Answering “SHOULD” Questions on the ASWB Exam

Answering “SHOULD” Questions on the ASWB Exam

Are you gearing up to take the ASWB exam but find yourself in a twist over “SHOULD” questions? We’re about to embark on a journey, transforming those challenging questions into simple ones.

This article, inspired by the Breaking Down Questions with the 5 W’s” blog post and video, will be your guide to mastering the art of answering “SHOULD” questions on the ASWB exam.

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 in dissecting ASWB exam questions plays a pivotal role in achieving success. It’s crucial to cultivate a strong method for tackling the intricate questions presented in the exam.

What kinds of questions are featured in the ASWB exam?

  1. Recall Questions: Assess your ability to remember and pinpoint specific details, concepts, or theories.
  2. Application Questions: Require you to utilize your core knowledge in hypothetical situations or real-life case examples.
  3. Reasoning Questions: Demand a combination of synthesizing knowledge, in-depth examination, and sophisticated problem-solving abilities.

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

  1. Who: Determine the client involved.
  2. What: Concentrates on the main issue at hand, what’s being asked in the question, and what actions are expected from the Social Worker.
  3. Where: Pinpoints the setting or backdrop of the scenario, as well as the client’s specific situation within it.
  4. When: Focuses on critical timing aspects, such as the initial interaction with the client, symptom onset, or the beginning of the presented problem.
  5. Why: Aims to reveal the fundamental reasons for the Social Worker’s involvement and to decode various hints given 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) Strategies for Answering “SHOULD” Questions

Let’s dive deeper into the strategy for answering these types of questions!

The 5 W’s Method – A Deeper Dive

The Breaking Down Questions with the 5 W’s blog post is a treasure trove of wisdom. Applying this method to “SHOULD” questions requires a bit more nuance. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Who: Identify all the stakeholders. Is the question about a child, an elderly person, or perhaps a group? Understanding who is affected helps to prioritize actions based on vulnerability and need.
  2. What: Pinpoint the main issue. Is it a matter of safety, ethical dilemma, or legal compliance?
  3. Where: The setting can be crucial. Is the scenario taking place in a hospital, a school, or in a client’s home? Different environments come with different protocols and considerations.
  4. When: Time sensitivity can be a game-changer. If there’s an immediate risk, swift action is necessary. On the other hand, long-term issues may require a more deliberate approach.
  5. Why: Understanding the underlying reasons behind the issue can offer insights into the best solution. It’s about looking beyond the surface to grasp the essence of the problem.

Ethical Considerations and Safety

“SHOULD” questions often have an ethical component. The ASWB exam tests your ability to navigate these ethical challenges. Here’s what to keep in mind:

  • Safety First: If a choice directly impacts the client’s safety, it likely takes precedence.
  • Ethical Standards: Familiarize yourself with the NASW Code of Ethics. Answers that align with these principles are often the right ones. Learn more in our blog post: Understanding The Code Of Ethics And The ASWB Exam
  • Client Autonomy: Respect for the client’s choices and autonomy is crucial. Be wary of options that undermine this principle.

Elimination Technique

  1. Discard Extremes: Be cautious of options that seem too extreme or overly cautious.
  2. Practicality Check: If an answer seems impractical or overly complicated, it’s probably a distraction.
  3. Red Flags: Watch out for choices that violate ethical guidelines or seem unsafe.

Practicing with Purpose

  • Mock Tests: Simulate exam conditions to get a feel for the time pressure and question format. Premium packages from Agents of Change include full-length practice exams!
  • Study Groups: Discussing with peers can offer new perspectives and understanding. All packages from Agents of Change include 2 live study groups per month!
  • Reflect on Mistakes: When you get a question wrong, dig deep to understand why. It’s a powerful learning opportunity.

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) “SHOULD” Questions Throughout the 4 Major Exam Sections

Understanding how “SHOULD” questions appear in the 4 major exam sections is crucial for a well-rounded preparation.

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

In this section, “SHOULD” questions often revolve around understanding the developmental stages and diverse backgrounds of clients. They test your ability to apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations. Look for questions that ask about:

  • Appropriate Interventions: Deciding what intervention is most suitable given a client’s age, cultural background, or specific life circumstances.
  • Ethical Considerations in Diverse Settings: Choosing actions that respect the diverse values and beliefs of clients, while adhering to ethical standards.

2. Assessment, Diagnosis, and Treatment Planning

This section dives into the skills needed for client assessment and creating effective treatment plans. “SHOULD” questions here typically focus on:

  • Prioritizing Client Needs: Identifying the most pressing issues in a client’s situation and deciding the best course of action.
  • Ethical Diagnosis and Assessment: Choosing approaches that are ethical and sensitive to the client’s history and current situation, especially in complex cases involving mental health or substance abuse.

3. Psychotherapy, Clinical Interventions, and Case Management

Here, “SHOULD” questions test your practical skills in implementing interventions and managing cases. Key areas include:

  • Intervention Strategies: Deciding which therapeutic approach or intervention should be prioritized for effective outcomes.
  • Crisis Management: Determining immediate steps in crisis situations, balancing urgent care with long-term treatment strategies.

4. Professional Ethics and Values

Perhaps the most critical section for “SHOULD” questions, this area assesses your understanding and application of social work ethics and values. Expect questions on:

  • Ethical Dilemmas: Choosing the best course of action in scenarios where ethical principles may conflict.
  • Professional Boundaries: Deciding how to maintain professional boundaries and ethical relationships with clients, colleagues, and in supervisory roles.

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

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

Q: I often get confused between options that I ‘could’ do and what I ‘should’ do in the ASWB exam questions. How can I clearly differentiate between these two in the context of the exam?

A: “Could” options typically represent possible actions that might be appropriate under certain circumstances, but they may not be the best or most urgent choice. On the other hand, “Should” options are those that are most appropriate, ethical, or urgent in a given scenario. To differentiate:

  1. Prioritize Safety and Ethics: “Should” options will align closely with ethical standards and prioritize client safety.
  2. Assess Urgency and Impact: Evaluate which option has the most immediate and significant impact on the client’s well-being or situation.
  3. Consider Best Practices: “Should” options are often rooted in established best practices and evidence-based approaches in Social Work.
  4. Reflect on Real-Life Applicability: Think about how each option would play out in a real-world scenario. The “should” option should feel like the most practical and effective course of action.

Q: How Important Are “SHOULD” Questions in the Overall ASWB Exam Scoring?

A: “SHOULD” questions are integral to the ASWB exam as they test critical thinking, ethical decision-making, and prioritization skills – all crucial for competent social work practice. While it’s important not to neglect other types of questions, giving extra attention to “SHOULD” questions can be beneficial. They:

  1. Test Key Competencies: These questions assess your ability to apply Social Work ethics and principles in complex situations, a vital skill in the field.
  2. Influence Overall Performance: Since they often require more critical thinking, mastering “SHOULD” questions can boost your confidence and performance in other exam sections.
  3. Reflect Real-World Scenarios: Excelling in these questions indicates a readiness for real-life Social Work challenges.

Q: Can Real-World Social Work Experience Help in Answering “SHOULD” Questions?

A: Your real-world experience is an invaluable asset in tackling “SHOULD” questions. It provides:

  1. Practical Insight: You have a firsthand understanding of how decisions play out in real situations, which can inform your choices on the exam.
  2. Ethical Judgment: Experience often hones your ability to navigate ethical dilemmas, a key aspect of “SHOULD” questions.
  3. Contextual Understanding: Having worked in the field, you’re likely better at reading between the lines of a scenario and understanding the nuances.

However, remember that the exam also tests your knowledge of formal theories, models, and standards that you might not use day-to-day. Balancing your practical experience with a thorough review of academic Social Work knowledge is the best approach.

5) Conclusion

First and foremost, remember that “SHOULD” questions are more than just a test of your knowledge—they’re a window into your judgment and decision-making skills as a future Social Worker. They challenge you to apply ethical principles, prioritize client safety, and use critical thinking in complex situations. By embracing strategies like the 5 W’s method, prioritizing ethical considerations, and leveraging your real-world experience, you can approach these questions with confidence and clarity.

The journey through the ASWB exam is demanding, yet immensely rewarding, paving the way for a fulfilling career dedicated to helping others. Good luck, and may your path be illuminated with the knowledge, ethics, and compassion that define the heart of 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 – “SHOULD”

A Social Worker in a high school setting learns that one of their students, a 16-year-old, is pregnant and is considering an abortion. The student comes from a family with strong religious beliefs against abortion and has not yet discussed her situation with her parents. The Social Worker SHOULD:

A) Respect the student’s confidentiality and provide her with information about all her options, including abortion, without informing her parents.

B) Contact the student’s parents immediately to inform them about the situation due to the student’s age and the sensitivity of the issue.

C) Advise the student to follow her family’s religious beliefs to avoid potential conflict at home.

D) Schedule a meeting with the student and her parents to discuss the situation, assuming that the student’s best interest is in family involvement.

Correct Answer: A) Respect the student’s confidentiality and provide her with information about all her options, including abortion, without informing her parents.

The correct answer is A. In this situation, the Social Worker should prioritize the student’s right to confidentiality and self-determination. According to ethical standards, it is crucial to respect the autonomy of clients, especially in sensitive matters such as pregnancy and reproductive choices.

Providing unbiased, comprehensive information about all options allows the student to make an informed decision that aligns with her values and circumstances. Answer B violates the student’s right to confidentiality and could lead to unintended harm. Answer C undermines the principle of self-determination by imposing the social worker’s views or the family’s beliefs on the student. Answer D, while seemingly collaborative, could violate the student’s confidentiality and autonomy if she is not ready or willing to involve her parents at this stage.

The Social Worker’s role in this scenario is to support the student in exploring her options and making her own decision, while ensuring she is aware of the potential consequences of any choice.


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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