May 2014 marks one year that LISW.net’s Online License Exam Course has been partnering with NASW-Michigan (http://www.nasw-michigan.org/?prep) has been offered to social workers across the country. To date, nearly 150 social workers have taken the course – 4.5 hours online text and voice, plus the 90 minute “live” videoconference taught by me via Skype.
The unique aspect of this course is the personal attention that each participant receives during the videoconference session. Here’s part of a comment from a test-taker from Michigan:
I would recommend this course to anyone who is preparing for a SW licensing exam. It is money well-spent and it is great to have a coach and cheerleader in your corner.
I am happy to report that most participants have passed. More than 90% pass after taking the course once. This includes people taking the test for the first time ever, and many who have failed once, twice, even as many as four times using other methods of preparation. The course is appropriate for all four versions of the test: Bachelor’s, Master’s, Clinical and Advanced Generalist. As you may know, the tests are the same in all states except California. The course has been taken by social workers in many states including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Arizona, Kentucky, Virginia, Georgia, New York, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Washington D.C. and Ohio.
The primary goal of the course is to help students learn specific test content and develop the skills needed to pass the exam. Working closely with students during each Skype study group (maximum of three students per group) gives me the opportunity to closely observe and monitor the unique learning style of each individual: to assess how their work experience – or lack of any beyond field placements - will affect their test-taking, how anxiety may or may not interfere with their ability to focus, and to measure their ability first to understand, then memorize content, and finally to apply concepts to specific situations. Few teachers standing in front of a group of thirty, fifty or more students have the benefit of this close-in perspective. Here is some of what I have learned from my up close and personal perch:
Test-takers vary tremendously in their natural strengths and their ability to incorporate new information. Anxiety troubles many, but not all. Some have enough experience to help them master “application” questions, others, not enough. One size does not fit all. Conclusion: Each potential test-taker should choose a learning format that fits his or her unique assets and limitations. My strategy as a teacher and designer of this course is to offer the combination of hard-copy content (online course) with flexible, individualized responses to each participant emerging from first-hand observation of their skills.
- Example: A social worker, after many years of experience as a therapist in private practice, moved from one state to another and therefore was required to take the test. She confidently took the Clinical test and failed by 3 points. She contacted me and we reviewed sample questions (my favorite assessment tool!) I noticed that she would begin to elaborate and create complex assumptions about the client in the question. While these assumptions might have been accurate, this way of reacting to exam questions led her down a speculative road that did not lead to choosing the correct answer. I pointed this out to her, over and over again until she got it. Soon, she was able to focus on the question and passed easily the second time.
- Example: A social worker who seemed bright and well-prepared failed the test; I was truly surprised, I had thought she was likely to pass. I questioned her carefully, and when she mentioned that she had completed the test in 2.5 hours I realized that her anxiety had prevented her from carefully and slowly considering each question, and unfortunately had propelled her to zoom through questions, reducing her ability to select the correct answer. She hadn’t been aware that she was doing this. Once the problem was identified, a solution was at hand. We worked on ways for her to manage her anxiety and slow down. She took the test again and passed.
“Overthinking” and “anxiety” are only two likely culprits that will bring down test-takers’ scores. It is essential to identify the specific reason that an individual test-taker is having trouble. Once the problem is identified, I am able to recommend a personalized plan of action. This all happens during the Skype session. Those test-takers who cannot quickly and easily define concepts, might be sent back to the online course with specific instructions to create and review flashcards. Sometimes I ask them to prepare so carefully that they would be able to “teach the basic course” in that subject, meaning that the concepts are easily retrieved and not buried deep in their memories. Often, I will recommend that they take the ASWB sample test (www.aswb.org – the test creators) and add a caution to not to be fooled by other sources of sample questions that cannot be as authentic as those written by the tests’ authors. I recommend that each test-taker read claims carefully when purchasing exam resources – many mention ASWB but are not from that source.
To address the dreaded “I can get it down to two possible answers, but then I am stuck” problem, I teach a strategy that trains the test-taker to ask herself a sequence of questions after carefully reading the “stem” – the body of the question - before looking at the answers. This accomplishes two things; first, it clarifies the concept being tested which can then often reveal the correct answer, and second, replaces the dysfunctional effects of anxiety, or in other words, keeps your attention on the right track. Participants tell me repeatedly how helpful this is. (You can find some comments on my Facebook page, LISW.net.)
Here are some other tips that may be useful:
- Answer the question being asked, don’t go off on a tangent
- Don’t let the answers drive your thinking, dig deep into each question.
- Repetition is the tool for memory retention.
- To learn, don’t just scan info with eyes only, say the words out loud, or write them down.
- “Well maybe if….?” Don’t add conclusions that aren’t supported by the stem.
- Watch the time; too fast is as bad as too slow
- Read each question carefully! (Bet you think you always do; try reading them out loud to a friend to practice.)
- Safety issues change the rules, determine your client’s level of risk/danger.
- Ask yourself “What kind of a learner am I”? “Which model of preparation will work best for me”?
- The test is “wide” but not “deep”. You need to know a broad sweep of topics, yes, but only the basics.
Consider the benefit of coaching, studying with an expert teacher who knows you and can train you to develop test-taking skills that will work. And best of luck, too!