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.


Licensing exams, including the social work licensing exams, demonstrate content validity, meaning they measure test-taker’s knowledge of content. ASWB regularly conducts a practice analysis and gets input from a panel of subject matter experts to establish the content of the exams.


The social work licensing exams meet high standards of reliability. A reliable exam is one that accurately measures knowledge consistently. It is common for examination scores to vary only slightly for most test-takers who take an exam more than once if they have not increased their social work knowledge.


ASWB guards against bias in every step of test development:

  • The practice analysis is inclusive and reflects the population of practicing social workers.
  • Item writers and Examination Committee members are recruited to reflect the diversity of the profession.
  • Each question on the exam is subject to DIF (differential item functioning) analysis, a psychometric process that shows whether test-takers from different backgrounds perform differently on each question. Any question that shows DIF is removed from the exams.
  • All exam questions are edited for simplicity and straightforward language; jargon is eliminated as much as possible.
  • Readability tests show that the ASWB exams are written at about a 10th grade reading level, less challenging than standard social work texts used in BSW and MSW programs.
Learn more about psychometric analysis of the licensing exams Learn more about DIF and how it protects exams from bias

Recognized testing standards

The social work licensing exams follow recognized test development standards for ensuring validity, reliability, and fairness, as set by multiple organizations:

  • American Psychological Association
  • Joint Commission on Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing
  • American Educational Research Association
  • National Council on Measurement in Education

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.

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.

Exams for the future of social work

Development of the next iteration of the social work licensing exams will draw on input from multiple sources. Both quantitative and qualitative research will inform ASWB’s work to create exams for the future of social work.