Studying Tips for the Social Work License Exam

Social work involves providing care for individuals in your community who may need support with mental health, behavioral needs or family dynamics. Because of this scope of practice, all states require clinical social workers to be licensed, and some states require even non-clinical social workers to obtain licensure as well. 

Being a credentialed social worker can make a difference when it comes to professional opportunities, and it starts with studying for the social work license exam. Where necessary, aspiring social workers seeking licensure take the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s or clinical level, depending on the type of work they want to practice in their state. ASWB also offers an advanced generalist exam for individuals with an advanced knowledge in the field and a desire to work in social work administration and community practice.   

The following tips apply to all levels of the social work license exam but do not guarantee passing the exam or gaining licensure. 

Sponsored Online Social Work Programs

Howard University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

The online Master of Social Work program from Howard University School of Social Work prepares students for advanced direct or macro practice in culturally diverse communities. Two concentrations available: Direct Practice and Community, Administration, and Policy Practice. No GRE. Complete in as few as 12 months.

  • Concentrations: Direct Practice and Community, Administration, and Policy Practice
  • Complete at least 777-1,000 hours of agency-based field education
  • Earn your degree in as few as 12 months

University of Denver

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

The University of Denver’s Online MSW Program is delivered by its top-ranked school of social work and offers two programs. Students can earn their degree in as few as 12 months for the Online Advanced-Standing MSW or 27 months for the Online MSW.

  • Complete the Online Advanced-Standing MSW in as few as 12 months if you have a BSW; if you do not have a BSW, the Online MSW Program may be completed in as few as 27 months.
  • No GRE Required
  • Mental Health and Trauma or Health, Equity and Wellness concentrations

Fordham University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

Fordham’s skills-based, online MSW program integrates advanced relevant social work competencies, preparing students to serve individuals and communities while moving the profession forward. This program includes advanced standing and traditional MSW options.

  •  Traditional and advanced standing online MSW options are available.
  • There are four areas of focus: Individuals and Families, Organizations and Community, Evaluation, and Policy Practice and Advocacy.
  • Pursue the degree on a full-time or part-time track.

Simmons University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

Aspiring direct practitioners can earn their MSW online from Simmons University in as few as 16 months. GRE scores are not required, and the program offers full-time, part-time, accelerated, and advanced standing tracks.

  • Prepares students to pursue licensure, including LCSW 
  • Full-time, part-time, and accelerated tracks 
  • Minimum completion time: 16 months

University of Southern California

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

The MSW@USC is the online Master of Social Work from top-ranked USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. The Advanced Standing track can be completed in as little as 1 year. USC offers virtual and in-person field education, and students focus on adults, youth or social change.

  •  Minimum completion time: 12 months with a BSW 
  • Online classes taught by USC faculty 
  • Virtual field training to build skills and confidence

Syracuse University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

Syracuse University’s online Master of Social Work program does not require GRE scores to apply and is focused on preparing social workers who embrace technology as an important part of the future of the profession. Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks are available. 

  • Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks
  • No GRE required
  • Concentrate your degree in integrated practice or clinical practice

Baylor University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

Complete the Master of Social Work online program at Baylor University in as few as 12 months. Serve populations in Texas and around the world while ethically integrating faith and social work practice. No GRE required.

  • Address injustice from a strengths-based perspective
  • Ethically integrates faith and social work practice
  • Serve as a trusted resource for clients, no matter their personal background
  • Complete the MSW online program in as few as 12 months

Case Western Reserve University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

In as few as a year and a half, you can prepare for social work leadership by earning your Master of Social Work online from Case Western Reserve University’s school of social work.

  • CSWE-accredited
  • No GRE requirement
  • Complete in as few as one and a half years

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Discover Your Studying Style

Think back to previous exams or courses you’ve taken: How did you study for tests? What made you feel successful? Maybe pacing yourself through the study material or working with others to help each other learn more effectively is what did it for you.

For aspiring social workers who benefit from a lot of structure, study guides can help paint a picture of what to expect from the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB), the national body that issues the social work license exam. Study guides may include strategies for how to prioritize learning and studying for each section of the exam, as well as examples of what questions might be asked during the test. If you’re wondering where to start, consider the ASWB study guide, which is published by the organization itself and can be purchased as an e-book or print edition.

To learn more about where the exam fits into your career path, familiarize yourself with the steps to become a social worker.

Join an ASWB Study Group

You don’t have to study for the social work exam alone. Joining a study group can help aspiring clinicians with social work test prep because they can share strategies and support each other. 

When working with a study group, take note of the type of social work licensure that other members of your group might have or are hoping to obtain because they may be able to help with understanding different levels of the exam or different experiences as a practitioner. 

Practice Taking the ASWB Test

Practice exams can be a helpful way to prepare for the real test, including knowing how to pace yourself on each question and track your progress with individual learning objectives. 

Exams typically take four hours and have 170 questions. ASWB offers practice exams for many different levels at a price of $85, and each practice test can only be taken once per purchase. 

Manage Exam Anxiety

Some aspiring social workers take the licensing exam while juggling a day job, family life and other mentally and physically demanding responsibilities. It’s important to prioritize mental and emotional health during social work exam prep — not only to ensure the mental capacity that is necessary to pass the exam, but also to help prevent burnout once you’ve gained licensure and begun practicing.

Self-care during social work exam prep may include scheduling breaks for rest, exercise and other health-focused activities. 

Bring the Essentials

Before taking the ASWB exam, find out what items are necessary to have with you at the testing center, such as forms of identification or writing utensils. Check for any food and water limitations, bag restrictions, parking validation or other information about what you are allowed to bring inside. 

If you can, pack ahead for the day of the test, including a snack, a beverage or other necessities that may help you stay focused and alert during the exam. 

Resources for Social Work License Exam Prep

The resources below may be helpful when preparing for the exam but do not guarantee passing the test or gaining licensure. 

Social Work License Exam FAQs

Aspiring social workers taking their first state-level licensure exam may have concerns about using an ASWB exam study guide. Social Work License Map answers frequently asked questions below:

Where do you register for the ASWB exam?

Registering for the ASWB exam can be completed on the ASWB website and requires payment of the exam fee. Within two days of your ASWB exam registration, the organization will review your eligibility and send you an Authorization to Test email with more information about scheduling your testing appointment.

Nonstandard testing accommodations are available for registrants with disabilities, health conditions or other needs for taking the exam.

Do all states require a social work license?

Social work requirements by state differ, but almost all states require the ASWB exam to be taken in order for social workers to gain licensure. Individual states’ legislative requirements can be found on the ASWB regulatory resources page.

To find out more about your state’s requirements, applicants can also review and compare licensure requirements on the ASWB’s laws and regulations page.

What’s the national pass rate for the ASWB exam?

The pass rate of the ASWB clinical exam was 74.8% in 2020. The exam was taken almost 17,000 times.
Pass rates for individual levels of the ASWB exam in 2020 are as follows:

• Associate – 77.6% pass rate of 250 total exams
• Bachelors – 68.5% pass rate of 2,696 total exams
• Masters – 75.4% pass rate of 16,698 total exams
• Advanced Generalist – 64.2% pass rate of 134 total exams

ExamTotal number of exams administered2020 pass rate
Associate
250
77.6%
Bachelors
2,696
68.5%
Masters
16,698
75.4%
Advanced Generalist
134
64.2%
What do I do if I fail the ASWB exam?

If your ASWB exam results aren’t as high as you hoped, or if you failed the ASWB exam, you can try taking the exam again after a 90-day waiting period. Revisit study guides, work with study groups and try to focus on the sections of the exam that were the most difficult before attempting to take the exam again.

Last updated November 2021.