What is the LMSW Exam?

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Professionals taking a test in a room with computers.

State licensure as a social worker requires individuals to complete a formal examination assessing their knowledge and competency to work in the industry. The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) administers the Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) exam as part of this process, and a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree program will typically be designed to prepare students for the test.

The LMSW exam offered by the ASWB is a 170-question test taken electronically with a four-hour time limit. The exam is structured with multiple choice questions, and only 150 of the questions are relevant to the scoring. The other 20 consist of pretest items. The exam is administered in a variety of versions throughout the year, and your state board or social work program can help you determine the right test to take.

Why take the ASWB exam?

The ASWB assessments are a major component of the licensure process. The board offers five specific variants of the exam, including one for three degree levels — associate, bachelor’s, and master’s. Exams are also used for advanced generalist and clinical specifications. Completing the exam can serve as a key milestone in proving that you’ve not only completed your studies, but actually acquired the knowledge needed to achieve the relevant level of licensure.

What does the LMSW exam cover?

The ASWB defines its LMSW exam as a series of test questions built around “knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA)” statements. The board identifies key KSAs for the profession and uses those to determine the subject matter that may be covered in the exam. Here’s a snapshot of the areas covered in the assessment, which are split into four sections of multiple-choice questions by the ASWB:

Section 1: Human development, diversity, and behavior in the environment: This segment of the exam focuses on issues around human growth and development, concepts of abuse and neglect, and diversity, social/economic justice, and oppression.

These topics are a snippet of a long list of core competencies the exam might incorporate, and subjects cover everything from theory and ideologies impacting the industry to knowledge-based materials, such as understanding how criminal justice systems function. The questions in this section make up 27 percent of the exam, making it the largest segment and one that you’ll want to devote plenty of time to preparing for.

Section 2: Assessment and intervention planning: This portion of the exam focuses on the process of assessing clients and planning for interventions. It also covers subjects on assessment methods and techniques and intervention planning. It’s 24 percent of the exam. To get ready, you may be best served zeroing in on the lessons learned during your courses on clinical practice and the work you did during the experiential learning elements of your MSW program.

Section 3: Interactions with clients/client systems: The third part of the exam covers intervention processes and techniques used across various systems as well as a segment devoted specifically to intervention within larger systems. This is another part of the exam where your clinical expertise will pay off, and you’ll probably want to review materials pertaining to the overarching care systems involved in social work practice. It makes up 24 percent of the exam.

Section 4: Professional relationships, values, and ethics: The final section of the ASWB licensure assessment covers professional values and ethical issues, matters of confidentially, and professional development.. Home in on the materials from your ethics and professional conduct course materials and you should be in good shape. It’s 25 percent of the exam and rounds out the materials.

How does an MSW prepare students for the ASWB exam?

Most MSW programs will feature a variety of courses that cover the KSAs associated with the ASWB exam. The online MSW program at Regis College includes preparing students for the LMSW exam as one of its primary student outcomes. What’s more, Regis College also understands that some students will want to take the advanced generalist or clinical versions of the exam depending on the state where they want to work and areas of practice. As such, preparation for those exams is also incorporated into the curriculum.

An MSW is designed to provide insights into the advanced components of social work practice that wouldn’t be covered in a bachelor’s program. The result is courses and topics that focus on the KSAs covered in the ASWB exam. But students pursuing an MSW don’t only get the opportunity to build their skills — they also have the chance to interact with faculty and staff who can help them understand the examination process and how to prepare effectively.

The online MSW program at Regis College offers students a variety of opportunities to prepare for their LMSW exam. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you pursue an advanced degree and work toward your career goals.


Recommended Readings:

What You Need to Know About Social Work Licensing

How you can find your ideal job post-MSW



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

2018 Masters Exam Content Outline by the Association of Social Work Boards

About the Exams by the Association of Social Work Boards

Student Outcomes by Regis College