Measuring social work competence

The social work licensing exams are designed to determine whether an aspiring social worker has the minimum competence to begin practicing social work safely, competently, and ethically. This measure of entry-level competence is critical for public protection.

Exam categories

Associate: Candidates who do not hold a baccalaureate degree in social work

Bachelors: Candidates who have completed a baccalaureate degree in social work, typically a BSW

Masters: Candidates who hold a master’s degree in social work, typically an MSW, with no post-degree experience

Advanced Generalist: Candidates who hold a master’s degree in social work, typically an MSW, with two years of experience in a nonclinical setting

Clinical: Candidates who hold a master’s degree in social work, typically an MSW, with two years of experience in a clinical setting

Content outlines

The content outlines for the social work licensing exams were developed using the 2017 Analysis of the Practice of Social Work, a survey of licensed social workers selected to reflect diversity in demographics, geography, and practice areas.

Measuring competence fairly

The social work licensing exams follow strict test development standards that ensure fairness. Every question, called an item, is reviewed at each step in the process for signs of potential bias.

Practice analysis

The process of creating the exam begins with a practice analysis, a major survey of the tasks of thousands of practicing social workers.

Examination Committee

The Examination Committee reviews each exam question before it is included as a pretest item on the licensing exams. Committee members are selected from among the item writers trained to write questions for the exams.

Exam scoring

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.

Item writer program

Every question, or item, on the social work licensing exams is written by a practicing social worker and depends on verifiable social work knowledge.

Pass rates

See the most recent pass rates for individuals taking an exam for the first time.

  • Exam materials for faculty

    Helping students better understand the licensing exams can help reduce their anxiety about the experience. By reviewing test questions together, educators and students can explore rationales and engage in critical thinking.