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.


Guest blog: Special Accommodations for MFT Exams

So excited to have the wonderful Maria Shufeldt submit an informative article outlining the process for applying for accommodations. Give it a read, explore, and become informed about the options and process for asking for special accomodations when taking licensing exams in California. 

By Maria Shufeldt

Melanie Masters contributor 

State and federal laws require the BBS to give exam applicants with documented disabilities an equal opportunity to perform on the licensing exams. Disabilities are generally defined as a condition or impairment that limit one or more major life activities. They may also include mental or psychological disorders, and specific learning disabilities. 

If you believe your test performance would be affected by such a condition, you may file a written request with the BBS at least 90 days before scheduling your exam. The BBS will evaluate your eligibility for “Special Accommodations” within the legal mandates. 

Accommodations must fall within certain limits, and may not alter the exam’s measurement of knowledge or skills. Specific accommodations approved will depend on BBS evaluation process, and may include: up to time and a half for exam completion, a private room, breaks to take care of special needs or use management strategies, or special equipment like seat cushions. You may also request to take the test by pen and pencil.

A request is another form of application to the BBS, so make sure that you are timely, accurate, and thorough. Be patient: it’s the BBS, after all! Here are some steps that may help during the request process. I used clinical terms because it may help to remember this is a systemic process. Keep focus, not frustration in mind. 

1. Assess yourself, the situation, and the presenting problem.

Assess how all the bio/psycho/social factors of the testing process may affect you if you have a pre-existing condition. Try to visit the test site to assess the environment and ask questions of the facility staff. Think carefully about your daily functioning, and compare that with the exam conditions. 

2. Refer out for expertise 

Consult with a qualified medical or educational professional as soon as you determine you want to request accommodations. BBS requires testing and/or medical diagnosis, and will consider the length of time you have been in treatment, as well as requirements and recommendations for management during the exam. 

Some conditions may not qualify if corrected by aides or medication. (Examples: wearing eyeglasses, or taking ADHD meds). Finally, keep “test anxiety” out of your mind and vocabulary. It is not in the DSM. 

3. Advocate for yourself. 

This is what we do ethically for our clients, but can be difficult for ourselves. Finally getting to exam stage requires many sacrifices and admirable qualities such as persistence and self-sufficiency. Yet the exam is not the time to “white knuckle” a known condition, hesitate to request assistance, or to ignore the possibility that a disability or non-diagnosed condition is affecting you. Remember (as if you didn’t know): it’s a 6 month wait to retake the exam. 

4. Recognize (and keep) your role in the system

BBS follows its own defined process within the legal mandates of Special Accommodations. Here is what you should expect – in order of likely occurrence:

  • Submit your Request for Accommodations to the BBS Special Accommodations Specialist at least 90 days before scheduling your test date. 
  • The BBS will evaluate your request and mail you a letter of official approval with specific accommodations. You can check on status by phone or email to the BBS Specialist. 
  • If your request is approved, BBS will send you a letter that specifies your Special Accommodations. You will schedule your exam by phone only with PSI’s Accommodations Unit only. When you call, ask PSI if they have received an upload of your accommodations approval from BBS. You cannot schedule until this is in place. You can follow up with BBS and/or ask PSI to call you when it is received. 
  • Once you are scheduled and starting your study process, you may want to ask your test coach how to incorporate accommodations in your mock exams. 
  • On test day, be sure to bring everything you have been allowed for your accommodations, including the letter of accommodation from the BBS. 
  • Generally, BBS will apply approved accommodations for the 1st. You will receive another mailed letter for the second accommodations, and you should follow the same steps outlined above. 

1. Confidentiality and Disclosure 

BBS maintains confidentiality on your Special Accommodations status, but you will  make the decision yourself about disclosing to colleagues and friends or family. This decision generally comes up when people ask you “how long did it take,” or other details about the testing conditions. 

2. Celebrate the “pass”.

You did this with special accommodations, not because of them. 

Resources: 

Marriage and Family Therapist Standard Written Examination Candidate Handbook, p. 6 (Special Accommodations and Reporting to the Test Site) www.bbs.ca.gov/pdf/publications/mft_swhbk.pdf 

Request for Accommodation Form from BBS: www.bbs.ca.gov/pdf/forms/specaccom.pdf

BBS Special Accommodation Specialist: Mary Miranda: 916-574-7862 Ext. 62 Mary.Miranda@dca.ca.gov

PSI Special Accommodations Scheduling: 1-800-367-1565, Ext. 6750