Many people will take the test for the first time and pass. These individuals usually have a history of being a good test-taker, aren’t bothered by test anxiety, and can memorize and store concepts and retrieve them without much difficulty. At the same time they have a facility for “operationalizing a concept” or being able to describe and recognize what a concept looks like in action. For example the concept of “anxiety” can be defined as “having physical symptoms such as a racing heart, sweating, accompanied by excessive worrying and being fearful”. To “operationalize” this concept (or see it in action) you would recognize its presence when you read a description of a person saying, “I feel jumpy all the time, can’t settle down and worry endlessly that my kids are in danger”.
The social work exam questions require you to be able to “translate” a symptom or concept into these two forms: definition and descriptive. This can be practiced. It’s not that difficult to get familiar with both forms.
The next useful skill; to be able to go from the specific example described in a question to the concept it illustrates. For example: Mrs. Jones comes for help to a counseling center because she is concerned about the recent changes in her 13-year old daughter. She and her daughter Allie used to be very close, spending lots of weekend time together shopping; Allie used to confide in her and now is chatting away with her girlfriends and ignoring her Mom’s attempts to talk. What is the first thing you would do to help Mrs. Jones?
Can you identify the concepts this situation illustrates? This question describes typical early adolescent (female) behavior. At the same time, it presents a parent whose usual method of connection with her child is no longer welcome. Perhaps because of this she cannot see that her daughter’s changing behavior is pretty normal. To proceed to the next step or to choose an action (i.e. one of the answers) being able to identify these two concepts first, is essential.
Another handy skill, distinguish between two answers (out of the four choices) that you can’t chose between. The best “skill” is to avoid this situation by working hard to extract all the clues from the stem (narrative) part of the question. This is exactly what we teach our students to do during the “live” videoconference training module that is part of PassItpro’s Online Course. But sometimes you can’t pick between the two. But you can ask yourself, “OK, What is the difference between “A” or “B”? Does one precede the other in sequence? Is one more comprehensive than the other? This can often give you a sound basis on which to select one of the two, rather than just making a guess.
Practice these skills and you can get better at using them!
Idelle Datlof, MSW, LISW-S