2022 Guide to Preparing for the Social Work Licensing Exam

Because the social work profession involves helping individuals treat mental and behavioral issues, social workers are required to seek licensure by their state of practice. Licensing requirements are set by state and local regulatory boards so how to prepare for a social work licensing exam may vary depending on where you live. In this social work test prep guide, we’ll explore what you need to know when getting licensed through the Association of Social Work Boards.

What You Need to Know About the Social Work Licensing Exam

The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) develops exams for social work licensure based on local licensing requirements. The ASWB administers exams on behalf of social work regulatory boards and colleges located in all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and all 10 Canadian provinces. 

There are five different ASWB exam categories, each with its own requirements and purpose, but the process of taking the exam is the same for all levels. 

Since almost all states require licensure for practicing social workers—even if you are working as a nonclinical social worker—taking the ASWB exam is an important step to becoming a social worker. Keep in mind that certain states may have additional requirements for licensure so be sure to check with your local regulatory board before registering for an ASWB exam.

Social Work Licensing Exam Categories

The ASWB offers five different categories of exams: Associate, Bachelor’s, Master’s, Advanced Generalist and Clinical. Each level of exam has the same number of multiple choice questions and must be completed in the same amount of time.

The type of exam you take depends on what type of social worker you want to become and what type of degree you have. Depending on where you live and what category of licensing you are obtaining, supervised fieldwork may be required in addition to your degree. For example, if you want to become a clinical social worker, state requirements may entail two years or more of supervised work experience.

The following chart explains some of the differences between different ASWB exam categories, and includes its national pass rate as of 2020. Please note that the types of licensure obtained are not universal and available licenses and titles are likely to vary by state. 

Exam CategoryDegree RequirementsNational 2020 Pass Rate
N/A (applicants do not need to possess a social work degree)
Bachelor’s degree in social work
Master’s degree in social work
Advanced Generalist
Master’s degree in social work
Master’s degree in social work

Social Work Licensing Exam Registration

The ASWB exam registration process begins with applying for a license in the jurisdiction where you’d like to work. You may choose to apply with more than one state or province at a time if you’d like to have flexibility deciding where to practice. 

According to the ASWB Candidate Handbook (PDF, 204 KB), completing an ASWB exam usually involves the following steps:

  • Apply for a license with the social work boards in the areas where you wish to practice.
  • Pay any applicable application or licensing fees to your local regulatory board.
  • If needed, request nonstandard testing arrangements from your state board.
  • Wait for notice of approval from the state board.
  • Register with the ASWB and pay applicable fees.
  • Wait for authorization from the ASWB.
  • Schedule exam appointment with testing center.

Keep in mind that states may differ in their licensure policies, so check with the board of each state to understand the unique requirements.

Tips on Preparing for the Social Work License Exam

Because the ASWB exam is designed to measure what prospective social workers have already learned during their education, social work test prep often focuses on reviewing areas of practice that you may not use regularly, rather than cramming in new information. 

The ASWB exam questions are developed by practicing social work professionals, so they are based on actual scope of practice. Read on for helpful tips on how to study for the social work licensing exam.

Invest in Study Guides

Consider using social work study guides on how to pass the ASWB exam. The ASWB Guide to the Social Work Exams gives you insights into the type of questions you can expect. It features content outlines and suggested references for all exam categories, making it a useful resource for ASWB exam prep. Simple study techniques like writing outlines and creating flashcards based on the content may help you remember the information in the guide.

Take Practice Exams

Practice exams may help with your social work exam prep, as they offer a way to track time spent on each exam question and give you an idea of what to expect when it comes time to take your exam. The ASWB offers a practice exam for $85 to registered test-takers, which may be accessed for 30 days. Note that the ASWB currently does not offer a practice test for Advanced Generalist track.

Find Time to Destress

Social work test prep may be mentally demanding and emotionally taxing. It’s important to take the time to study and practice, but scheduling much-needed breaks may also help you do your best on the exam. To limit your stress on testing day, be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes early so you can deal with any unexpected traffic and find a parking spot before you check in.

Pack Essentials 

The ASWB exam is four hours long—you may be at the testing center for even longer—so it’s important to be prepared. You’ll need to bring two forms of identification with you. Acceptable forms of identification are listed within the ASWB Candidate Handbook (PDF, 204 KB). It’s recommended to dress in layers, as test center temperatures can vary. 

You’ll have to place any personal items (including cell phones) in a locker during the exam, so consider leaving things like watches and jewelry at home. Be aware that you will not be permitted to eat, drink or chew gum during the exam.

ASWB Study Guide Resources

These ASWB exam study guide resources may be useful in preparing for your test. Some study guides are free, while others must be purchased. 

Social Work Licensing Exam FAQs

Before you take the ASWB exam, it’s important to know what to expect. Below, we address some commonly asked questions that prospective social workers may have before taking the licensing exam.

How long does it typically take to receive ASWB exam results? 

You will receive unofficial results at the test center right after you complete the ASWB exam. Official results will be sent to your state licensing board within two weeks. ASWB exam results are reported in a pass/fail format, showing how many questions you answered correctly and how many were needed in order to pass. 

Can a social work license be transferred between states?

Many states offer licensure by endorsement, meaning that your license in one state or province may be transferred to another. However, each state has different rules when it comes to licensing. If you’re planning on relocating, be sure to check with the local licensing board for specific requirements regarding how to transfer your social work license.

Can there be unlicensed social workers? 

Practicing as a social worker usually requires a license, but in some rare cases you may be able to obtain a job without a social worker license. All clinical social workers need to be licensed, but some states may not require licensure for nonclinical social workers. Nonclinical services may include providing education and conflict resolution.

What happens if I fail the ASWB exam? 

If you fail the ASWB exam, you must wait 90 days before retaking the test. You may request a waiver to retake the exam sooner if you meet certain criteria—for example, if your exam score was within five correct answers of the passing score. As you wait to retake the test, review core concepts by taking practice tests and referring to study guides. 

Last updated January 2022