Exam scoring

The social work licensing exams are all pass/fail exams developed to measure minimum competence in social work practice. In any pass/fail exam, there is a “pass point,” the number of questions a candidate must answer correctly in order to pass the exam. All jurisdictions that use the ASWB exams recognize the same pass point.

This pass point varies, depending on the category of exam you’re taking and which version (“form”) of the exam you get. Generally, pass points range from  90 to 107 correct of the 150 scored questions. Remember that the test also includes 20 nonscored “pretest” questions mixed in with the scored items.

Your score report will show your performance in terms of the actual number of questions you answered correctly and the number of questions required to pass the version of the exam you took. If you fail the exam, you will also be provided with a breakdown of the number of questions you answered correctly in each content area, as well as the total number of questions in each content area.

Because different test takers receive different sets of questions, ASWB has to account for differences in the difficulty levels of individual items on different versions of the same test. When a candidate completes an exam, the testing software calculates a raw score—the actual number of correctly answered questions. Because raw scores can be affected by the difficulty of individual items on a particular form of an exam, these slight variations are accounted for through an equating process. Equating adjusts up or down the number of items you need to answer correctly depending on the difficulty levels of a particular form of the examination. Through equating, the passing raw score is adjusted for each exam so that fewer correct items are needed to pass a more difficult form of the test (and more correct answers are needed to pass an easier form of the test). Making these statistical adjustments ensures that the overall ability that needs to be demonstrated remains the same from test form to test form. In other words, no one receives an advantage or disadvantage because of the form of test administered. This is why ASWB cannot identify an unchanging number of correctly answered items needed to pass the examinations.

A note about scaled scores

Your jurisdiction’s passing score may be listed as a “70,” a “75,” or simply a “pass.”  These terms are simply different ways of describing the same pass point. The scoring systems adopted by individual jurisdictions are usually a matter of wording in a law—sometimes the actual number is a part of laws created to cover many professions with one set number that is considered success on any licensing test.

The 70 used in one state or province and the 75 used in another are describing the same passing point. In other words, if 103 correct answers are enough to demonstrate acceptable competency on a test, a candidate who got 103 questions right in a “70 is passing” jurisdiction would receive a 70. A candidate who got 103 questions right in a “75 is passing” jurisdiction would receive a score of 75. A passing minimum score, whether 70 or 75, indicates the same level of performance on the test.  

Essentially, ASWB translates passing scores into the scoring “language” of a particular jurisdiction and forwards that information to the licensing board. The passing score remains a passing score even if a candidate transfers his or her score from a “70-to-pass” jurisdiction to a “75-to-pass” jurisdiction. The transferred score is reported to the new board as a pass/fail score.

The exams are NOT easier or harder to pass in one jurisdiction than in another. These systems are just two ways of reporting the same thing.  It’s similar to the way thermometers may use two different systems to describe temperature:  water freezes at 0 degrees Centigrade or 32 degrees Fahrenheit, but those numbers are identifying the same point. The 70- and 75-point systems are just two ways of describing the same pass point on the exam.