Answering “BEST” Questions on the ASWB Exam

Answering “BEST” Questions on the ASWB Exam

Hey there, Social Workers! Are you gearing up for the ASWB exam and feeling a bit overwhelmed? Today, we’re diving deep into the world of “BEST” questions. With the right approach, you’ll be tackling these questions like a pro.

In this article, we’re going to break down how to answer “BEST” questions on the ASWB exam, inspired by the tactics shared in our Breaking Down Questions with the 5 W’s blog post and video.

Learn more about the ASWB exam and create a personalized ASWB study plan with Agents of Change. We’ve helped thousands of Social Workers pass their ASWB exams and want to help you be next!

1) Breaking Down Questions Using the 5 W’s Strategy

Your strategy for dissecting questions in the ASWB exams is crucial for success. Developing a solid method for tackling the exam’s intricate questions is vital.

What kinds of questions are featured in the ASWB exam?

  1. Recall Questions: Assess your capacity to remember and identify specific facts, ideas, or theories.
  2. Application Questions: Require you to use your basic knowledge in either a theoretical scenario or a real-world situation.
  3. Reasoning Questions: Necessitate a blend of knowledge synthesis, detailed analysis, and advanced problem-solving skills.

How do the 5 W’s aid in deconstructing ASWB questions?

  1. Who: Identifies the client.
  2. What: Focuses on the central problem, the question’s key aspect, and the actions needed from the Social Worker.
  3. Where: Identifying the scenario’s setting or backdrop, and the client’s precise location in it.
  4. When: Determines essential time-related factors, like the first meeting with the client, the onset of symptoms, or the start of the issue at hand.
  5. Why: Aims to discover the root causes for the Social Worker’s engagement and to decode various hints and cues in the question.

Discover how to leverage the 5 W’s technique and other methods to break down various ASWB question types in this video.

2) The Strategy: Breaking Down “BEST” Questions

Navigating the “BEST” questions in the ASWB exam can feel like you’re a detective sifting through clues. Let’s break down the strategies to tackle these brain-teasers effectively.

1. The 5 W’s Approach

Remember the Breaking Down Questions with the 5 W’s blog post and video from Agents of Change Prep? That’s our starting point. This method is a robust framework to dissect any question.


  • Identifying the key players in the scenario is crucial. Is it a child, an elderly person, or perhaps a family unit? Understanding the demographics and relationships involved can significantly influence the choice of the ‘best’ answer.


  • Pinpointing the main issue or concern is essential. Is it a matter of safety, ethical dilemma, or resource allocation?


  • The timing of the situation can be a decisive factor. Is this an immediate crisis or a long-term plan? Timing impacts the urgency and nature of the response.


  • The setting of the scenario matters. Is it in a clinical setting, a school, or a community center? Different environments call for different approaches.


  • Understanding the underlying reasons or motivations in a scenario can provide critical insights. Why is the client seeking help? What are their goals or fears? This understanding can guide you to the ‘best’ solution.

2. Process of Elimination

  • Start by eliminating the most obviously incorrect answers. This can simplify your choices and reduce the pressure. Often, two options can be quickly ruled out, leaving you with a 50/50 chance.

3. Look for Red Flags

  • Beware of answers that contain absolutes like “always” or “never.” Social Work is a field of nuances, and such definitive options are rarely correct. Also, be cautious of options that seem overly specific or detailed; they might be there to mislead you.

4. Trust Your Gut

  • Your first instinct is often grounded in your subconscious knowledge and experience. If an answer immediately feels right, it might just be. However, ensure that this instinct aligns with professional guidelines and ethical standards.

5. Context is King

  • Always consider the context of the question. What might be the best answer in one scenario could be inappropriate in another. Contextual clues are often embedded in the question, so read carefully.

6. Ethical and Practical Balance

  • Balancing ethical considerations with practicality is key. The ‘best’ answer often aligns with the core values and ethics of Social Work while also being feasible and effective in a real-world setting.

7. Practice and Reflect

  • Regular practice with sample questions can hone your skills. After each practice session, reflect on why an answer was the ‘best’ choice. This reflection deepens your understanding and prepares you for a variety of scenarios.

Learn more about the 5 W’s strategy to break down questions and additional tips and tricks for the ASWB exam with Agents of Change

3) Mastering “BEST” Questions Across the Four Major Sections of the ASWB Exam

The ASWB exam encompasses four major sections: Human Development, Diversity, and Behavior in the Environment; Assessment and Intervention Planning; Direct and Indirect Practice; and Professional Relationships, Values, and Ethics. Excelling in “BEST” questions across these varied sections requires a tailored approach, adapting your strategy to the unique demands of each area.

1. Human Development, Diversity, and Behavior in the Environment

  • Understanding Context: This section often involves scenarios with diverse cultural, social, or developmental factors.
  • Applying Theories: Utilize theories of human development and behavior to inform your choice. The ‘best’ answer often aligns with a theoretical framework appropriate to the client’s age, cultural background, or life situation.

2. Assessment and Intervention Planning

  • Holistic Assessment: Questions here require you to choose the most comprehensive and effective assessment strategies. Consider all aspects of the client’s situation, including psychological, social, and environmental factors.
  • Strategic Interventions: For intervention planning, the ‘best’ answer usually involves multi-faceted strategies that address immediate needs while also considering long-term goals and outcomes.

3. Direct and Indirect Practice

  • Client-Centered Responses: In this section, focus on answers that prioritize the client’s perspective and empowerment. The ‘best’ choices often involve direct engagement with clients, advocating for their needs, and utilizing evidence-based practices.
  • Systems Perspective: Indirect practice questions may involve navigating larger systems or communities. Opt for answers that demonstrate an understanding of systemic issues and show an ability to work effectively within these broader contexts.

4. Professional Relationships, Values, and Ethics

  • Ethical Decision-Making: This section tests your ability to navigate ethical dilemmas. The ‘best’ answers will align closely with the ASWB Code of Ethics, balancing professional obligations with client welfare.
  • Navigating Professional Boundaries: Questions may involve scenarios with potential boundary issues. It’s crucial to select answers that demonstrate respect for professional boundaries and the integrity of the Social Worker-client relationship.

Tips for All Sections:

  • Practice Scenario-Based Questions: Familiarize yourself with the types of scenarios presented in each section through practice questions.
  • Reflect on Real-World Applications: Connect your answers to real-world implications. How would your choice play out in practice?
  • Stay Updated: Ensure you’re up-to-date with current best practices and ethical guidelines, as these can directly impact what constitutes the ‘best’ answer.

Agents of Change programs include 2 live study groups each month and hundreds of practice questions on key ASWB topics.

4) FAQs – Answering “BEST” Questions on the ASWB Exam

Q: How can I differentiate between a good answer and the ‘best’ answer in a situation where multiple choices seem correct?

A: Distinguishing between a good answer and the ‘best’ one can be challenging, especially when multiple choices appear valid. To make this distinction:

  • Prioritize Client Well-being: Consider which option best serves the client’s interests, safety, and well-being.
  • Align with Ethical Standards: Evaluate each option against the ASWB Code of Ethics. The ‘best’ answer often aligns most closely with these standards.
  • Assess Practicality and Feasibility: Consider the practical application of each option. The ‘best’ choice is not only effective but also feasible in a real-world setting.
  • Reflect on Long-term Implications: Think about the long-term outcomes of each choice. The ‘best’ answer typically offers sustainable and beneficial results over time.

Q: In a “BEST” question, what should I do if I’m torn between two answers?

A: If you find yourself torn between two answers:

  • Re-evaluate the Scenario: Review the question to ensure you’ve fully grasped the scenario. Look for any nuances or details you might have missed.
  • Compare and Contrast: What are the potential outcomes of each choice? How do they align with Social Work principles and ethics?
  • Trust Your Training: Reflect on your training and experience. Often, your education and hands-on experience can provide insight into the more suitable choice.
  • Eliminate Extremes: Be wary of options that seem too extreme or simplistic. The ‘best’ answer often lies in a balanced, well-reasoned approach.

Q: How important is understanding the client’s background in answering “BEST” questions?

A: Understanding the client’s background is crucial in answering “BEST” questions for several reasons:

  • Cultural Competence: A deep understanding of the client’s cultural, social, and economic background can significantly influence what constitutes the ‘best’ response.
  • Individualized Approach: Each client’s unique situation requires a tailored approach. Knowledge of their background allows for more personalized and effective decision-making.
  • Ethical Responsiveness: Being aware of the client’s background ensures responses are not only effective but also respectful and culturally sensitive.
  • Holistic Understanding: A comprehensive understanding of the client’s history and circumstances leads to more informed and holistic decision-making.

5) Conclusion

As we wrap up this exploration of “BEST” questions on the ASWB exam, remember that mastering these questions is a journey that combines knowledge, intuition, and a deep understanding of Social Work ethics and principles. The key lies in understanding the reasoning behind the correct answers.

The strategies and insights shared in this guide are not just tools for passing the ASWB exam; they are essential skills for your career in Social Work. The ability to analyze complex situations, consider diverse perspectives, and make informed decisions is invaluable in the field. This mindset will not only aid you in acing the exam but also lay a strong foundation for a fulfilling and impactful career in Social Work.

Learn more about the ASWB exam and create a personalized ASWB study plan with Agents of Change. We’ve helped thousands of Social Workers pass their ASWB exams and want to help you be next!

6) Practice ASWB Exam Question – “BEST”

A Social Worker in a community mental health center is working with a client who has been experiencing severe anxiety and panic attacks. The client has a history of substance abuse, although they have been sober for the past year. The client’s anxiety has recently worsened, impacting their ability to work and maintain relationships. What is the BEST initial approach for the Social Worker to take in this situation?

A) Refer the client to a psychiatrist for medication evaluation, considering the severity of the anxiety.

B) Encourage the client to join a support group for individuals with anxiety and a history of substance abuse.

C) Work with the client to identify triggers and develop coping strategies to manage their anxiety.

D) Advise the client to seek hospitalization due to the intensity of their symptoms and past substance abuse.

Correct Answer: C) Work with the client to identify triggers and develop coping strategies to manage their anxiety.

Rationale: The correct answer is C. The best initial approach in this situation is to work collaboratively with the client to identify specific triggers for their anxiety and panic attacks and to develop effective coping strategies. This empowers the client by increasing their self-awareness and control over their symptoms. It also respects their autonomy and builds on their existing capacity to manage their anxiety in a healthy way, considering their history of substance abuse.

Option A, referring the client to a psychiatrist, may be a necessary step but it should not be the first action without first understanding the client’s situation more thoroughly. Medication might be helpful but should be considered within a broader treatment plan. Option B, encouraging the client to join a support group, could be beneficial but might not directly address the individualized nature of the client’s anxiety triggers and coping mechanisms. Option D, advising hospitalization, is typically reserved for situations where there is an immediate risk to the client or others, which is not clearly indicated in the scenario. Therefore, focusing on understanding and managing the client’s anxiety (Option C) is the most appropriate initial approach.


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About the Instructor, Meagan Mitchell: Meagan is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has been providing individualized and group test prep for the ASWB for over five years. From all of this experience helping others pass their exams, she created the Agents of Change course to help you prepare for and pass the ASWB exam!

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Disclaimer: This content has been made available for informational and educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or clinical advice, diagnosis, or treatment