About the Exam

The ASWB Exam is administered on five levels based upon an individual’s level of Social Work education and amount of Social Work experience.


The level of Exam that is required for licensure in a particular state depends on that state’s requirements. Each level of Exam is different; however, exams of the same level are identical in each state. There are multiple versions of each level of Exam. The five levels of Exam are:



Examination Level


Social Work Degree Required


Experience Required
















Advanced Generalist





2 years post-degree experience








2 years post-degree clinical experience


*Only a few states offer the Associates level exam 

The Exam contains 170 standard multiple choice format (4 answer choices) questions. Of the 170 questions, only 150 are actually scored; the remaining 20 questions are “pretest” items, which are included to measure their effectiveness as questions on future examinations. These pretest items are randomly scattered throughout the Exam and are not identified as “pretest” questions. Therefore, you should answer each question to the best of your ability and assume that each question is a graded question.


The Exam questions are designed to measure the minimum level of competency necessary for acceptable practice at each level. The Exam questions are designed to address actual issues, principles, and theories that arise in Social Work practices across a wide variety of settings.


You’ve done it once, you can do it again!


Some individuals experience a certain level of discomfort or intimidation by multiple choice exams even though they have taken dozens of multiple choice exams throughout their lives and PASSED!

Despite the common negative feelings about multiple choice exams, they prove themselves very useful in many situations, including this one. Multiple choice exams are intended to be objective measures of knowledge.  Multiple choice exams allow for standardization and consistency in scoring. Aside from the above, multiple choice exams can test a broad range of content and a wide range of knowledge and skills, from factual to analytical. The alternative formats of exam, including essays and short answers, target specific areas of knowledge. One can only imagine how many essays would be required to test an individual on the entire field of Social Work or even enough material to determine whether an individual possesses the minimum competence required to be a licensed social worker. As you know, Social Work embodies a broad range of concepts and is practiced over a wide variety of settings. It would be impossible to find essay topics that measure universal competence as a Social Work practitioner. An essay question based solely on clinical counseling techniques may provide an advantage for a Clinical Social Worker who employs those techniques on a daily basis, and may provide a disadvantage to a Social Worker with a practice focused on policy, for example. Further, an essay or other written form of exam can provide a distinct advantage to an individual with strong writing skills, and may provide a disadvantage to an individual with lesser writing skills.

This is not to suggest that written forms of exam do not have their benefits because, under the right circumstances, they do. Written forms of exam allow test writers to evaluate a test taker’s ability to express him/herself and communicate thoughts to others, which we know is critical in the Social Work profession.  Written forms of exam are also not as rigid as their objective counterparts, where answers are either right or wrong. A test taker may be very knowledgeable about a particular topic and could write a factually correct and well-reasoned response to a question yet still get the multiple choice answer to the question incorrect.

So, what’s your point?


The point of the above is not to discourage you and to point out some inherent unfairness in multiple choice exams.  The point is also not to convince you that multiple choice is the best format for this Exam.  The point is that multiple choice format exams are not only useful, but widely used, in many areas of testing.  If you reframe your thinking about multiple choice exams and spend the time and effort to master the basic skills, you will succeed on the Exam.  More times than not, you know the issue being tested, but are having difficulty identifying the answer because of the way you read and interpreted the question.  Or, you are allowing the answer choices to persuade you or steer you toward a certain incorrect answer or away from the correct answer.

Exam questions can be classified as either “Recall” questions, “Application” questions, or “Reasoning” Questions.



Types of Questions on the ASWB Exam





Requires answering the question based upon previously learned facts and theories without analysis or application to a given situation 





Requires taking previously learned knowledge about a certain fact, theory, concept, or principle, and applying it to a specific situation or scenario





Requires logic and reasoning. The Exam taker must take knowledge about a certain theory, concept, or principle, analyze it, and apply reasoning and judgment to determine the correct answer



The Bachelors and Masters Examinations focus on Recall and Application questions (although a limited number of Reasoning questions may also be asked). The Advanced Generalist and Clinical levels of the Exam contain all three types of questions: Recall, Application, and Reasoning.

The following are examples of the various types of questions:


Example of a Recall Question:

The ethical principle that requires Social Workers to maintain client information and not disclose it to third parties without the client’s informed consent is referred to as which of the following:

  • Privacy
  • Confidentiality
  • Privileged Communication
  • Core Value

As you can see, the Recall question is asking you to answer the question based on your recollection of certain information.  In this example, the Exam writer provides the definition of a certain ethical principle and asks you to identify the principle.  The correct answer to this question is Answer (B).


Example of an Application Question:

Providing information about a client’s treatment plan to an insurance company is:

  • An exception to confidentiality
  • A breach of privacy
  • An ethical violation
  • A waiver of privilege


An Application Question is asking you to recall certain information and apply it to a situation.  In this example, you first have to recall that, in general, providing certain information to a third party is a breach of confidentiality.  Next, you have to apply that information to the facts provided in the question stem to determine that information about a client’s treatment plan falls under the definition of confidential information and, therefore, disclosure to an insurance company is in violation of the ethical principle.  Accordingly, the correct answer is Answer (C).

Example of a Reasoning Question:

A Social Worker is contacted by a client’s wife.  The Social Worker has met this client’s wife on several occasions as she often will accompany her husband to sessions and wait for him in the waiting room.  The wife explains to the Social Worker that she is in the process of submitting a claim to the medical insurance company on her husband’s behalf and requests that the Social Worker fax a copy of her husband’s records to her.

In efforts to assist the client, the Social Worker’s BEST course of action is to:

  • Fax the administrative paperwork related solely to billing
  • Refuse to send a copy of the records because the records are confidential
  • Obtain the client’s informed consent to release the records to his wife
  • Allow the wife to pick up the information, but refuse to fax it to her because of the potential breach of security

Reasoning questions are a bit more complicated.  In this example, the Exam writers are asking you to recall the definition of confidentiality and information on how to handle requests for information by third parties.  The Exam writers are also asking you to apply that information to the facts provided in the question stem and use independent judgment to determine the correct answer.  In this question, you needed to know that a client’s records are confidential and cannot be disclosed to any third party, including a spouse, unless the client’s informed consent to release such information is obtained.  It is important that you read the question stem carefully.  The question specifically asked what the Social Worker should do “in efforts to assist the client.”  Accordingly, Answer (C) is the correct answer.  Answer (B) is technically correct, however, refusing to disclose the records would not help to assist the client.


How to prepare for the Exam


Social Work Study Hall was designed to be a comprehensive study resource for the ASWB exam.  Keep in mind, however, that there is no single resource that an individual can use to prepare for the Exam that will cover virtually every question and topic tested on the Exam. Study Hall does not attempt to address, nor does it represent that it addresses, every item that may appear on your Exam.  Instead, Study Hall provides content materials based upon the general topics provided by the ASWB Content Outlines.


The Exam is structured to test content areas and topics that should have been covered during the course of your education. Accordingly, if you encounter an issue or answer that you think is correct, but such issue was not addressed in this Social Work Guide, do not rule out the answer on that basis alone.


The best test preparation advice that can be provided to you is to prepare for the Exam actively. Do not attempt to memorize all of the content, but do attempt to fully understand all of the content covered within. Carefully read each content topic and use the Study Questions at the end of each chapter to test your knowledge and understanding of the material. The Study Questions may contain information that is not included in the stacks. This is done to provide you with some more relevant information, but also to get you accustomed to answering questions on topics that may not be familiar to you. This will happen on the actual exam. It would be virtually impossible for any Exam taker to be familiar with every topic that appears on the Exam.  Social Work is a broad field and covers a wide variety of content.  When answering questions on topics of which you are not familiar, use your best judgment and rely on your test taking skills, e.g., process of elimination.




The best test taking advice that can be provided to you is to READ EACH QUESTION VERY CAREFULLY! You must have heard this millions of times in the past; however, its importance cannot be overemphasized for this particular Exam.  ASWB Exam questions were not designed to trick you. On the contrary, the ASWB Exam writers go to great lengths to write clear, precise, and effective questions to test your competency as a Social Worker.


When reading the Exam questions:


DO pay close attention to the “keywords” in the question. The Exam is given electronically and, therefore, you do not have the ability to underline or highlight these keywords. Instead, mentally note, or use the scratch paper provided to you to note, each keyword when reading the question and evaluating the answers. As mentioned above, the ASWB Exam writers take great care when writing the questions and even test them prior to releasing them on an Exam. The information contained in a question is given for a reason.  It is not provided to confuse you, but rather to help you determine the correct answer.


For example:

The family of an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s Disease is referred to a Social Worker.  The family reports a drastic change in their mother’s ability to care for herself and is concerned by her memory loss.  To help the family cope with their mother’s illness, the Social Worker should focus on:

  • Educating the family about the disease
  • Referring the family to an Alzheimer’s support group
  • Helping the family accept the mother’s changes in behavior and capabilities
  • Identifying nursing homes and other resources available in the community

The correct answer is Answer (C).  To answer this question, you should focus on the keyword provided in the stem of the question, “cope.”  Answer (A) educating the family about the disease and Answer (D) identifying nursing homes and other resources available in the community will not help the family to “cope” with the illness and, therefore, can be ruled out. At first glance, Answer (B) is attractive; however, the act of referring the family to a support group will not help them cope with the illness.  Therefore, the only remaining answer choice, Answer (C), is the best answer.



DO pay attention to the question qualifiers in bold, all-caps type.


A question that asks for the BEST answer likely indicates that more than one answer may be correct. In these situations, be wary and don’t hastily choose the first answer that appears correct. Evaluate each answer and assess which answers may be correct and, of those answers, determine which seems to be the “best” choice.


A question that asks what the FIRST thing that a Social Worker should do may indicate that more than one of the choices would be appropriate at some point in time. In these situations, evaluate each answer and assess which may be appropriate and, of those answers, determine which answer would come first chronologically. For example, referring a client to a psychiatrist for medication if you suspect neurocognitive disorder (dementia) may be appropriate, but not until an assessment is performed. If referring the client to a psychiatrist and performing a thorough assessment are both choices, the latter would be the better answer. You should always assess before you refer or diagnose a client. Look for words that you associate with the beginning stages of treatment or other course of action, e.g., assessment, building rapport, forming a contract, etc.


Watch out for questions that contain qualifiers such as NOT or EXCEPT. These questions are asking which answer is not correct. It is a common mistake for individuals to hastily choose the first answer that is correct and overlook the fact that Exam writers are asking you to identify the opposite.



DO use the infamous Process of Elimination (POE). That is, evaluate and eliminate each answer that you are sure is NOT correct.  After you’ve narrowed down the answer choices, pick the best answer from the remaining choices.  Remember, narrowing down your answer choices increases the probability of getting the question correct.

DO rule out answer choices that are clearly wrong.  Don’t waste time evaluating it, just eliminate it. There will be other answer choices that simply sound bad, i.e., confrontational, critical, unprofessional or unethical; Rule those out too.


DO answer every question.  There is no penalty for answering a question incorrectly and, therefore, you should answer every question.  If you come across a question that is unfamiliar to you, use the POE to narrow the selection and make your best educated guess.  If you cannot narrow the selection down at all, simply guess.  You may want to “flag” the question so that you can come back to it if time permits.


DO go back to questions of which you were unsure.  You should “flag” the questions that you will want to revisit after you’ve completed all of the questions.  That being said, more often than not, the first guess is the best guess.

DON’T leave any questions blank even if you intend on going back to them later.  You may run out of time and miss the opportunity to answer those questions left

blank.  Make your best guess, “flag” the question, and move on.  You will have an opportunity to revisit the question later.


DON’T panic. One comment that we frequently receive from Exam takers is that some of the questions are “out of left field.”  If you have never heard of a certain topic, term or concept in a question, don’t panic.  You can’t possibly know or study every single item on the Exam.  Instead, rely on your test taking strategies and use the POE.  In this case, don’t just rule out an answer because you have never heard of it.  You have never heard about the topic of the question either. On the other hand, if you have heard about the topic, term or concept being tested either in your studies or practice, but you don’t recognize one of the answers, rule it out.  It probably isn’t correct.

If you are using the POE to answer the question, you will be more than likely able to rule out 2 answer choices and have 2 left from which to choose.  When evaluating the remaining answer choices, re-read the question stem and remaining answer choices and look for clues in the questions, i.e., keywords, to help you.

DON’T be distracted by answers and DON’T choose hastily.  Even if you think you know the correct answer, finish reading the question stem and each of the answer choices.

DON’T rush. Remember, you don’t get points for answering questions quickly, but correctly.


How the Exam is Administered


The Exam is administered electronically at ASWB testing centers across the United States. The Exam is given on a regular basis. In some locations, the Exam can be taken any day of the week. Exam takers have 4 hours to complete the Exam – that is close to one and a half minutes per question. This may not seem like a lot of time, but remember that some questions, particularly Recall questions, will only take you seconds to answer, thereby providing you with more time for questions that require more thought and time. Nevertheless, it is prudent to take the time to read and understand questions fully before answering.


Special accommodations are available for Exam takers with disabilities or whose first language is not English. To request special accommodations, contact ASWB.


Exams are graded automatically and scores are received immediately upon completion of the Exam. You will not receive any information other than your score if you pass the Exam. However, if you do not pass the Exam, a printout indicating your strengths and weaknesses will be provided to you. Individuals may retake the Exam after 90 days. Most states, however, limit the number of times an individual may retake the Exam. Each item of the Exam is given a weighted or scaled score. The weighted scores are added together to provide a total score or percentage. The score that is required to pass the Exam varies by state.




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