How to Use Two Acronyms to “Go for the Gold” on the LMSW Exam!


Would you like to know how to apply The Two Acronyms You Must Know for the LMSW Exam? The purpose of this post is to answer this very question and to provide a few additional helpful resources :)

Below you will find six sample LMSW exam questions as well as their respective answers. Each one of the responses have been provided employing the acronym technique.

1. A woman is referred by her primary care provider and presents with a diagnosis of Hypochondriasis.  What is the FIRST crucial step in treatment?

a. Establishment of trust and appreciation for the patient’s problems
b. History taking
c. Education about the link between stress, emotions and lifestyle and physical health
d. Treatment planning

Employ the acronym FAREAFI to assist (in this order) because it is most useful for FIRST/NEXT type test questions. As a reminder, the letters stand for:

F: Feelings of the client be acknowledged first above all. Begin building rapport.
A: Assess
R: Refer
E: Educate
A: Advocate
F: Facilitate
I: Intervene

To clarify how you use this acronym, you select the response that is closest in hierarchy to the first letter/item of FAREAFI. In this case, the the correct answer is a; this corresponds with F in FAREAFI for feelings of the client to be acknowledged first.

2. A soldier with combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder desires to return to combat. What is the FIRST thing you should do?

a. Allow the soldier full self-determination, returning when she deems appropriate
b. Inform the client that return will likely cause an increase in symptoms and is not advised
c. Contact the commanding officer to determine if this is an option
d. Assess progress in treatment and current level of functioning

Use the acronym FAREAFI to assist (in this order) because it is most helpful for FIRST/NEXT type test questions.

The correct answer is d; this corresponds with A for Assess in the FAREAFI acronym.

3. A client has been working through childhood sexual abuse issues with you in therapy. Child protective services (CPS) removed her from the home for several months, and the perpetrator, an uncle who resided in the home, went to treatment. The uncle now works in a daycare setting and the client strongly suspects he is molesting some of the children. The client is unwilling to make a report to CPS. What is your BEST course of action?

a. Review mandated reporting laws to ensure you know what is required, inform the client you must report and terminate services with the client
b. Review mandated reporting laws with the client and your requirements, inform the client you must report and provide her the opportunity to make the report with you
c. Make the report without informing the client you will do so, knowing she may never learn from where the report initiated
d. Abide by the client’s wishes to not report – the uncle completed perpetrator treatment, he had to disclose it when hired and sexual abuse perpetrators are listed in accessible public registries, so the daycare is already aware and informed

Use the acronym AASPIRINS to assist (in this order); it is most helpful for questions that ask what is the BEST (or MOST reasonable) option/plan of action. As a reminder, the letters stand for:

A: Acknowledge client/patient. Begin building rapport.
A: Assess
S: Start where the patient is at
P: Protect life (of the individual and community…this one is about
determining/preventing danger to self and others)
I: Intoxicated do not treat. Refer
R: Rule out medical issue
I: Informed consent
N: Non-judgmental stance
S: Support patient self-determination

To clarify how you use this acronym, you select the response that is closest in hierarchy to the first letter/item of AASPIRINS.

In this case, the correct answer is b; this corresponds with p in AASPIRINS to protect life (the limits of confidentiality should have been mentioned to the client at the outset of relationship) – the social work mandate is to report…clarify mandated requirement and offer opportunity to the client to make the report.

4. A 25 year old woman presents for therapy when her spouse begins pressing her to start a family like they had planned years ago. She is frightened about becoming a mother, fearing the abuse she experienced as a child will make her a bad mother. What is your BEST course of treatment?

a. Assure her she has nothing to worry about because of her current awareness
b. Refer her to parenting classes while you assess the depth of the abuse
c. Assess her history of abuse and current fears, then make a positive parenting plan
d. Educate her on the generational patterns of abuse, and refer to parenting classes

Use the acronym AASPIRINS to assist because it is most helpful for questions that ask what is the BEST (or MOST reasonable) option.

The correct answer is c; this corresponds with A in AASPIRINS for assess; you would want to assess her history of abuse and current fears, set goals for parenting accordingly and address other issues as they arise.

5. A 35 year old wife and mother of two has a recurrence of breast cancer four years after a lengthy, painful battle involving radiation, chemotherapy and mastectomy. She has been offered the opportunity to participate in a new treatment, likely her only option for survival, but it is invasive and carries a high risk for significant side-effects. She denies treatment. What is your NEXT step?

a. Abide by her decision and let her die
b. Recommend to the spouse that he work with the doctor and the legal system to enforce treatment because of the minor children
c. Confirm that all the information needed to make an informed decision was available and offered; offer counseling, links to palliative care and hospice
d. Remind her that the children and spouse need her and it is best to exhaust all options before giving up

Employ the acronym FAREAFI to assist because it is most useful for FIRST/NEXT type test questions. In this question, you could also employ the AASPIRINS acronym.

The correct answer is c; this corresponds with E in FAREAFI for educate or S in AASPIRINS for support self-determination (social worker role is to make sure that the client has all the necessary information to make an informed decision and to provide needed resources to support client and family)

6. What is always the FIRST step in any therapeutic relationship?

a. Assessment
b. Intervention
c. Research
c. Evaluation

Use the acronym FAREAFI to assist because it is most helpful for FIRST/NEXT type test questions.

The correct answer is a; this corresponds with A in FAREAFI for assessment (it is done throughout treatment and determines the type of treatment provided).

I hope that you found the above questions helpful illustrations of how to employ the FAREAFI and AASPIRINS acronyms.

Interestingly, I have found that you could use either acronym at times for many questions. The dilemma appears to arise only when the “wrong” acronym does not include enough options to fully address the question because you are attempting to apply the “wrong” acronym. Have you found this to be true as well?

Additional Helpful Resources/Links

Since my post Tools to Help You Pass the LMSW Exam, I have discovered that another group of social workers regularly meets in order to prepare for either the LCSW or the LMSW exam (aside from the one I mentioned that meets on Google). They do this via a variety of methods: Google, Facebook and Skype (3x/week). For more information about this group, please visit LMSW/LCSW Exam Study Group.

50 Tips and Strategies to Ace the LMSW Exam – Mozart Guerrier has put together a great list; my favorite item is: Dr. Dawn Hall Apgar’s Self Assessment Tool (useful for those who have failed the test or who want to know which areas need boosting prior to the exam)

Socialworkerhelper  – a new network community specifically geared for social workers. It currently has an LCSW support group. I’m not sure how often or active this group is but it is certainly worth checking out :)

What Do I Do When I Fail the Social Work Exam? – an article from the New Social Worker magazine to address some of the questions some of you have raised.

Do you find these two acronyms helpful in figuring out the correct answer to some of the practice questions? What are some things that you are doing in order to prepare for your LMSW (or LCSW) exam? Do you have any lessons learned and/or additional tips to share? 

Photo credit: Quote image


  1. says

    Thank you. I assumed that :) Unfortunately google blogger doesn’t let me fix typos… one of google blogger’s limitations; I’m contemplating switching to a wordpress platform but I will want to consult with a few people who’ve made the conversion before I attempt to do so.

  2. Julie from Denver says

    I’m pretty sure FAREAFI was the most useful advice/tool I had for the test… Just took it yesterday after a week of studying, and I passed!!! Thank you Dorlee, for for sharing all of your wisdom concerning the clinical licensure test! Most helpful site I’ve found :)

  3. says

    Hi Julie,

    Congratulations on passing the licensure exam!

    Thank you for sharing which tool you found most useful for the exam and I’m so happy that you have found this website so helpful.

    It was so kind of you to come back and share your positive feedback.

    I am most grateful :)

  4. Danielle D says

    Hi Dorlee,

    I used your blog to help me study for the LMSW license exam in NY. I took the test yesterday and passed! I am so thankful for the tips and practice questions.

  5. says

    Hi DorleeM:

    I know you wrote this post a while ago, but I wanted to let you know that it really helped me pass my LMSW exam this past Monday! I was so nervous about the vignette questions and these tools really helped. I’ve been linking this site to my classmates and friends who are currently studying for the exam.

    Many thanks for sharing this wisdom with MSW graduates!

  6. says

    Hi Jessie,

    Congratulations on passing the LMSW exam this past Monday!

    It was my pleasure. I’m so happy to hear that this post helped you pass your exam.

    Thanks so much for referring this site onto your classmates and friends who are studying for the exam!


  7. Anonymous says

    Hi Dorlee,
    I’ve been in private practice for 16 years. I stupidly did not take advantage of being grandfathered into the LCSW and now I have to take the exam. My test is this Thursday. I was freaking out, trying to study, remember what I learned so long ago, and not use my own judgement. This site has been fantastic. It’s concise and easy to use. any other suggestions?
    Cross your fingers I pass.

  8. says

    Hi Kate,

    I’m so glad that you have found my site helpful in your preparations for the LCSW exam.

    It can be a bit tricky going for the exam so many years after graduating.That said, if you have access to a colleague’s LMSW or LCSW study guide that summarizes for you key points from each of the areas that are to be covered in the exam plus you follow the advice that I share in, I think you should do just fine.

    Wishing you the best of luck!

  9. Jenn says

    Hi, Dorlee. I finished my MSW in May. I just took the LMSW exam and passed it with flying colors last week! Your acronyms were very helpful. Your site in general is very helpful! I’ve recommended it to others who are studying for their LMSW exams. Thanks so much!

  10. Anonymous says

    I took and passed the LSW exam today. These acronyms were really all I needed. 96 correct answers were required to pass, I got 121 correct.


  11. says


    How wonderful that you passed the exam today! And that you found the acronyms to be of such great help to you. I also found them to be a wonderful tool in remembering what to do first vs second etc.

    You were also very kind to take the time to come back and express your appreciation for my blog posts on this topic.

    Wishing you the best of luck in your continued social work journey!

  12. Anonymous says

    Please help. I just don’t understand how the acronyms help. Okay, I read a question on the exam with a scenario and I determine if the first step (or first three steps) have been taken care of and ascertain that I’m to respond with what’s next. So I pick the next step in the acronym. Is that right?
    Well, if so, here’s what’s puzzling: When you assess, don’t you rule out medical issues? Why are these 2 things separate? And don’t you ALWAYS use a non-judgmental stance? Why would that come AFTER the 7 things above it?
    I must be misunderstanding how these acronyms are to be used because I just don’t get it. Anyone able to explain it in detail to me?
    Thanks so much!

  13. says

    I think you are raising some very good points. Yes, in practice, you would want to be employing a non-judgmental stance from the get-go and when you assess, I agree that you would want to be ruling out medical issues. However, for the purpose of the exam, I think you’ll find these acronyms helpful in choosing among the different answer choices.

  14. says

    Thanks for posting this, Dorlee. Though in Canada we do not have LCSW or LMSW exams, I can see how using these acronyms would be useful tools for students doing clinical placements or for reminders for all of us when completing assessments. A good guide to making sure we have explored everything.

    • says

      Hi Dima,

      Thanks so much for pointing out how these acronyms may be helpful not just for taking a licensure exam but in terms of our actual clinical practice.

      Your keen observation suggests yet another way that these acronyms may be helpful… when preparing for a job interview. They may serve as a reminder on how to prioritize the issues when responding to a behavioral type of interview question.

      Thanks again for your wonderful extension!


  15. Sandy M says

    I am eagerly awaiting to take my test before July 2015 . I will be sending out my packet this week. I will be an LMSW and thanks for the acronyms Dorlee.

  16. Kelly says

    Ms. Dorlee,

    Thank you for this site. Your encouragemnt is very inspiring. The feedback from others who have taken the test is also awesome! I am from Ohio and I take my test on Wednesday 4/15/15. I was very nervous but your site is so encouraging, I know I will pass!. The sample questions you have provided have been great and I love the acronyms.
    Thank you again.

    • says

      Hi Kelly,

      I’m so glad that you found the information and encouragement provided here both helpful and inspiring to you during your licensing exam prep!

      I remember how I had felt prior to my exam and thus wanted to share everything that I learned/did to make it easier for you and the rest of my peers :)

      Thanks so much for your positive feedback and wishing you the best of luck on your exam this Wednesday!

  17. Kelly says

    I took my exam yesterday and passed! Thank you again Ms. Dorlee for your encouragement. I used the acronyms for the majority of my questions and they worked great

  18. says

    I have taken the clinical social work license exam twice and not passed. It is very frustrating! I feel I know the content and studying isn’t the problem. I am having a hard time with the structure of the questions. I’m not sure if I’m using the acronyms correctly. Any suggestions?

  19. says

    Hi Debbie,

    I feel for you… Hmm, if you feel you know the content and studying isn’t the problem, I wonder if you may benefit from either some tutoring or working with some other socials workers studying for the exam.

    Here is a post that provides with you some links to get access to some online groups

    You could also consider registering for one of the online social work exam prep courses (which would provide you with many opportunities to practice/get used to the structure of the questions).

    I’ve interviewed the 5 out of the 6 key licensing prep firms (you can read all of their interviews and see which of their offerings sounds like what you need/would like).

    Wishing you the best of luck!

  20. Cindy says

    Hi Dorlee,

    Question: Does your acronyms work with the new test change that includes the DSM V requirements? I will take the test in January 2016 and I was wondering if I should be concern. Also I would like to thank you for sharing these acronyms and I will be encorporating your acroymns into my study habits as I prepare for the LMSW exam.


    • says

      Hi Cindy,

      That is a very good question. I believe that the acronyms should still work with the test change that includes the DSM V requirements; however, I am not 100% sure.

      The way to confirm this would be to see whether they apply with the new study materials. Do you happen to have a copy of new study exam materials and could you test the acronyms out with the test exam questions using those materials and share your learnings with the rest of the community?

      Thanks so much,

      • Cindy says

        Hi Dorlee,

        Thank you for responding to my post in a timely manner. Please forgive my late reply,I was waiting on your response to appear in my personal email and somehow it did not transfer. I have not purchase the new study exam materials as of yet. But I will test out the acroynm once I purchase the new guide in August. Thank you again for responding to my post.


        • says

          Hi Cindy,

          It was my pleasure (and no worries on your late reply).

          Thanks – that will be great if you would be able to test them out and then get back to us and let all of us know.

          In the interim, I’ve just sent this query to a colleague who works in the field so I hope to get his informed response in another day or so.


        • says

          Hi Cindy,

          To get back to you, I checked with the owner of one of the licensure test prep firms (SWTP) and he confirmed that the acronyms would still work with the updated licensure exam.


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