Everything I know about helping social workers to prepare for the license exams, I have learned directly from my students. Recently, I was challenged to help a social worker who prepared diligently for the Clinical exam. She used PassItPro’s online course to learn and understand the essential content of the test, and did well when I informally quizzed her on concepts like defense mechanisms and DSM IV. After working together for several sessions via Skype to demonstrate and train her to analyze and extract the concept being tested from the stem of the question, I recommended that she take one of the ASWB’s practice tests. She actually purchased both versions and scored very well on both. I felt quite confident that she would do well and pass the real test. She did not, in fact coming up #20 points short.
How could this happen? My first thought was “Aha! Must be anxiety! I have had other students recount their test experiences, describing being in almost a fugue state, not knowing where they were, etc. Or reacting to a question that they felt unprepared for, panicking and barely being able to read and comprehend the following questions. I think the term used was “losing it”.
But this student said, “No”, she did not feel anxious during the test, and in fact felt confident until the moment she received the results. Hmm. So what else might have produced this result? We went over some sample questions that I have written. I wanted to see how she approached them. I was looking for a pattern. I listened and observed as she spoke out loud describing her thinking process, and noticed where she went off course. She was often able to figure out what concept was being tested (or illustrated) in the stem, could say what answer was likely, but then lost her resolve that she really knew something, and got tangled up in the answers, choosing one that was not simply incorrect, but ignoring what she had already figured out.
Why would she do this?
She explained that she thought her answers were too “simple”, that the test had to be looking for something more complex, more sophisticated. She did not trust that what she knew could be all she needed. She didn’t trust herself. The Clinical test is pegged at Master’s plus two years experience. She had ten years post MSW work experience. But something spoke louder to her than these facts. Learning and test-taking skills are complex processes. Each of us is unique and brings our own special combination of strengths and deficits to this experience. The good news is that when we can figure out what is getting in our way, we can usually address it and do adequate damage control. When we are ignorant of what defeats of, then we are at the mercy of mystery. My social worker’s mantra? Assess before you act.