Best Social Work Exam Prep Books

Updated September 2020
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Buying guide for best social work exam prep books

Many people who enter the field of social work consider the profession a calling. It’s their passion to help others that led them to choose this rewarding course of study. However, the path to becoming a licensed social worker requires taking extensive coursework and passing comprehensive exams.

The profession of social work is regulated for good reason – to ensure that social workers have the training, knowledge, ethics, and skills required to work with clients facing a wide range of life challenges. Taking a college curriculum in social work is the first step, followed by exams to gain licensure. There are five levels of social work licensure, each with its own examination.

Social work exams are challenging, so preparing through in-depth studying is vital. In addition to course materials, social work exam prep books will help. These handy guides are available for the tests that correlate to various levels of education completed in the field. The topics, advice, and sample tests they include give students real-world insight to what they can expect to experience on exam day. If you are want an additional study tool to help you prepare for your social work exam, consider one of our top choices after readying the shopping guide below.

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Although it may vary slightly per test level and jurisdiction, you typically have to receive a score of 93 to 107 or higher to pass an ASWB social work licensure exam.

Key considerations

What is the ASWB?

ASWB is the acronym for the Association of Social Work Boards that regulates the tests required to become a licensed practitioner in the field. There are five tests that correlate to various levels of education, and include associate, bachelor’s, master’s, advanced generalist, and clinical levels. In order to practice social work on any of these levels, all states, the District of Columbia, some provinces of Canada, and the Virgin Islands require passing boards for licensure. You must receive social work training and coursework from a college or university with an accredited social work degree program to be eligible to take a licensure exam. Working in any level of social work requires licensing from the ASWB.

How can studying a social work exam prep book help me prepare for a licensure exam?

We’ve all taken tests that we weren’t quite sure how to approach studying the material. Think of a social work exam test prep book as a useful tool with in-depth information and study strategies that will add to your test-taking confidence. Here are some ways a well-written prep book might help.

  • Provides an outline of subjects and concepts you will probably be tested on.

  • Includes tips to guide you as you study.

  • Gives you an idea of what the actual exam may be like with sample tests and questions.

  • Offers practice test answers and insights for better understanding.

  • Includes information compiled by authors who are professionals in the social work field, so you can feel confident in the included information.

  • Supplements your other study materials.

Types of social work licensures

Associate: To become a licensed social work assistant or SWA, two years of qualifying coursework that results in an earned associate degree are required.

Bachelor’s: A bachelor’s in social work, also called a BSW, comes with more opportunities than an associates. Those who earn this degree can opt to take the ASWB associate exam to become an SWA, or the bachelor’s level exam to become a licensed social worker or LSW. With this licensure comes the credentials to work in many different entry-level positions in numerous settings, as well as the foundation to move on to higher levels of training.

Master’s: Following earning a bachelor’s degree, recipients can go on to earn a masters in social work, or MSW. Teaching and supervising are possible career paths with this more advanced licensure, as are higher salaries.

Advanced generalist: Applicants to become an advanced generalist - also called LISW,  LMSW-AP, LMSW-AG, or LMSW-M - must first have completed the master’s level along with additional supervised work in the field. The opportunities this licensure affords are somewhat similar to the MSW, but is the next step in continuing education in the social work field.

Clinical: The highest level in the field of social work is the clinical social worker. A master’s degree in field and continued education and supervised work must be completed before taking the licensure exam. Upon licensure, clinical social workers, or  LCSW, LICSW, or LMSW-C, have the most job flexibility and opportunities, including the ability to work in private practice.

Keep in mind that testing and licensure requirements may vary slightly from state to state.

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Did you know?
Jane Addams is often referred to as the “mother of social work” for her work with the poor in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Considered the founder of social work in the U.S., she was the first woman in American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to her in 1931 for her social activism and reform work.

Features of social work exam prep books

Exam level
As you shop for a social work exam prep book, you’ll find that they are available to coordinate to the five licensure levels. You’ll want to choose one that coordinates with the exam level you will be taking.

Many social work exam prep books are authored by professionals in the field. For the most thorough information, choose one that is written by a licensed social worker.

Table of contents
Just like any well-organized book, a social work exam prep book includes a table of contents at the beginning. This makes it easy to skim through the contents and find areas that you need to focus on as you study.

A well-written social work exam prep book will include in-depth information on practice areas, skills, ethics, and subjects that are taken throughout a social work curriculum offered at an accredited school.

Study strategies
Most social work exam prep books contain sections that give future test-takers advice and tips on studying for exam day. These may include effective ways to study, how to structure study time, and when to include breaks.

Practice tests
Many students preparing to take a social work licensure exam find that taking a sample test in advanced is very helpful. Not only does this process replicate what taking the actual exam will be like, but it helps reduce stress by easing their expectations. Most prep books include practice tests and questions. Additionally, the most informative guides also have answers with detailed explanations as to why answers are correct.

Additional study tools
Although not all social work exam prep books come with additional tools to study for the actual exam, some include access to website and apps with more details, tips, and strategies to further enhance study time.

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Expert Tip
It’s a good idea to include a social work exam prep book with materials from the courses you’ve taken when you study for the exam. A prep book will compliment the information you already have, and can improve your chances of getting a high test score.

Prices of social work exam prep books

Social work test prep guides range in price from around $40 to $80. Prices are about the same regardless of the exam level. Books that fall on the lower end of the price scale - $40 to $50 - tend to be a bit less comprehensive. For example, some may touch on basic details or simply offer practice tests. Prep books that are somewhat pricier - up to about $80 - are comprehensive. It’s important to remember that some lower-priced options may have older copyright dates, may have limited information, and may not include updated information that may appear on an ASWB exam.

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Expert Tip
Studying for your social work exam is important, but so is taking time to rest and regroup. Structuring your study time to include breaks to you don’t start to feel burned out before exam day.


  • Don’t wait until a few weeks or days before your social work exam date to hit the books. You’ll need to have an extensive knowledge of skills, practice areas, and concepts of the field to ace the test, so you should study frequently for many months leading up to the big day.
  • As you shop for a social work exam prep book, make sure you choose one that fits your education level and correlates with the exam you will be taking. For example, if you will be taking the bachelors level exam, a prep book that focuses on masters coursework may not provide the precise information you need to help you answer test questions accurately.
  • If you choose a social work exam prep book that has sample test questions, answer them as if you were actually taking a formal test. Have a friend time you to see how long it takes you to answer the questions. This will help you get a feel for what the actual exam will be like.

  • Try to keep your stress levels to a minimum before exam day. Eat well, get plenty of rest, and practice deep breathing exercises. This strategy will help you stay focused and avoid test-taking anxiety.

Other products we considered

If you are preparing to take your clinical social work exam and want to focus on a practice test, the Practice Test for the Social Work Licensing Exam: Exam Five guide is a good choice. It features a sample exam with 170 questions, just like the actual exam. You’ll gain insight about topics that you are likely to see on test day, plus correct answers with detailed explanations.

Studying for your bachelor’s social work exam, the Social Work ASWB Bachelors Exam Guide: A Comprehensive Study Guide for Success lives up to its title. It’s packed with areas of practice that are related to the bachelor’s level of study, and includes a 170-question practice test. We also love that it’s written by Dawn Apgar, an authority in the field of social work who holds a PhD ACSW licensure.

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Professional licensed social workers work in numerous settings, including schools, drug treatment facilities, nursing homes, and hospitals. Those with a clinical licensure who meet the requirements of post-graduate experience can quality to work in private practice.


Q: How many questions are on a social work exam?
Each social work exam has 170 multiple choice questions that cover four areas of practice in the field of social work. Test takers will have the option of four possible answers per question. Only 150 questions are scored; there are 20 random pretest questions that are not counted in the total score, but you won’t know which ones they are when you take the test.

Q: Are ASWB exams timed?
Yes. Regardless of the level of exam you take, you will be given four hours to complete it. However, some individuals with qualifying disabilities may be allowed extra time.

Q: How where are social work exams given?
ASWB exams are given electronically at designated accredited test sites. Although you won’t have the option to take the exam using pencil and paper, you will be instructed on how to use the testing computer before you begin your exam.

Q: Will a social work exam prep book provide all of the information I’ll need to know to pass an ASWB exam?
The purpose of social work exam prep books is to help students achieve high scores on their exams, so quality books touch on numerous points of information that are likely to appear in test questions. However, they aren’t intended to replace notes, text books, research, and other study materials, but to supplement them to make study-time more effective.

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