I passed! That's right, I finally PASSED the LMSW exam in Maryland. I first took the exam in 2010 when I was pregnant in my second trimester after my MSW degree. I failed it big time, needed numerous bathroom breaks, and more. I took the exam a few more times while working in the child welfare setting. I continued to fail. In 2017 I left the child welfare setting and tried other avenues in both social work and education. But the LMSW exam continued to haunt me. Although many say that licensure is not needed to be a successful social worker, I found that it was. I was turned down from numerous opportunities due to not having the license. I was stuck at entry level and dead end jobs. So after a few pity parties, I decided to make a change.
I reclaimed my social work vision and made a shift. When I previosly took the exam, I did not properly study, I didn't establish consistent routines, I wasn’t practicing self-care, and I wasn't thinking strategically when answering the questions. But this time around I knew that I had to do better. I sought out study materials to assist in my new efforts and the result was me passing the exam!
Some may be looking for a quick fix and this isn't it. My shift in focus was within a seven month period. I needed to take my time and do it right (insert dance). I'm no spring chicken and some of the content was hard to grasp but I realized that when I truly put my mind on something that I can accomplish anything. Here's how I did it:
Figure out your learning style -
There are tons of study materials out there. But if you don't know your learning style to tailor your studying in that format then your efforts will be pointless. There are four main learning styles. They are: Visual, Auditory, Read/Write, and Kinaesthetic Recognizing your learning style first and creating study materials and plans based on that, is the first move.
Gather your study materials and methods -
I was on an extreme budget throughout this process. Due to my low funds, I had to be strategic. Based on my learning style, I preferred audio visual material such as YouTube video content, live study groups, etc.
On YouTube I watched content from Agents of Change, Karen McGruder, NASW, RayTube, and some of the Therapist Development Center (TDC). I found those channels to be extremely useful and straight to the point.
I also joined the free weekly study group on Clubhouse through the Journey To Licensure platform. Each week, the group was live in a chat room discussing exam questions.
In addition to this, I purchased the Master’s level exam preparation course from Agents of Change. The we based, course platform was perfect for my needs and schedule; and I was able to access it on the go. Agents of Change also provided live study groups twice a month for package holders. It was great. If I missed a group, the replays and past content was still available for me.
Create a plan of action -
From there, I created a study plan. I purchased a large wall calendar and made a plan to study certain content for specific durations for 4-6 days a week. I also inserted self-care activities onto my calendar schedule. For example, I studied human behavior on Mondays, program evaluation on Wednesdays and Fridays were a review. I used index cards to make flash cards and I had a notebook to take notes. I also saved all Agents of Change handouts in a Google folder for review days.
Be consistent -
I incorporated my studying into my daily life routine. Everyday I woke up to listen to my audio Bible devotional message and then I would listen to the Agents of Change YouTube videos as I got dressed for the day. Sometimes, I even listened to the videos while driving my daughter to school in the morning. She hated it, but it helped me to learn and study. While my daughter had volleyball practice, I would study in the car as well. No time was wasted.
Remain positive -
I also created positive affirmation cards out of construction paper. I wrote down different affirmations on the cut out paper and taped them throughout my apartment. I put some on my mirrors as well. While moving about my home I would look at them, recite them in my head, and go on about my day. For me, I needed to not only study but to reaffirm my confidence and ability. I needed to see, say, and know these positive affirmations to see change.
Inform your circle -
Although you shouldn't share your exam date with others, it's important to inform your circle of this life changing exam. I informed my daughter, relatives, and close friends that I was preparing for this major exam. I needed them to be aware because I would need to decline to attend certain events and I would not be as accessible by phone. Studying involves consistency, life changes, and preparation. You can't have successful results without shifting your life. There were times in my home where I had to remind my daughter that mommy was studying and that we would go somewhere afterwards. The week leading up to my test, I also put my phone on "Do Not Disturb" to avoid distractions and I let my family know this beforehand.
Stay informed -
In the midst of my studying, the ASWB made changes to the exam and they were rolling them out in 2023. I read up on the changes to see how I would be affected. I also listened to social work related podcasts and YouTube videos that discussed those changes.
Do you -
While preparing, life was a struggle at times. I pushed back my test date twice due to this and I have zero regrets! I didn't feel ready so I gave myself more time. In the end, I succeeded and was stress free. I also considered requesting accommodations but ended up missing the deadline. But if accommodations are a need, please go for it before scheduling.
Know your exam strategy -
This exam is like 50% book knowledge and content based; and 50% strategy. Unfortunately, we've seen and heard of the biases and barriers that this exam creates for professionals of color. The same concept lies in your strategy too. Most exam answers won't reflect how you would practically and realistically respond in the field. But you have to consciously know this and think like the predominant race in the social work profession. It pains me to state this but.... think like a white, middle-aged woman. The answers won't always reflect what we may do in practice but it's what "the book" states as a standard. Remove yourself from the equation to pass this exam.
On exam day -
On exam day your emotions may run rampant. But there's hope. Here's what I did on exam day:
Dress in layers: I'm always cold and I assumed that the test center would be too. It was better to take off layers than to not have any on if needed
Give ample travel time: I failed the test a few times years before at the same location. So this time, I selected a location that was an hour away from home. After dropping off my daughter at school, I immediately headed to the test site to avoid major traffic, prepare for the distance, and find good parking before my test time.
Study beforehand: Although cramming is not good, I listened to audio videos of exam content while getting dressed and while driving to the exam.
Eat: I made sure that I had a hearty breakfast but one that wouldn't give me the "idis" since I needed to be alert. I also carried an extra bottle of water and a piece of fruit to go in my exam locker in case I needed a pick me up/break.
Pray: I prayed in the car as soon as I parked. I asked for guidance, insight, and support. I also told myself that I was successful despite any exam outcome that day.
Bathroom: Use the restroom before you check in at the testing site. Even if you don't have to go, just try anyway. Although bathroom breaks are allotted, the clock is still running.
Use the dry erase board: As soon as I sat down, I wrote out:
Pass or PASS, the helping process, the Hierarchy of Needs, and I wrote down "safety first " as a reminder.
Highlight: A part of the Agents of Change strategy is to highlight key terms in the scenario. I did this on most of my exam questions and it helped tremendously. It immediately helped me to know which answers needed to be eliminated.
The end result
The end result was me passing the exam. I was so overjoyed when I read the unofficial score report. My hardwork had paid off. The years of barriers and turmoil were over. I could now, seek higher level positions and continue to plan out my career. I immediately changed my credentials from MSW to LMSW on everything! So if you're preparing for this exam please know that you will succeed. With proper study materials, a shifted focus, and consistency, you will see the results that you desire. You got this!
Photos Courtesy of Canva Pro and Chaundra Scott, LMSW