Tips to Survive the Standard Written Exam

A guest post by Melanie Masters, M.A.

A guest post by Melanie Masters, M.A.

Tips From the Other Side, or What I learned from Surviving the SWE

By: Melanie Masters M.A., MFT Intern

Preparing for the exam

Choose the right study program for you and your learning style. 

  • Therapist Development Center
  • Gerry Grossman
  • AATBS
  • Berkeley Training

Tips for Making the most of your study materials

  • Make sure to sign up for a program to review the material that fits with the way you like to learn
  • Pace yourself and go through the program once or twice             
  • Take the mock exams
  • Make sure to review the rationales of the mistakes you made so you understand the concepts and why you had problems

How to take care of yourself while you are studying

  • Try to study in 1 hour sessions with breaks as needed
  • Eat well
  • Sleep well
  • Continue seeing friends and loved ones
  • Exercise
  • Meditate
  • Use Hypnosis
  • Practice Relaxation Techniques
  • Develop Positive Affirmations
  • Practice taking mocks in exam mode or using similar time frames as the test.  Take your breaks and have your juice or snack when you practice

  • Take a practice run to the testing center to time how long it will take to get there,  at the same day/time that you will be taking your test

  • Visit the testing center so you will be able to visualize where you will be, and make sure you will be comfortable

Apply for Special Accommodations

If you have a verified disability, apply for special accomodations (check out this tutorial here).  This is not a crutch, it is self-care

  • Types of disabilities might be GAD, Depression, Fibromyalgia, Back Issues, Vision Problems, Learning Disabilities, ADHD, etc.
  • Extra time can really help
  • A pillow for your back
  • Breaks, stretching, moving your body, bathroom
  • Eye drops, tissues

The day/night before the exam

Make sure you have everything ready to go

  • Your ID
  • Directions
  • Accommodation letter (if using them)
  • Pillow
  • Snacks
  • Select clothes you will wear (no pockets, hoodies, scarves, etc).  Layer, so that you will comfortable, not be too hot or cold.

Try to take your mind off of the exam

  • Visit with friends
  • Have a massage, pedicure
  • Exercise
  • Go to a movie

The day of the exam

  • Give yourself plenty of time to get ready
  • Try to eat something nourishing, and sustaining
  • Meditate
  • Exercise/Stretch

On the way to the exam

  • Grab all the things you set out last night
  • Leave earlier than you need to, this will allow you to chill in the car when you get there
  • Listen to motivating music on the way (your favorite, or the theme to Rocky)
  • Tape the word PASS onto your dashboard and realize you will be seeing this at the end of your test

When you begin the test

  • Before you start, ground yourself, feet on floor, look around, touch the desk
  • If you feel it will help, use the ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones
  • Write your affirmations at the top of your paper to use as reminders during the test
  • Jot down anything you are worried you might forget (DSM timelines or such)
  • If you feel the need, write down some time markers for yourself for completing so many questions by what time (ie by the first hour I will be done with 50 questions…)
  • After the computer practice test, reground yourself before you begin
  • Stay present with the information, pretend you are in the room with the client or doing a case consultation.  What would you do?
  • Make sure to take your break, eat your snack or drink some juice
  • Take the test in chunks, 20 questions at a time,  Tell yourself, ”Ok I’m almost there”, as you near the end of  each sections, then stop and close your eyes or look away from the computer, do a few eye circles or rolls
  • Pretend the stem is a puzzle to solve, read it first and before you look for the answer, ask yourself what you would do
  • Take the stem literally, do not read or assume more info than is given
  • Do not take time to read the DSM 5 questions if you are taking it before 1/1/15, these do not count, so don’t waste your time.  If you want to, mark something and move on
  • Mark the ones that feel hard or that you are unsure, if you want write down the ones you think you might change later on your paper.  You can key these in at the end and take another look.. Jot down the two answers you have narrowed down to,  so you do not have to read them all again later
  • Remember there are experimental questions on the test.  If it seems impossible, it probably is, and does not count
  • Mark an answer for every question.  At the end of the test look at the top of the test to make sure you didn’t leave skip or leave any unanswered.  There is a button for “unanswered” questions.  If you did, go back and put something in, even if it is a guess
  • Go back, if you have time, to check only your marked answers,  only change them if you are sure you  made a mistake and have the “aha” factor of knowing it was wrong.  Leave all other choices alone, your gut was most likely right.

After the exam

  • No matter what the outcome, remember this exam does not define you as a therapist
  • Celebrate your success at having come this far and having worked this hard
  • If you passed, take some time to rejuvenate and get ready for your next exam
  • If you do not pass, consider how much you learned from this experience, and how much more prepared you will be next time

Remember you are not alone.  Connect online to others, take it one step at a time.  Good luck!!!

Melanie Masters

Melanie Masters, M.A., MFT Intern has completed her Standard Written Exam, and is in the process of preparing for her Clinical Vignette Exam.  In addition to being a MFT Intern, she is a Learning Disabilities Specialist at Moorpark Community College, where she teaches Study Strategies and does counseling and testing for learning disabilities.  She specializes in working with ADHD and Learning Disabilities and hopes to be able to re-open her practice in the Thousand Oaks/Westlake Village, CA area as soon as she completes her licensing.


Pre-Licensed Therapists Building Community

We talk a lot about the free online study group for therapists on here. Why? Because it is awe-some. And, I'll be honest- it has very little to do with me!

Today, I logged into the free study group and could have cried with everything I saw on there: 

  • Therapists sharing their exam success and getting cheers. 
  • Therapists sharing failing their exam and getting support, empathy, and encouragement. 
  • Therapists sharing study tips and tricks.
  • Therapists sharing job opportunities with one another. 
  • Therapists sharing important information and getting answers to specific questions that can really help them succeed!  

Ultimately, it is simple a place where we've somehow attracted thousands of awesome counselors, marriage and family therapists, social workers and more into one place. Everyone has the same basic goal: Help and be helpful- and it works! 

It sounds silly, but my favorite example today are people sharing that there is a heating and cooling issue in one of the California testing sites. To be honest, I wouldn't have ever considered calling a testing center to find out if they were having an issue, or been prepared for it being NINETY degrees in a professional testing center! 

I'd be prepared with warm clothes for the traditional ice box that is testing centers- wouldn't you? But, several people have shared that this has been an issue for several weeks, people have dressed in summer clothes (in the Fall) just in case- and some have been able to make the determination to drive a little farther to take their exam so they could be more comfortable. 

Those little gems make me SO happy! The study group that I started out of my own selfish needs back in 2005 is more than I ever imagined, and here it is 10 years later provided support and encouragement to people who are looking for study materials, therapists who have failed the written licensing exam and don't know what to do, and therapists who just need a community to keep them inspired! 

How are you creating community in your life? How are you being helpful? Where are you getting help? Sign up for the free online study group today if you need some awesome community! 

So let's talk about the 5 steps to building community as a pre-licensed therapist. Realize that the work you do NOW to build an awesome community- will also build up your professional reputation and help you when you start a counseling practice! 

  1. Be on the lookout for a great community. Look, search, and be dogged about finding people you can trust to connect with. 
  2. Start with clear boundaries as you watch and learn the culture of the group, and determine how safe it is to be "real" in the group (online or offline). 
  3. As you find safe places, be bold, brave, and authentic! 
  4. Be a safe person for other people- hold what people tell you in confidence, be helpful, empathetic, and model what you'd want from others. 
  5. Don't be afraid to "keep looking" if your first attempts at community building lead to some disappointments. 

Let's create more community! That is how we are therapists grow, develop, and stay inspired (just like we did in grad school!). Share your ideas for creating great community below! 

p.s. I'll be in Seattle, LA, and San Diego in November, and have free trainings every month on all aspects of starting a counseling practice. Check out the upcoming events here