Assessing social work competence

The social work licensing exams are designed according to rigorous and extensive standards to assess whether a licensure applicant has the minimum competence to practice safely, competently, and ethically.

Based in practice

The licensing exam content is determined by a regular survey of practicing social workers throughout the United States and Canada. This survey, called a practice analysis, asks thousands of social workers about the knowledge, skills, and abilities they needed their first day on the job.

The survey is conducted approximately every five to seven years, and the results of that survey become the content outlines for the licensing exams. ASWB has reenvisioned the 2024 practice analysis as the Social Work Census, the largest survey of social workers ever conducted.

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.

Coming in 2024

Social Work Census

The Social Work Census will be the largest survey of social workers ever undertaken, collecting data about who social workers are and what they do.

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.

Created by social workers

Practicing social workers, including social work educators, are involved in every step of the examination development process.

  • The Practice Analysis Task Force oversees the development of the practice analysis survey. In 2022, ASWB appointed a team of 32 social workers — the largest task force ever — to lead the development of the 2024 Social Work Census to find out who social workers and what they do. This effort will form the foundation for the exam blueprints used to develop the next iteration of the competence assessments.
  • Item writers are practicing social workers, including social work educators, contracted and trained by ASWB to write questions for the licensing exams. These social workers are recruited periodically and selected to reflect diversity in practice setting, gender, race, ethnicity, and geography.
  • Exam development consultants form a team of experienced social workers who train and coach item writers. These consultants are paid by ASWB to ensure the overall quality and consistency of questions.
  • The Examination Committee reviews every exam question to ensure each is critical to practice, has a correct key, and uses sensitive language.
Licensed social workers write, review, and edit exam questions. The process starts with question writers who are selected for geographic, demographic, and practice diversity.

Examination Program Yearbook

Learn more about the social workers involved in exam development.

Practice Analysis Task Force contributes expertise to social work competence assessment update

The 2022–2024 Practice Analysis Task Force, a group of 32 licensed social workers, provides subject matter expertise to ASWB’s next analysis of the practice of social work.

Social Work Workforce Coalition

The Social Work Workforce Coalition includes a range of U.S. and Canadian social work organizations that represent diverse perspectives. This coalition has provided input on emerging trends in social work practice, helped structure community conversations, and contributed questions to the Social Work Census. The census will launch in March 2024 with coalition support.

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.

Valid, reliable, and fair assessments

The social work licensing exams, like all licensing exams, undergo rigorous psychometric analysis to ensure that they are valid, reliable, and fair measures of competence.

The science of measuring competence fairly

Every scored question on a social work licensing exam has passed through rigorous statistical analysis via pretesting and monitoring. This psychometric analysis is critical to the validity, reliability, and fairness of 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.