How to Pass the LMSW Exam

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The Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) exam is a major milestone for those who have completed a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. An MSW degree can be a sign of a student’s competency in the social work field, but as an industry built around licensure requirements, the formal exam is a major part of the process. The LMSW exam is a major step in taking advantage of an advanced degree in social work. Passing the exam is a key step for those seeking social work licensure, but to prepare, it’s important to first understand what the test entails.

Why Take the LMSW Exam?

Licensure is a major factor in getting a social work job. Questions about licensure come up often for students pursuing a degree. Each state has its own requirements for obtaining a social work license, but the LMSW exam is often a part of that process. Before choosing a program, make sure you check on what your state requires in terms of licensing.

How Does the LMSW Exam Work?

The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) creates and administers the exam, working with the state licensing board to register students and handle licensure. In simplest terms, students sign up for the exam through the state licensing board, then take the test through the ASWB. The ASWB exam is computer-based, but made up of simple multiple choice questions formatted in a way that ensures students don’t need special computer skills. When the exam is complete, the ASWB handles grading and sends the results to the state licensure board.

In some states, the licensing board will accept the results from the LMSW exam and handle certification from there. In others, the state expects exam takers to pass results on and play a more active role in the clerical work of the licensure process.

What Does the Exam Include?

The ASWB has designed the study to cover topics related to key knowledge, skills, and abilities individuals are expected to possess for social work practice. To measure these skills and abilities, the test features 170 multiple-choice questions. Twenty of these questions are not part of the exam, but are instead pretest items ― which the ASWB explains are mostly questions being considered for future exams ― spread randomly throughout the test.

The questions cover topics in four sections:

  1. Human development, diversity, and behavior in the environment: The largest part of the exam, this section focuses on concepts of abuse and neglect, social/economic justice, and human growth and development.
  2. Assessment and intervention planning: Focusing on intervention processes, this part of the exam covers assessment methods and best practices surrounding intervention.
  3. Interactions with clients/client systems: Social work practice often involves working within existing systems, such as criminal justice or clinical health care. This segment of the test focuses on how social work practitioners interact with clients within these contexts.
  4. Professional relationships, values, and ethics: Legal, ethical, and relational matters are at the center of many parts of social work practice, and this portion of the exam assesses students’ knowledge in these areas.

The licensing examination is designed to cover a wide range of subject areas that are relevant to social work practice, with the overarching goal being to determine if students have obtained the knowledge to work in the field effectively.  As such, passing the LMSW exam begins with pursuing your advanced degree in social work.

How Can You Prepare for the Exam?

Getting ready for the LMSW test is key to positioning yourself for success, but it’s a process that takes time and effort. Following these tips can put you on a smoother path to passing the LMSW exam.

Step 1: Make Sure the Exam Aligns with Your Goals

The LMSW exam is a general exam designed to ensure those who have completed an MSW program have the knowledge they need to practice. However, licensure requirements vary depending on the state where you hope to practice and the job role you want. The ASWB also runs advanced generalist and clinical social work examinations that lead to alternative forms of licensure, depending on state requirements. Don’t waste your time preparing for the wrong test. Check on your state’s requirements before pursuing your MSW degree and stay on top of any developments that may occur to ensure you stay on the right path for the license you are seeking.

Step 2: Complete Your Course of Study

The LMSW assessment is built as a cumulative test of the knowledge typically included in an MSW program. As such, you won’t take it until you’ve had a chance to gain the skills and knowledge you need while pursuing the degree. However, it is also important to think about the social work license exam while you are pursuing your degree. You may want to save study materials from your courses or organize your class notes in a way that highlights major topics you’ll need to review later so it’s easier to prepare for the exam when the time comes.

Step 3: Take a Varied Approach to Test Prep

When it comes time to begin studying for the exam, you may benefit from pursuing a wide range of study methods to keep things fresh. By the time you’re taking the exam, you will likely have completed multiple semesters of dedicated social work study and field placement time. Create some variety for yourself and keep studying interesting by blending a wide range of strategies, such as:

  • Working with a study group so you can build relationships, get help, and eventually unwind with others who are going through the same test prep process.
  • Using a test preparation guide (the ASWB provides an official guide to its exams).
  • Making sure you understand the format of test day and what you’ll need. Knowing what to expect can ease your nerves and make it easier to focus on the test itself.
  • Connecting with academic advisors or trusted professors about areas where you may need to spend extra time based on how you performed during your MSW courses.
  • Getting involved in online communities such as forums which discuss industry issues and provide support to participants as they wrestle with the challenges posed by working in the sector.
  • Taking a practice exam ― the ASWB offers prep tests ― to evaluate your readiness for the exam.

Studying in diverse ways can put you in a strong position for the exam and keep the test prep process interesting.

What to Expect After the Exam?

The exam results are usually sent directly to the state, though some states handle the process differently. If you need to retake the exam, you will typically need to wait at least 90 days. The ASWB recommends you begin this process by studying your diagnostic score report. You get this from your test center after the exam and it’s vital that you keep it, as the ASWB cannot provide a copy. It will tell you how you performed and what topics you need to spend more time studying.

In some cases, it is possible to obtain a waiver on the mandatory 90-day period between exams. This isn’t allowable by all state licensing boards or for all candidates. However, exceptions are sometimes made for those who came within five questions of passing the exam and have a job that is in jeopardy if they don’t pass the test by a certain date.

How Does the Regis College Online MSW Prepare You for the Exam?

The online MSW program at Regis College is designed to prepare students for a career in social work, so it covers the topics and knowledge areas included in the LMSW test. While our program focuses on clinical work and emphasizes specialty knowledge applicable to the licensed clinical social worker exam, we also provide the broad areas of study relevant to the LMSW. Contact us today to learn more about how our online MSW can help you reach your goals.

Recommended Readings:

What is an MSW and What Can I Do with It?

What work environments are possible with an MSW?



About the Exams by the Association of Social Work Boards

Content Outlines and KSAs: Masters Social Work Licensing Examination by the Association of Social Work Boards

Exam Materials by the Association of Social Work Boards

After the Exam by the Association of Social Work Boards

Next Steps by the Association of Social Work Boards

Frequently Asked Questions About the Exam by the Association of Social Work Boards