Sunday, May 15, 2011

Secrets for Passing the LMSW Exam

Do you want to pass your LMSW exam on your first try?

epic fail pass

74.5% of those who take the LMSW exam nationally pass on their first try; however, 90% of those who take the National Association of Social Workers' (NASW) course pass the exam on their first try.

Below are some helpful study tips from the LMSW test prep class provided by NASW:

  • Don't leave any questions blank.  There are going to be many questions where you're not going to feel comfortable with the answers but you will be fine. While you have the opportunity to flag a question or leave it blank, it doesn't pay to do this. If it didn't come to you at first, it's not going to come to you later so it doesn't pay to go back to it later - this just feeds/adds to your anxiety. In terms of leaving a question blank, this counts as a mistake. If you have no idea, you might as well guess so that you have a chance of having that question count as correct.
  • Do not "fight" the exam.  The wording/question "is what it is." We just need to pass the exam; accept the exam with its inevitable imperfections/failings and make the best of it. 


  • Read entire question/be clear about what is being asked.
  • Talk to self; reframe it to first person and paraphrase to identify key points. So what is this question asking/saying? Then read responses. Eliminate the ones you can. Reread the question. Reread the leftover options and then make your selection.
  • Stay with material in question. Don't jump and make assumptions or hypotheses about the person(s) described in the questions.
  • Look for qualifiers (such as BEST, FIRST etc.) and put them in front of each response choice as you are reading the possible responses (Am I FIRST going to.... or Is the BEST thing for me to...). The qualifiers are usually but not always capitalized on the exam.


  • Do not study from sample questions. This is the worst way to study. The best way to study is to study the content! You do not need to know theory in depth. Be able to talk for 3 minutes about the different ASWB Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSAs) Statements. Be able to describe the terms to a non-social worker in simple terms. 
  • When studying different content topics, think about it in broad terms of: what does that look like? how will I know when I see it? what am I doing/saying?
  • Pay attention to the order of social work process. This is key across the different sections. For example, there is engagement, assessment, planning, intervention, evaluation and termination. We should remember this order and keep this in mind when asked questions about what the social worker should do FIRST.


    • Remember Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs from the perspective you always address food, health and safety first (before employing other interventions that assist in the belonging/loving, status/esteem or self-actualization levels).
    • The client is the expert. The social worker is there to support, assist and act as a resource to the client (not to tell the client he/she is making a poor choice even if this is what is going on).
      • Some exam speak: "Refer" on exam could mean just telling the client about (as opposed to sending the client away to another agency); confront could mean calling attention to something (not in a negative way) and contract could refer to a treatment plan (as opposed to safety plan).


        • You will have enough time to answer the questions. Only 2 people out of thousands end up having an issue with time. Therefore, this is not an issue and there is no real need to be anxious about not having enough time. 
        • Do what you need to do to reduce your anxiety. For some, this may mean visiting the test site in advance of the test. For others, this may mean meditating. For yet others, this may mean going with a loved one to the test site on the day of the test. For yet others, this may mean not telling anyone when you are taking the test so that the expectations of your friends/family won't be an added stressor. 

        Make this an EPIC pass so that you are on the road to becoming an epic therapist as Mike Langlois, LCSW describes so eloquently in his post Epic Therapists

        And if by chance, you don't pass on the first time, that's can always take the exam again, 90 days later. Epic social workers don't give up!

        Do you have any tips/advice that you'd like to share?

        You May Also Enjoy:
        Confused by DSM-5? Get Up to Speed Easily!
        Got LMSW Exam Anxiety? 4 Strategies + 10 Practice Questions
        Ten Tips for Passing the LMSW Exam
        How to Find Free Online LMSW Exam Study Groups
        How to Use Two Acronyms to "Go for the Gold" on the LMSW Exam!

        Photo Credits:
        Epic Pass Fail
        Water Seamless Pattern by Patrick Hoesly
        Cogs - Pattern by Patrick Hoesly
        Christmas Wrapping Paper by Patrick Hoesly
        Cracked iPhone Screen by Patrick Hoesly


          1. Oh you KNOW I loved this article's title. :-)

            Dorlee, what a great thing to offer first-time exam takers. I wish I'd had all these tips when I took it back in the day. And everything mentioned makes a lot of sense.

            All of the tips are also applicable to the independent licensure exam as well. Your timing on this is excellent.

          2. Thanks so much for your feedback on these tips!

            That's a very good point to make...The instructor from NASW had mentioned that her guidelines would also be applicable for the subsequent LCSW exam (this included the study guide that was distributed).

            Maybe I should I add a note to the post to reflect this...

            Re the Epic Fail/Pass sign, yes, when I found it, I couldn't help but think of you, Mike, and the whole concept of being an Epic Therapist :)

            And it fit in so beautifully...

          3. I always found it helpful to actual study the sample questions and answers to get a thorough understanding of what the test makers were looking for.

            Ditto the importance of paying attention to qualifiers, process and assessing for safety.

            Best of luck

          4. Hi John,

            Thanks for visiting and sharing some of your lessons learned :)

            Looking at sample questions and answers to get an idea of what the LMSW test makers are looking for sounds like a great idea...

            And in fact, we did this during the class that NASW held. I think the point that the trainer tried to convey is not to rely on this method as the primary and/or sole method of studying.

            Thanks again!

          5. I discovered your blog by chance while "googling" for information on preparing for the LMSW licensure exam and I feel like I have found a gold mine. Your blog is incredible! I am a career changer as well from the investment management world and have just completed my foundation year. I can't tell you how reassuring it was to read your blog. Finally someone who is writing about everything MSW students are concerned about! Thank you; thank you for your contribution.

          6. Thank you so much, Maryann - I can't tell you how much your words mean to me...for you to say that my blog feels like a gold mine of information for MSW students.

            This is what I aspired to create...and hope to maintain...

            To that end, please feel free to raise any questions or ideas that come to mind for additional posts.

            And congratulations on your career transition! I'm wishing you the best of luck during your second year:)

          7. Hi DorleeM. I would like to first off start by thanking you for creating this blog. I have been on the internet all day looking for different ways to prepare for my LMSW exam in Louisiana. I am graduating May of 2012 and I have started early searching for test prep material and workshops to help me understand the concept of the exam. I have heard so many horror stories about the exam and the low passing rate here in Louisiana. I am actually considering taking my exam in Texas since it is a possibility that I may be moving soon after graduation.

            I have found your blog to be so helpful and it has decreased the amount of anxiety in which I am having about the exam.Again, I would like to say thank you for this blog and all of the helpful information that you and others have posted.

          8. Hi Reva,

            I'm so glad that you have found my blog helpful in answering some of your questions and reducing some of the anxiety you have had regarding the LMSW exam.

            I think that feeling some anxiety and worry about this exam is totally natural...and that getting some guidance helps quell that anxiety.

            Thank you so much for taking the time to share your feedback.

            By the way, if you are interested in participating, there is a study group working on preparing right now for the exam on google+ via hangouts (virtual meetings) several evenings a weeks.

            Feel free to circle me on google plus and then I will send you the info :)

          9. I joined the googleplus and I didn't understand how to use it the circle feature. Feel free to message me on Facebook. I am very interested in in the virtual meetings. If at all possible can you send me the info via Facebook?

          10. Sure, add me as a friend in facebook - my name is dorleem socialwork on there and I can message you with some guidance.

            I would send you a friend request but I don't know your full name...this is also why I couldn't simply find and circle you on google+ :)

          11. Hi Dorlee! Thanks for this blog, finding it very helpful. I just circled you on google+, hope you can share some info with me about the virtual hang out :)

          12. Hi AP,

            You are most welcome. I'm so glad that you are finding it helpful.

            I just circled you back on google+ as well as made the introduction to you for the virtual study group.

            If you have a chance, could you come back and let us know whether you find the group helpful?

            Wishing you the best of luck!

          13. Hi DorleeM,

            I'm so glad I found your website. I do have to take my LMSW exam soon so these tips will be very helpful. Thank you for taking the time to put out all the information that we need in order to accomplish our goals.

          14. Hi Joanne,

            Thanks so much, Joanne. I'm so glad that you are finding these tips helpful :)

            Wishing you the best of luck on your LMSW exam!

          15. Hello Dorlee,

            Thanks for having these tips available! I agree with all of them.

            Even though I am a EPIC social worker now, it took me three times to finally pass my LMSW. It was very frustrating. I'm not trying to scare any readers, I'm just being honest about what happened to me.

            I failed the first time by 4 points and the second time by 1 point. Do you know how frustrating that was for me? So, I finally broke down and contacted ASWB. Even though I know that stigmas exist and felt ashamed, I explained that I have ADD/ADHD. By advocating for myself, the board allowed me to take the exam waiving the 90 day period and gave me extra time to take the test. Bottom line: if you have a learning disability, you can call ASWB special accomodations. I should have done this before I even scheduled my first test. It would have saved me time and money! LOL.

            What helped me pass the 3rd time is that I created my own study guide. I copied and pasted the required KSA's from the ASWB website. Under each section, I typed in the information required using social work textbooks, Social Work dictionary, and websites. In addition, I made visual tables, such as the similarities and differences of therapeutic interventions and a detailed vocabulary list.

            Two other tips: study every night and use positive affirmations. Tell yourself you have to believe it, to achieve it. Like Adler states, you have to "act as if" and that is what I started doing. Since thoughts lead to emotions to actions, I made sure I kept an optimistic attitude.

            So, two days ago, I received an unofficial report stating that I passed! If I can do it, I know others can too. I do wish everyone luck on their tests and I know you can do it on the first try!

            1. Hi Vicki,

              Thank you for taking the time to share your experience and study tips.

              You demonstrate much courage, honesty, persistence and generosity in being able to be open about your learning disability, advocate on your behalf and ultimately pass your LMSW exam because you were determined to do so.

              Your story is not only inspiring; it may also serve as a guidepost to others who may have ADD or other learning disabilities - they should speak up to ensure that they may receive extra time etc if they are entitled.

              We also need to work on eliminating the stigma around learning disabilities. There should be no shame...a person with a learning disability is just someone who has a different way of thinking and/or processing information. Hence, they often require additional time on standard testing etc.

              I love your study plan...It's not surprising that you passed :)

              Thanks again and Congrats!

          16. Thank you so much for your blog and providing all the links for free/useful LMSW materials! I took my LMSW exam on Wednesday and passed! Reading your posts and the comments of others' experiences really helped me prepare mentally! Thanks again Dorlee!

            1. It was my pleasure, LMA :) I'm so glad that you found the LMSW material on my blog helpful.

              Congratulations on passing your LMSW!

              Many thanks for taking the time to share your kind feedback,
              Wishing you all the best,

          17. Hi Dorlee.. I just LOVE your website! I'm scheduled to take the LMSW exam next month. Even after reading the tips on what to do first, next, best, etc., I'm still having difficulty processing it! Can you please give me an example of how to apply your tips to an actual test question, using FAREAFI and ASPIRINS? I would appreciate it sooooo much! Thank you!:o)


            1. Thanks so much for your kind feedback, Logan

              I am putting together a post to address your question, as we speak :)

          18. This website helped me out a lot! I just graduated with my MSW and I took my licensing exam yesterday. I passed! I only had two weeks to study. I had a job depending on me passing and I was under a lot of pressure. I looked at this website almost daily and right before I took it. The anagrams helped me tremendously. I wanted to thank you for developing this website. Also, for people who are taking the exam in the near future...just relax and keep calm. I have ADD and it is difficult for me to focus at times. With ADD and my short time to study I was able to pass. My advice is to study as much as you can and when you feel burnt out take a break. Self-care is important. Just make sure to breathe and remember you know more than you think you do. I felt like I knew nothing, but when you start the exam it will come back to you. Remember you are not going to know everything. You are not going to get every answer. You might get to a question and feel like you do not know the answer. For me I would mark it and leave it blank and then go back before I submitted it. For me this worked. When I first started my anxiety level was very high and I was not thinking clearly. Towards the end I felt a little more relaxed and was able to analyze and break down certain questions better and this made some of the questions I marked more clear. Remember do not rush, take your time, breathe and study. I promise if I could pass it with only studying for two weeks then you can too. Do not let your anxiety take over. Good luck.

          19. Congratulations, Jamie ! I'm so happy you :)

            How kind of you to take the time to share your learnings and tips to help others!

            Also, thank you for your kind feedback on this blog.

          20. I am taking the LMSW for the second time and I need to study with a group on skype. My job is on the line if I don't pass. Does anyway one need a studying buddy? =)

          21. I am going to be taking the LMSW exam next month for the second time and I would like to know if someone is interested in a studying buddy. Please contact me ASAP! Anything anyone can advise will be helpful! =)

          22. Hi Floriza,

            I would suggest that you check out two additional posts:


            In one of them, I share the contact info for people interested in participating in a study group on google/skype and in the other, there is an active study group on Facebook.

            Wishing you the best of luck on your LMSW exam next month!

          23. This site was so helpful! Passed on the first try!

          24. I'm so glad you found Social Work Career Development helpful for preparing for the LMSW exam. Congrats newly licensed social worker :)

          25. Hi Dorleem,

            This is a wonderful site.I passed my msw 10 years back from India.I am planning to write my LMSW exam for the first time in first week of November.Seeing the practice questions I am bit confused .please help me out

          26. Hi there,
            You are rather close to the date of taking the exam... I would give it your best try. If you pass, that 's terrific. If you don't, that's ok... many people need to retake it. But the next time, plan on taking one of the test prep classes or at least participate in one of the free online LMSW study groups. Here is a post on how/where you can join

            This will give you some one-on-one time with people who are in the same boat as you in terms of preparing for the exam. You are also welcome to look at the other posts on my site that cover this topic.

          27. Agh!!!!! I PASSED! Got my LMSW this past Friday! I can't tell you THANK YOU enough for the Accronyms on the First,Next, Best questions!


          28. How wonderful - Congratulations! And thank you for taking the time to stop by and share how you found the tips I've shared helpful in your passing the exam :)

          29. I am taking my LMSW very soon and your blog has been so helpful. Thank you! Victoria

          30. Thanks so much for sharing your kind feedback, Victoria :)

            I remember how anxious I had felt prior to taking my exam and I wanted to do all I could to help and prevent others from feeling worried.

            Wishing you the best of luck!

          31. Hello Dorleem,

            I have taken the exam a few times and have yet to pass it. I actually don't know what I am doing wrong, but I will take it again in October. I think your blog is pretty helpful, but also wanted to know if you know of any online study groups going on. If there is any additional information you have for me, I would like at the help I can get. Thanks in advance!

          32. Sorry to hear that you haven't yet passed the exam. Sometimes it can be a bit tricky to do so but keep at it. You will ultimately pass it!

            Here is a post that provides you with the links to access the various online groups

            In addition, you can check out

            Wishing you the best of luck!

          33. I will be taking the exam next year. I graduate in 2015 and I am trying to prepare now so hopefully I will not have to retake the exam. I am so glad I found your website and I will try an enter a study group as well. Thanks again for the information.

          34. I'm wishing you the best of luck!

            It is my pleasure :)

          35. Hi Dorlee, Do you have any recommendation/suggestions on practicing on direct and indirect practice questions?

          36. I think the best approach to handling direct and indirect practice questions is to employ the helpful acronyms. They are very good at reminding you what to consider first, next etc. Here are two posts on that topic:
            Another thing that you may find helpful is working/practicing with others.
            Wishing you the best of luck!