RSS Feed

Studying for the LMSW Exam


Scheduling the LMSW (Licensed Master Social Worker) exam was a four or five part process and cost a truckload of money. I couldn’t get a test date until April, which was actually nice, because it gave me more time to study, which I seemed to need, because most of the testing materials read like gobbledygook to me.

I resent tests like this where there is more than one common sense answer, but you have to figure out which one the testers are looking for. And then there’s all of this incredibly dry information you have to memorize, about the code of ethics, and the names of different theories, and it all has very little to do with the actual practice of social work.

I get different feedback from different people about the difficulty of the exam. Some people tell me not to worry, and others scare me with stories about barely passing, or needing two or three tries. There’s a popular bootcamp class that focuses on tactics for the test, rather than a review of the material, but I feel like if I go that route I’m accepting the test-as-trick philosophy. And it’s one more expense I can’t afford. I don’t understand why becoming a not very well-paid social worker should put me so deeply in debt.


“Wait, you’ve been spending money on something other than chicken treats?”

If I fail the licensing exam, they require me to wait another three months before taking it again, and part of me wishes that I would fail, just to get another three month grace period before I have to look for a job. My school offers very little guidance on that part of the process. We had a short workshop on resume writing somewhere along the way, and there are some bits and pieces on the school website, but most of the jobs they list are too far away from where I live. I’ve been checking local social work job listings and Facebook groups and newsletters to acclimate myself to what’s out there, but there seems to be a lot of confusion, between clinical social work and general social work. I would not be good at case management: making thousands of phone calls a day, referring clients to all kinds of services I know nothing about, or doing outreach to bring in clients. I’m good at listening to people and getting to know them, but I’m not sure how many of those jobs are available for a beginner who can only work part time.

Cricket thinks I should put off going to work and do another internship instead, with her this time. She’s pretty sure I am deficient in my understanding of complicated personalities, like hers, and how to help them reach their full potential. She has already taught me a lot about having patience and meeting people (or dogs) where they are, so she may not be wrong. Interestingly, they don’t mention dogs at all in my study guide for the licensing exam. Someone really needs to work on that.


“We have a lot of work ahead of us, Mommy.”


“Can I play, too?”


If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment.




About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

79 responses »

  1. Rachel, Have you considered a cancer support center? or a nonprofit that serves veterans?

  2. I would have never taken the tests for my license if my kids hadn’t said, “You know this stuff. Quit studying and take the tests!” Even them, I covered the screen where it would show ‘Pass or Fail,’ because I was so sure I had failed. But I hadn’t! Take the test, Rachel. You are probably more ready than you know. Plus the girls need their chicken treats!

  3. Suppose it’s not the same, but I remember that the weeks before and during final exams during college, I spent a lot of time relaxing and none of it studying, and I was happy with the results. Ditto the high-school ACT and Graduate Record exam. I think that information settles into a relaxed mind more easily.

  4. Was there a section for sessions with therapy dogs? Because I think Cricket would be helpful, unless that’s considered cheating. Actually I can’t begin to imagine what you’re up against.

    • Miss Cricket would like to start her own practice, to teach humans how to say no and set boundaries, because she is so good at those things. But she refuses to take tests or write papers. I think she’s onto something here.

  5. Good luck Rachel 🙂

  6. Good luck! I think you will find the test easier than you think.

    In terms of a job, the hardest thing is finding your first job.

    I knew someone to joined an institute so that this way she could get supervision and qualify to get something called a “R” # to be a clinical social worker and do therapy. Be open and network. I know that you will be awesome and find it very rewarding!☘️

  7. thecraftingsenior

    I wish you the best!

  8. You’ll do great. Just relax as you go through the exam and before you know the notice will be in the mail box.

  9. You’ll do well on the test!

    Neil S.

  10. I wish you good luck on your exam! Study, but then relax, so your not over stressed as you go to take the test. The pieces will begin to fall into place about finding a position. Who knows, maybe you will help others to see the value of dogs in social work. I’ll bet the girls will be happy to help! 🙂

  11. I wish you the very best of luck!

  12. Wishing you the best of luck. 🍀

  13. “Interestingly, they don’t mention dogs at all in my study guide for the licensing exam. Someone really needs to work on that.”
    It is even worse they don’t mention birds.
    Or cats, and I don’t just mean Herbert, our obviously exceptional cat.
    How can one possibly pretend to understand humans, if they don’t understand dogs, cats, or birds?
    The answer is.
    They can’t.
    The good news is, you can.
    I remember your sensitivity with the traumatized bird.
    “All creatures great and small.”
    I am happy you are rocking the social work gig.
    It is a privilege to be a social worker because you get to be good.

  14. Oooh now this one did make the ears prick and get my attention fast!

    Not familiar with what sounds like an epic qualification you’re going for but I do have a particular set of skills like Liam Neeson only mine is with health / social work / paperwork and the brutal cull of daft stupid overly complicated crap exam questions and assignments.

    Let me have a read up on what you’re doing and the kind of thing exam papers have asked and I’ll come back to you in a bit.:D

  15. My step-daughter is halfway though a 3-year university course in Social Work. She is concentrating on getting a job working with female victims of domestic abuse and controlling relationships. Once qualified, she will also have to try to find a job with the local authorities that manage shelters, Police procedures, and taking children into care. As the Mum of a 4 year-old son, I have always thought she might find that job very stressful, but she has persevered.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  16. Is this test paper one you would be sitting? Not sure if there’s loads of different licensing exam papers based on different settings, age groups and that kind of thing.

    If it is just give me a yay.

    If not give me a nay but if poss share a link to what you’re doing.

    Also I still love seeing those two fluffy puppies and feel super happy you did find each other in the end 😀

  17. Best of luck with whatever you decide.

  18. I remember how scared I was when I finished school, studied for my liscence exam, and started my first PT job… It is definitely a stressful time, but you will do well. My anatomy professor in college told us “you can’t know all the anatomy all the time.” You will always be learning (and forgetting and relearning). In that way, each new job and each new client will be a continuation of your education. I have confidence in you!

  19. Do your resumé tomorrow. Lie like crazy. It’s all legal on April Fool’s Day.

  20. Often licensing “exams” appear to be designed by people who hope you won’t pass – a kind of deterrent to increased competition in whatever field they’re protecting entrance to.
    I took the CPA exam 3 times before passing so I am an expert in failing important exams.
    If I give you any advice, just ignore it.
    My best advice is memorize, memorize, memorize.
    None of it has a thing to do with what you’ll actually be doing in your field.
    That being said, good luck! I have confidence in you.

  21. I’m sure with you on those questions that seem to have more than one right answer. And the stupid stuff you have to memorize even though you will never use it (kind of like geometry or algebraic theorems. I guess you just have to go in as prepared as you can be and hope for the best. BTW, I love Ella’s ears shaved like that – really cute.

    • I remember a vocabulary test where we had to spit back the definition word for word. It didn’t matter if you knew how to use the word in a sentence, or understood it. Just memorize the definition word for word, and points off for any alterations. That’s what this exam is reminding me of. Grrr.

  22. This test is just another hoop you will have to jump through to get licensed and do the REAL work of social work. Unfortunately, these tests do not evaluate your sensitivity, empathy, nurturing skills, and deep desire to bring about change, all of which enhance good “social” work. I have always thought a personality test is just as important as a knowledge-based licensing exam. you would pass that test with ease. Know that you have the heart of a social worker and that is the ultimate test.

  23. Hi Rachel. I grew up on the east coast and will be sure to check out your book. As for the LMSW exam–all the social work exams I’ve taken (LSCSW, ACSW) called for three fairly simple steps: emotions first, problem solving second, and if a medical question, look for an MD. But seriously, I studied for the ACSW by reading three years worth of NASW journals. Best of luck on your test and let us know how it goes.

  24. Yes, the LCSW test is gruesome. Most people don’t pass the first time. And you probably learn more from actually taking the test than you learn from all those rip-off preparation courses. I think that in social work, experience with lots of different populations and situations is very important. Getting experience is everything. The DSM stuff on the exam is awfully dry. Good luck!

  25. Good luck in the job search! Don’t give up! Something will come of it.

  26. Blessings, Rachel! You can do it.

  27. Cricket sounds like a good coworker/agent:). And I’m sure is far more pleasant than some you’ll encounter!

  28. Rachel, I truly value social workers. They are the lifeblood to the homeless family clients for an organization I was involved with. Best wishes on the exam. Keith

  29. The systems are so different from country to country. Here in Aus you do your Social Work (or whatever) degree, pass the in-house exams, and that’s it. Clinical Psychology is a bit different because you have to do an internship on top of your degree, but you get your qualification if your internship has been ok – none of this vastly expensive sitting and re-sitting exams. That does happen with doctors wanting to specialise but not, thank god, for us lesser mortals in the health field.

  30. Oh my days what an absolutely frustrating, pointless and contradictory series of questions. In that sense I’m as much use to you as a chocolate teapot because we’re world’s apart from how the UK and US does things.

    It reads almost like social workers are expected to cover everything and anything including marriage counselling, drug and alcohol addition, children’s services, oversee and manage mental health and medical conditions it’s such a vast area.

    We have a different system for things social work / nurse training which is a combination of work-based learning combined with part-time studies at university. You study for a year at foundation level if you will and then branch off into a more specialist area i.e. mental health / general nursing.

    Almost every area of training and studying for qualifications is work-based because you have to be assessed on the job and over time to be considered competent etc.

    When I taught / trained health and social care staff and students on placement, the one thing I emphasised about written assignments and coursework was to read the question very carefully and answer exactly as it states.

    If it asks what you SHOULD / SHOULD NOT or MUST / NOT do it needs a direct, definitive answer.

    If it asks course of action to follow FIRST you think carefully about the whole task or scenario, almost mentally walk your way though things and make sure you answer with the FIRST thing only.

    If the question asks what you should CONSIDER first – again play out the whole scenario and answer with the first thing you’d consider NOT the first thing you would do.

    The questions and answers from this test paper are so inconsistent and contradictory and without the option to include reasons for giving answers I honestly wonder how they mark papers and hope they at least provide students with feedback if they fail.

    Won’t touch on the question that have a single right answer based on current practice or theory because it differs so much between the UK and US but I’m including the few things that would bother me most and I’d expect to have more to work with.

    1. “In an initial session with a social worker, a client mentions having been hospitalized several times for depression. When the social worker attempts to explore the hospitalizations, the client becomes tense and guarded, saying “it’s old history”. The client refuses to give permission for the records to be released. The social worker should FIRST”

    My answer and right one (B) acknowledge the client’s right to decide about release of records.

    Think that’s a common sense one but it suggests there is a lack of sharing records and that someone with prior mental health care needs can ultimately put the stoppers on anything being shared or information obtained by the social worker? In that case where do you go if after session the person still refuses to give consent?

    2. “A family comes to an agency complaining of their child’s behavior problems. As a result of the assessment phase, the social worker believes that the marital relationship is the primary problem. The social worker should focus on: (E) the parents, confronting them with their relationship issues (F) the child and the ways the parents should react to the behavior (G) a discussion of the social worker’s perception of the marital relationship (H) developing the child’s insight into behavior as a reaction to marital stress”

    Firstly they listed the wrong letters for this question. It runs on as a E,F,G,H and the answers at the bottom A,B, C,D. Tut tut… 😉

    Secondly the right answer given is that the social worker should discuss what makes the previous social worker think this is an issue caused by their relationship.

    Then –

    3. “A client who has received services for several years in a dialysis unit appears for a routine visit. The nurse notices a markedly changed affect and refers the client to the social worker. When seeing the social worker, the client seems detached, self-absorbed, and tearful. The social worker should FIRST assess the client’s: (A) life situation and recent changes (B) compliance with medical care (C) concerns about dying (D) feelings about dialysis”

    Says nurse notices a markedly changed affect and refers the client to the social worker but what type of affect is she concerned with? Is it a change in medical condition or with mood and overall behaviour? Options are given to suggest either / or could be the case so how are you supposed to answer just from that? I’d want to know why the nurse referred them and get more information before going any further.

    4. “During Mrs. S’s first appointment in a family agency, the social worker encourages her to express her feelings about the recent placement of her child in a residential facility for the developmentally disabled. Mrs. S talks at length instead about her physical health problems. The social worker should”

    I don’t understand the question. Mrs S talks about her own or her child’s physical health problems?

    5. “A couple expressing extreme anger at each other come to a social worker for marital counseling. The social worker should FIRST: (A) explore the goals the anger is masking (B) clarify whether each partner is willing to hear the other (C) acknowledge the anger each partner has toward the other (D) use the interview to probe for positive feelings each has for the other.

    This one asks what you should do FIRST to which I gave the same answer of making sure the couple of willing to hear the other. Can’t go any further along with a session of counselling or mediation unless and until you know both parties are committed and understand it’s not a means of batting and taking shots at each other.

    Then a question shortly afterwards gives a similar scenario asking what you should do FIRST yet the answer almost contradicts the previous –

    6. “A 28 Yr old client with a long standing history of drug use is referred to a social worker by a concerned relative. In the assessment interview, the client tells the social worker about frequent cocaine use. The social worker should FIRST: (A) conduct a family interview to evaluate the family’s concern (B) begin treatment, focusing on the reason for drug abuse (C) refer the client to a substance abuse program (D) evaluate the client’s motivation for change”

    I answered “D” Evaluate motivation” because the question specified which of the four you should do FIRST.

    The client was referred by someone else so unless and until and until you have assessed and know the client is in full agreement, wants help and support and is motivated to engage and agree to a treatment program, you can’t go much further and a referral would be a waste of time and resources at that point.

    Obviously if and when during your assessment the client is on board and motivated you can go ahead and refer but you can’t make any referral without having enough information to refer with and without the person’s consent.

    7. “A 45 yr old recently divorced mail carrier complains his memory and logic skills have diminished. He is on a new delivery route and is embarrassed that he can’t visualize the exact boundaries of the route or calculate his workload and schedules. These are important factors in his job and he is worried. He has developed a slight limp and tires easily. What would the social worker first consider? (a) a referral for a medical and neurological evaluation (b) a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s (c) the possibility of a substance abuse problem (d) an adjustment reaction to his divorce”

    Again the question asks what you should CONSIDER first so my initial thoughts are he may be suffering from a combination of an adjustment reaction to his divorce and also bear in mind the difficulties of having to relearn and adapt to an entirely new route and workload. That would be the first thing I’d CONSIDER then after assessment what I would then DO is refer for a medical and neurological evaluation.

    The exam questions are so inconsistent throughout it’s painful.

    Not only that there doesn’t even look to be an option to include a reasoning for your answers which as a paper for social work assessment is the most bizarre thing I’ve seen.

    So even though I’ve been neither use nor ornament I’d be interested to find out what (if any) feedback you would get from a failed paper not least because I want to see the exam board’s own reasoning and logic is here.

    This would drive me nuts honestly I’d be there “ARE YOU HIGH?? WHAT’S THIS ABOUT???!”

    • Thank you so much! I’m so glad it looks crazy to you too! I don’t think they give feedback on wrong answers; I’m pretty sure you get a pass/fail at the end of the test and that’s it. I like tests where I can go up to the teacher afterwards and ask, kindly, what the hell were you thinking?!!!!

      • I regularly end up pulling a face like I just swigged a mouthful of last week’s milk, cock my head sideways, squint and go “What the fu… are you on drugs? Are you actually smoking drugs?”

        Care home that is run by a girl I’ve known for years was being practically bullied by the local authority’s contracts officers and told if she didn’t change the entire format of care plans they could / might / should possibly remove her from their list of preferred providers.

        I visited, checked all her care records and full job lot – nothing wrong whatsoever with her care plans the contracts officer was just throwing her weight about and getting above herself so there’s me “Are you… Are you serious? Are we really gonna do this and have me bring it to everyone’s attention? We can if you like I don’t mind but just have a think about it first and then come back to me. I promise – give you my absolute word and 100% money back guarantee you will look a right turnip”

        She didn’t pursue it.

  31. Good luck with your exam! Fingers crossed for you x

  32. Well, it is just my opinion, but I think code of ethics has A LOT to do with any practice – anything requiring a code . . . but that is just me. And again, just me, but now MORE THAN EVER, I believe people with codes need to be tested on them because from what I see people seem to be VERY CHALLENGED in following them. And — more “just me”, but silence that little part of you that doesn’t want to pass because that is the part that will win. You can do it. And once you pass then you will feel more confident and have a different set of eyes (a licensed set) looking for jobs and you’ll find one. It might not be the perfect one at first, but that will happen eventually. You have worked so hard for this so don’t stop now.

  33. wishing you
    success 🙂

  34. Good luck on your exam. I am sure you will do well. BTW the images are great!

  35. Steven James Humphreys

    I am positive you will do just fine on the exam. I forgot everything I ever learned except for typing. Thank God for that! My wife’s daughter is working toward her master’s and kind of took a break because of things happening in her life. Just don’t forget the chicken treats!

  36. Thanks again for your likes, Rachel.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: