How I Failed and Passed the Written Clinical Vignette Exam on the First Try!

There are defining moments in your life. Moments when your heart stops and you can’t breath, your mind races, and you know this is going to impact you for a long time to come. Failing and passing the Written Clinical Vignette (WCV) Exam were both defining moments for me. You are probably asking yourself “what is this woman talking about? Failed and passed, and on the first try?” Perplexed? Read on.

July 1st, three days before Independence Day. Walk in. Wait. Have my picture taken. Wait. Listen to the stuff I have heard before. Ninety-minute timer starts; counting down…

My hand hovers over the finish button. I have 20 minutes left…should I review again? I am so tired. Would it help to review my answers again? Click the finish button. Survey says: “Another survey.” Should I do the survey? Should I skip it? Take the survey… not going to change the outcome. Survey done…time to click the button to get my score…click it.


FAIL written in all capital letters. FAIL emblazoned across my brain. FAIL. I had failed. Six months. I have to wait six months to try again. Walking out, the test monitor asks, “How’d you do?” I tell her I failed.

“Don’t worry about it, a lot of people come to take it to see what it is like, you’ll do fine next time.” A lot of people? Are you kidding? I spent months studying, suffered through weeks of anxiety, and had to travel out of the county, just to “see what it is like?”

A thought crosses my mind, “I missed it by one point?”

The test monitor exclaims, “Oh and by one point too!” I take the paper and walk out. There are tears to be shed and phone calls to be made.

“I failed.”
“ You are kidding.”
“ Not kidding.”
“ Oh.”
“ Yeah.”

I told my Grandmother, she said, “There must be something wrong with the test if my Mandy didn’t pass it.” “Thanks Grandma, I love you too, but they told me FAIL.”

The paper lets me know what areas I should work on. Specifically, the areas that were “Deficient:” Legal and ethical issues, crisis intervention, and treatment planning. Well, I will own up to treatment planning as being a weak area for me. Legal and ethical—I am the one that calls California Association of Marriage and Family Therapist’s advice line at the drop of a hat (great resource by the way). I have four-pages of documented phone calls dating back to when I was a trainee with questions, who I spoke with, and the outcome of the conversation. I am the annoying person at work who raises legal and ethical issues.

Crisis intervention has been my specialty. I coordinated an outpatient counseling center for domestic and sexual violence that was based on crisis intervention, visited hospitals to work with rape victims, and am currently working in an acute psychiatric hospital to stabilize clients in crisis.

Do I sound like I am whining? Well I am. That is part of the process. I cried. I whined. I yelled at my husband when he told me “everything will be alright.” I went through all the emotions, fears, and doubts. I even tried to challenge the exam once I found out that it was new the day I took it. I got a response back that told me, among other things that “All of the examination items have been pretested. If the items were not pretested, then the candidates would have to wait until 100 candidates have been tested before receiving their examination results.” I was out of luck. Acceptance.

At the same time, I was teaching a bachelor’s level course in Technology for Human Services Professionals at University of Phoenix. We were discussing different ways technology can be used for clients, for research, to learn new skills, to study, to…wait, did I say study?

So, I started a free online study group. I had a burst of energy when the idea came. Meet others going through the process. Figure out what might help me to turn the tide when I take my exam again. This was the answer! I spent a Saturday setting up a free Yahoo! group page. I spent another day deciding to market the study group (not so cool if it is just me). I was energized, I was motivated, and I was avoiding correcting papers. I started finding people online through Craig’s list, Google, and other random places that were looking for study partners as well. I called CAMFT to ask about spreading the word and I found out about the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapist’s listserve (excellent resource). I called the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists who placed the information on their web page and offered help and support. The Internet provided a wealth of resources for therapists I was not aware of.

Initially, I began the process selfishly, starting it as a WCV study group. However, I quickly realized that there was no reason to limit the group to people going through the WCV. People taking the written would benefit from the experience of people who have passed it. And after they passed the written, they too would be studying for the WCV.

The membership quickly rose to 30 people within two weeks. It was obvious how starved people were to find some relief, some help. Now it is up to 66 people studying for the written and WCV, both MFTs and CSWs. It has been a great experience sharing study tips, website links, finding in-person study groups and getting a better idea what we are signing up for when we purchase study materials. We even conducted an online chat room study group.

I felt like FAIL had motivated me to create. FAIL had put me in touch with other professionals to consult. FAIL had been a way for me to really re-evaluate. FAIL had been a good experience in my life. I even thanked my higher power for the FAIL; it was really what I needed. I dreaded December, as I knew that I would be in full-fledged study mode again (no vacation this year), but overall, I was hopeful and satisfied.

Columbus Day—A Day to Explore a Brave New World
I got up early to check the study group before work. “Katie G.” sent a message entitled “You are not going to believe this…” As I read the words I went into shock. My breathing quickened, I felt like my heart stopped, but I am sure it was beating a mile a minute. Katie G. who had also failed the exam by one point at the same time that I did (I think even the same day) had received a letter from the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS). Katie G. said “I just got home from vacation, and in the mail was a letter from the BBS. They had a re-evaluation of the exam that affected my score (I missed it by one) and I PASSED! Wow, I did not know what to say, but I wondered if this happened to anyone else? The dates that they were looking at were July 1st-Aug 23rd!” Katie G. was so excited her message was loaded with spelling errors. I was so excited I was not thinking about Katie G. or congratulating her; I just kept thinking “I wonder if this happened to anyone else?”

Mental run-through, since changing jobs and addresses I hadn’t received any of my papers from the BBS, not my Intern renewal, not my paper stating I could take the WCV, not at my old work address or my new work address. I would never know! I had to call the BBS! Checked the time, it was not even 6 am. They did not open for another two hours!

I did not go to work that day. I could not get the BBS on the phone, no one was answering, no one returned my calls, and all of my calls were forwarded to voicemails. My husband suggested that maybe they were closed for Columbus Day. I researched online, could find nothing about them being closed for Columbus Day. There was no phone message, so I decided to drive to Sacramento to get the answer once and for all as to whether I was in the category of those who passed upon re-evaluation.

When I arrived, the parking lot was desolate. I figured they must be closed. Nevertheless, I still walked up the doors and tried them—they were locked. I went to lunch with a friend who lives in Sacramento and as I drove home, I felt much calmer. I felt like I had done everything that was in my power and I just needed to wait.

I am sure by now you know what happened. I called the next day, had to a leave another message, but did talk to a receptionist. To be honest I left messages for probably six people trying to find one person with a kind heart who was at their desk and could get me an answer. I got a call back during our morning meeting at work and excused myself to take the call (it’s not like me to have my cell phone on me and the psychiatrist was a little shocked to say the least).

The person asked for information and told me “Yes, you are on the list.” I asked her if that meant I passed and she said “Yes.” Heart stopped again, tried not to squeak. Tried to sound calm and ask the important questions. Jumped up and down in the hall of a psychiatric hospital while on a cell phone and trying to unlock the office door.

We made arrangements for her to send the letter to me at my house address with the additional paperwork that needed to be completed for me to be officially licensed. She made a statement “I don’t know how everyone found out about are the third call I have received this morning.” I knew how the word spread; the power of the people. The online study group! Collaboration and consultation had prevailed!

I tried to explain to the woman about the online study group. Initially she seemed irritated and chastised me for having posted the information to the study group. “This doesn’t apply to everyone you know.” I think I finally convinced her that communication was a good thing and of the importance of professionals studying for the exam having a place to communicate, but who’s to know?

I passed! I just had to send in a piece of paper and some more money. After I sent in more money, I was assured that the money I had already sent for my intern renewal application, and the fee to take the test again, would be returned. No, they could not just take the amount out of the $170 I had already given them. They needed a new check for $107. I would have given them another $1,000; “I am going to be licensed! I get my raise!”

I went through all the emotions. Relief, I didn’t have to take it again! Anger, I just went through this whole process for the last three months and I had been studying for nothing. I spent $800 on additional study materials and classes to study for something I had already passed? I was also left with the strange lack of confidence in the test. Three months ago I did not meet the minimum qualifications for a newly licensed MFT and miraculously today I did—what had changed? Nothing had changed that the BBS could see. I knew that I had grown through this process, but they didn’t.

I started thinking back to what other people who were licensed had told me. They all told me it was just a process. It is not the pass or fail that matters, but the process that we go through that builds us as therapists. I always thought they were joking— that maybe they just told that to people to make them feel better. Now, I had to admit that it was true. Although, I still wonder whether there are steps in this process that might need revision. You may think the moral of the story is that the exam is just a process. I think the moral of the story is that my Grandma was right, if her Mandy didn’t pass the test, there must be something wrong with it.

With studying no longer on my winter vacation itinerary, I’m going to go pay a visit to the one person who gave credit where credit is due. Hold my calls—I’m going over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house.