completed your master’s degree in social work and have gained several hundred hours of experience in the field, you’ll be able to take the third level of the ASWB test to become an LMSW (Licensed Master of Social Work).
Some states also refer to this as an LGSW (Licensed Graduate of Social Work) instead. The majority of states, excepting only a very few, will now recognize you as a licensed social worker at this level. A few states, like California for instance, still require higher licensure requirements.
Licensed Master of Social Work – Advanced Generalist
This is the most advanced license you can achieve before moving into the field of clinical social work. It requires the same level of education as the last degree (master’s) but in addition to all the hours earned for the LMSW certification, this license requires at least two years of additional, nonclinical, supervised practice. Specific states may have even more stringent requirements for taking and passing this exam.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
If you want to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), you must take the final ASWB exam. It’s the hardest, most thorough of all the exams. This level of certification is mostly for people who want to run their own practices to diagnose mental health disorders, provide clinical assessments and establish interventions.
To be able to earn this licensure, you must have at least 4,000 hours of supervised clinical practice. You can achieve this license with only a master’s degree, but many people choose to pursue their doctoral degrees when gaining this license.
The information above is general information when getting ready to take one of the ASWB exams, but it’s also extremely important that you check out your state’s requirements to become a licensed social worker.
Each state has its own slight variations on what you must do to become a social worker in that state, so it’s important to check out your state’s specific regulations before moving forward. This is a great place for checking out the core requirements of becoming a social worker in each state.
How Can Social Work Test Prep Books Help Me Prepare?
If you’re getting ready to take the ASWB exam, especially if it’s your first time taking it, you may not really know how to approach studying for it on your own. That’s where social work test prep guides can be very helpful. Most of the study guides are divided by level, so you can find the book that correlates to exactly where you are in your licensing journey.
The best guides will provide you with a lot of great information about the exam process itself. They’ll discuss strategies for making the most of your time, and they’ll give you a lot of helpful test-taking tips and tricks.
Finally, these guides will help break the subject matter down into easy-to-navigate, logical sections. They’ll take you through all the subjects that will be covered on the exam, but they’ll do it in a way that makes it easy for you to go right to the subjects you need help with the most.
A lot of the best social work test prep guides also include practice exams. These are mini or full-length exams that mirror closely what the actual exam is going to be like. You can set a timer for yourself, sit down and take these exams and get a pretty good idea of how you might do on the actual ASWB exam.
The answer guides usually provide you with in-depth explanations on why something is right or wrong, as well. That can be helpful when you miss questions because it’ll help you see where you went wrong.
Best LBSW Exam Prep Guides
Test Prep Books is a company that’s known for supplying great, comprehensive test prep guides at relatively reasonable prices. This one is no exception.
The book is broken down into easy-to-navigate sections so you can jump directly to the area you want to study. The beginning of the guide features an overview of what will be covered in it, some test-taking strategies, and an introduction that tells you all about the test itself. Then the book provides you with a study plan to help you use your time wisely, which is a nice addition that some guides don’t have.
The content sections make up the bulk of this guide. Each of the four main sections that’ll be covered on the test is included. Each one is broken down into smaller subsections that break the content into something that feels more manageable.
As a reminder, the main topics any good ASWB guide should cover are:
- Professional Values and Ethics
- Psychotherapy, Clinical Interventions, and Case Management
- Assessment, Diagnosis, and Treatment Planning
- Human Development, Diversity and Human Behavior in the Environment
- Social and Economic Justice (either by itself or as part of the Professional Values and Ethics section)
At the end of each of the four main sections, there are several practice questions. These come with detailed answer explanations that allow you to see what the correct answer is and why that answer is right.
You should be aware that there’s no full-length practice exam in this guide. If you’re the type of student who needs to take a full-length exam to feel confident going into the real exam, you might want to check out one of the other books on the list.
This LBSW exam prep guide is put out by Dawn Apgar, Ph.D. She’s a licensed social worker herself, so she has taken the ASWB exams at every stage and has in-depth knowledge of their content and format.
Her books are some of the absolute best when it comes to preparing for the ASWB. You’ll find more of her books in the following sections, and each one is just as good as this one.
This guide focuses specifically on the types of questions you’ll find on the bachelor ASWB exam. The guide features an impressive 340 questions! As long as you purchase the guide from the original seller, you’ll also have free access to the app, which gives you all the same great information in a digital, on-the-go form.
The guide starts out with a self-assessment that’ll help you identify your areas of strength and weakness. This is a common tool in the Apgar books, and you’ll see it in all of her guides at each level of the exam process.
There’s a comprehensive, in-depth review on each of the four main sections of the exam, complete with multiple practice questions at the end of each section.
There’s also an additional book included with this study guide. It features a full-length, 170-question practice exam. You can time yourself taking the test and get a pretty good feel for how ready you are for the real thing.
The answer explanation section is also quite extensive. It explains why the correct answers are correct and where you might have messed up if you answered incorrectly.
The included app is also full of great study material. It’s user-friendly and has an interface that’s simple to operate. Between the study guide, the practice test book, and the free app, you should definitely be armed with enough knowledge to pass this exam on the first try.
When it comes to finding affordable social work exam prep guides, Trivium is one of the best options. They put out really great test prep guides for almost any high school and college exam imaginable, and they sell them at prices that even broke college kids can afford.
As a former broke college kid myself, I relied on Trivium for these affordable guides. This particular guide has a nice selection of practice questions that are entirely relevant to the material that’ll be on the actual exam.
Best of all, it features one full-length practice exam for you to use to time yourself and get a real feel for what the exam will be like. Both the practice questions and the practice exam come with an answer key that features thorough, in-depth explanations of the answers and why they are correct.
The only real downside to this exam is that there isn’t a breakdown of strategies and test-taking tips specific to the ASWB exam. Many other social work test prep guides feature a section like this, usually towards the beginning of the book. This one doesn’t, but it almost makes up for that with the full-length practice test and the affordability. It also has a glossary of common test-taking terms and relevant vocabulary in the back.
Best LMSW Exam Prep Guides
1. Masters Social Work Exam Secrets Study Guide: ASWB Test Review for the Association of Social Work Boards Exam
This is the first of two social work test prep Mometrix guides you’ll see in the best LMSW exam prep guides section, and both of them are great choices.
This one features easy-to-read summaries of each of the four areas of the test and a ton of practice questions for each section. The guide starts out with an in-depth overview of the ASWB exam, including its layout and the content it covers. From then, it moves directly into the four content sections.
The four content sections are broken down into much smaller, much more precise subsections, and the knowledge included in these subsections is incredibly specific and thorough.
Just as an example, in the human development, behavior, and diversity section, you’ll find information on systems theory, Freudian vs. Neo-Freudian approaches, and Erikson’s psycho-social Stages, all broken down into their own sections.
The book also gives you a complete look at the vocabulary, principles, procedures, and concepts that the ASWB (the board, not the exam) expects its prospective social workers to have mastered before sitting for the exam.
This is another of the Dawn Apgar books. As a reminder, Apgar holds a Ph.D. and is a licensed social worker. She’s also a social work educator, so she’s been a part of the field of social work at just about every possible level – student, practitioner, and educator. It gives her great insight into the exam, and that shows in her guides.
This particular guide features all kinds of great information like test-taking strategies, tips for studying for the exam, an overview of the exam layout, and more.
The four main sections of the exam are covered in excellent detail in this guide, with plenty of examples and explanations for students to review. There’s also a full-length practice exam that includes 170 questions very similar to the ones you’ll see on the real exam.
The book also includes the standard Apgar self-assessment that should help you identify your strengths and weaknesses as they pertain to the various exam sections.
As long as you buy the guide from the original seller on Amazon, you’ll also get six months’ free access to ExamPrepConnect, which includes all the material from the guide and more.
There’s a personalized study plan, lessons and flashcards, timed practice tests, and even discussion boards to help you connect with other students just like you who are currently preparing for this exam. (Note: The seller cannot guarantee you’ll get access to this if you buy the book used or from a third-party seller.)
This is the second Mometrix guide in this section, and it covers a lot of the same great information as the first guide. I wanted to mention this one as well, though, because it also comes with even more.
Throughout this social work test prep guide, you’ll find links mixed in with the material. These links will direct you to additional online material in the form of step-by-step video tutorials that’ll really help bring the content home.
In addition to all the things listed in the other guide (the four content section reviews, the numerous practice questions, etc.), there are also sections in this guide that’ll give you plenty of test-taking tips specific to taking the ASWB. There are study strategies for maximizing your time, and there are breakdowns of the vocabulary and technical terms that often mess students up while taking the exam.
If you plan on buying both of these Mometrix guides, you should be aware that there may be some overlap in the questions, but the guides are by no means exactly the same. You could easily benefit from one or the other of them, or you could go for both and get extra practice.
Best Advanced Generalist ASWB Study Guides
I’ve only included one entry in the advanced generalist section because this is the only set of books you’ll need.
It should come as no surprise that it’s another Dawn Apgar set, and just like the ones listed above, that means the guides are written by an actual licensed social worker who sat for the exams herself.
Her personal, hands-on knowledge of the exam shines through brightly on every page of these guides. These are, hands-down, the best guides available if you’re preparing for the advanced generalist exam level.
Like most of the other Apgar entries on the list, this one is a two-book set. There’s the study guide, and then there’s the practice test book.
Also like the other Apgar sets on the list, as long as you buy this from the original seller, you’ll gain free access to the app that enhances your study experience. Between the study guide and the app, you’ll have access to over 335 questions from every core content section of the exam.
The guide also comes with the standard self-assessment to help you figure out which areas you need to spend more time with and in which areas you’re fairly strong already.
There are sections on test-taking tips, overcoming test anxiety, and avoiding pitfalls that the other Apgar books have, and the set also comes with the practice test book, which features a full-length practice exam with detailed answer explanations.
In all the ways that matter, this guide is just like the other Apgar guides, but this one is tailored specifically to fit the needs of students taking the advanced generalist exam.
Best LCSW Exam Prep Guides
This is one of the best LCSW exam prep guide sets I’ve been able to find.
Both books are extremely comprehensive, and they don’t have much in the way of “cons” to them, although you might run across a few misspelled words in the printing that can be irritating to some people. This is another Dawn Apgar test prep set, and I won’t waste any more time reminding you of her credentials.
The reviews for this set are off-the-charts good, with multiple reviewers claiming these guides helped them pass the exam on their first attempts. This is due in large part to the comprehensive nature of the study guides.
The main study guide has complete, in-depth sections on each of the four major components of the exam. There are also sections on how to read and interpret the questions, how to avoid common pitfalls, and how to overcome test-taking anxiety.
The guide also features the aforementioned self-assessment to help you determine in which sections of the exam you’re the strongest and in which sections you’re the weakest.
The second book in the set is an actual ASWB clinical practice test. It’s a full-length test comprised of 170 questions that are just like the ones you’ll find on the actual exam. The detailed answer section in the back will help you understand where you went wrong on the questions you missed, and there’s another section to help you learn strategies and test-taking tips for passing the exam on your first try.
The score evaluation will help guide you towards your next steps or let you know that you’re ready for the exam. As long as you buy the books from the Dawn Agner seller store, you’ll also get access codes to the free online/app material that’s included.
If you’re looking for a clinical exam prep book that features a good mixture of everything – studying tips, numerous challenge questions, test-taking strategies, detailed answer explanations, etc. – this guide has it.
There are multiple questions that span all four of the content areas on the ASWB exam. Each particular section features a comprehensive review at the end, and many reviewers of the book have claimed that the practice questions are the closest they’ve ever found to the ones on the actual exam.
The biggest complaint I have with this social work test prep guide is that it doesn’t come with a full-length practice test. It’s true that the practice question section is extensive, and there’s a lot of great information to be found there, but many students just don’t feel comfortable taking an actual exam unless they’ve taken a practice test first. You won’t find that in this book.
This is another guide put out by Mometrix. It’s not exactly a true study guide. It doesn’t feature the introduction to the exam, test-taking tips, and study strategies that most other study guides include.
There also aren’t any review sections of the content areas. If you’re looking for a true study guide with that kind of information in it, this is not the book for you.
If you’re looking for a book that’s simply about practice questions and answers, though, this is exactly the book for you. It’s over 100 pages of nothing but practice questions with detailed answer explanations.
This is a great resource if you’ve done all the studying you can possibly do and just want to test your knowledge before taking the exam. There’s also a kindle version available that’s a lot less expensive than the hard copy.
To Sum It All Up
When you first start looking at the rules, regulations, and steps to take to become a licensed social worker in your state, you may feel a little overwhelmed. If that’s what you’re feeling, try to relax.
Take a deep breath, and remember that there are all kinds of great resources out there to help you break this stuff down easily step by step.
If you’re getting ready to take the ASWB exam, your first objective is to figure out which level of the exam you’ll be taking. Once you’ve done that, finding some great social work test prep guides to help you study won’t be difficult at all.
There are a lot of options out there, but hopefully, this guide has helped you narrow down your focus to some of the very best ones.
As a final note, you’ll notice I didn’t include any exams for people taking the associate’s level exam. That’s because it’s really hard to find a study guide specific to that level, and if you do happen to run across one, they aren’t always high-quality.
If you’re taking the first level of the exam, my advice to you is to pick up one of the bachelor study guides instead.
According to the ASWB’s own candidate handbook, both the material and the content outline of the bachelor’s and associate’s exams are the same. If anything, the bachelor’s level guides should help over-prepare you for what you’d need to know for the associate’s level exam.
If you decide to track down a guide specifically for the first-level exam, make sure it’s from a reputable company and check out the reviews before you buy it, especially if it’s expensive.
Hopefully, this list has given you a few great places to get started in your social work test prep journey. Best of luck with your upcoming exams!