Social Work Frequently Asked Questions & Answers

About the National Social Work Exam

About the ASWB

The National Social Work licensing exams are administered by the Association of Social Work Board (ASWB) to candidates across the United States. There are four examinations levels and our program prepares candidates for all levels.

The ASWB includes the following Exams:

  • Bachelors: A basic test for social workers with a BSW and no postdegree experience.
  • Masters: A generalist test for social workers with an MSW and no postdegree experience.
  • Advanced Generalist: A more advanced test for social workers with an MSW and at least 2 years of postdegree experience in nonclinical settings.
  • Clinical: A more advanced test for social workers with an MSW and at least 2 years of postdegree experience in direct clinical practice settings.

Visit the ASWB Home Page

The exam includes 170 four-option multiple choice questions. Of the 170 questions on the exam, 20 will be pretest questions, which will not be counted when your score is calculated. Instead, these 20 questions will be analyzed by psychometric experts after the exam is over in order to determine whether they have the properties required to make them suitable for inclusion as scored questions on future versions of the exam. Because you will not be able to differentiate the pretest questions from the questions that will be scored, you should consider all 170 questions to be of equal importance.

All exam questions offer four alternative answers. Only one choice will be scored as correct for each question. Because you are not penalized for guessing, however, we recommend that you record an answer for every question on the exam, even if you think your selected answer may be wrong. Questions left unanswered will be scored as incorrect.

There is no way of knowing in advance exactly how many questions you will need to answer correctly in order to pass. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, the exam questions frequently change. Thus, questions included on one version of the exam may be slightly easier or more difficult than those included on other versions. To ensure that all candidates are assessed equally, regardless of the specific questions on their exam, exam scores are always adjusted through a statistical process called “equating.” Equating entails moving the passing score up or down, depending on the difficulty level of the exam questions and, therefore, guarantees that all candidates are evaluated against the same standard of performance, no matter what questions are included on their version.

Second, before your raw score (i.e., the total number of questions you answered correctly) can be interpreted as a “passing” or “failing” score, it must be adapted to fit the scaled score system used in your state. Thus, your exam score will ultimately be expressed as a “scaled score,” which represents your raw score after it is has been converted into a score that permits your state board to determine whether you have met its passing requirements.

Based on its state’s own social work licensing law, a social work board defines minimal standards for one or more “levels” of social work practice in the state. To enable the states to measure each appropriate level, or scope, of social work practice, the ASWB offers different exam classifications – Bachelors, Masters, Advanced Generalist, and Clinical. These classifications are based upon different levels of education and practice experience. The academic degree and post-degree experience required to qualify for each exam level are as follows. These are “typical” requirements.

  • Bachelors Level: BSW degree, no post-degree experience.
  • Masters Level: MSW degree, no post-degree experience.
  • Advanced Generalist Level: MSW degree, two years post-master’s supervised experience.
  • Clinical Level: MSW degree, two years post-master’s direct clinical social work experience.

Bachelors Exam

  • Human Development, Diversity and Behavior in the Environment (27%)
  • Assessment (28%)
  • Direct and Indirect Practice (26%)
  • Professional Relationships, Values and Ethics (19%)

Masters Exam

  • Human Development, Diversity and Behavior in the Environment (28%)
  • Assessment and Intervention Planning (24%)
  • Direct and Indirect Practice (21%)
  • Professional Relationships, Values and Ethic (27%)

Advanced Generalist Exam

  • Human Development and Behavior in the Environment (10%)
  • Issues of Diversity (5%)
  • Assessment, Diagnosis, and Treatment Planning (24%)
  • Direct and Indirect Practice (16%)
  • Communication (7%)
  • Relationship Issues (5%)
  • Professional Values and Ethics (12%)
  • Supervision and Professional Development (3%)
  • Practice Evaluation and the Utilization of Research (4%)
  • Service Delivery (11%)
  • Administration (3%)

Clinical Exam

  • Human Development, Diversity and Behavior in the Environment (31%)
  • Assessment, Diagnosis and Treatment Planning (26%)
  • Psychotherapy, Clinical Interventions and Case Management (25%)
  • Professional Ethics and Values (18%)

You will be given four hours to complete the exam. This time-frame gives you more than one minute (85 seconds) to work on each question.

The licensing exam is administered electronically, which means you will be taking the exam on a personal computer. The ASWB emphasizes that even persons with little or no computer experience can take an electronic examination with ease. In addition, you will be able to do all the things you might do when taking a paper-and-pencil exam. Before the exam begins, you will receive a brief tutorial that teaches you how to operate the testing equipment, including how to record your responses, how to change answers, how to flag questions for later review, and how to move forward and backward through the exam. The time you spend on the computer tutorial will not take any time away from your exam; i.e., the four-hour testing time limit begins when you start the examination itself, not during your tutorial.

You should review the practice exams throughout the study process, from the beginning stages until just before the actual exam. The practice exams will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, refine your understanding of the topics, and enhance your test-taking skills. We strongly encourage participants to study all of the questions in the practice exams multiple times because they are the most exam-specific information in the study materials.

Note-taking (e.g., flashcards, summary tables, etc.) can be a very important part of your study process. Because there is so much information to retain during your studies, you will need some strategy for synthesizing and organizing all the information.

The best way to develop your test-taking skills is to review as many practice questions as possible in our study materials. We provide a detailed explanation following each question which will help you to learn from your mistakes. In addition, we provide specific test-taking strategies for analyzing the most difficult questions such as translating the wording into simpler language, eliminating poor choices, identifying trick questions, and so on.

AATBS has been successfully preparing candidates for licensure for over 30 years. We have many tools to assist you in your preparation. They include:

  • Comprehensive Study Volumes
  • Online practice exams with rationales for each question
  • Live workshops: Exam Preparation; Exam Strategies and Content Review; Small Group Coaching
  • Color-coded flashcards
  • Educational consultation

The most important reason to attend our workshop is simply because it will increase your test taking performance and ability to pass the ASWB exam. Our instructors have many years of experience in teaching candidates to pass the exam.

We update our study materials over the course of each year. As a result, our study materials reflect the most current trends on the ASWB exam, which has allowed us to remain the leader in preparatory programs for this exam.

AATBS consistently report pass rates in the 90% percentage range. More importantly, their scores are directly correlated with the level of preparation.

AATBS’s success rate on the ASWB exam is due to the quality and variety of study resources that our staff of experts—researchers, writers, instructors, and consultants—have created to assist you in your preparation. This cannot be matched by any of our competitors, which means we can tailor an individualized study program to meet your particular needs.

Please visit Our Guarantee for more information about our National Social Work Money Back Guarantee.

Please contact us at (800) 472-1931 with any questions. A customer service representative or educational consultant will be available to help you.


Updated Materials

You'll always be studying the current version of the exam.


Don't study alone. Our coaches are here to help guide you through your exam preparation.

Pass Guarantee

Ensure success with an AATBS Pass Guarantee so you can study risk-free.