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.


Pretesting exam questions is a critical part of ensuring exam fairness. ASWB contracts with independent psychometricians to analyze performance on pretest questions. When the Examination Committee approves a question, it becomes a pretest question. Before being used as a scored question, each question is given to hundreds of test-takers as an unscored question. Test-takers are not scored on pretest questions; instead, the pretest questions themselves are being scored.

Statistics gathered on pretest items answer many questions, including:

  • Does this question have a clear, correct answer?
  • Do test-takers from different backgrounds (e.g., gender, race, ethnicity) answer this question differently?
  • What is the question’s level of difficulty?

If a pretest question meets the exams’ psychometric standards and does not show differential item functioning, it becomes a scored item on the exam.

Each exam includes 20 pretest questions in addition to the 150 scored items. ASWB pretests this volume of questions so that there are always questions relevant to current practice moving into the bank of scored questions.


All questions continue to be monitored by psychometric experts to prevent any scored questions from being used that do not meet standards for fairness.

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.


ASWB, like most high-stakes exam developers, relies on differential item functioning analysis to assess for measurement bias at the question level, as opposed to differential test functioning analysis, which assesses for measurement bias at the test level.

The art and science of exam development

This webinar is designed to offer insights into the exam development process, sharing key practices that guide the development of reliable, valid, and fair assessments.