Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Social Welfare


Manny J. Gonzalez

Subject Categories

Education Policy | Social Work


licensing exam preparation; LMSW examination; social work education; social work licensure


Passing the social work licensing examination is a critical part of the professional development of contemporary social workers. However, the literature has consisted largely of debates over the ethical and theoretical merits of professional licensing that fail to shed light on the lived experiences of social workers sitting for the examination. This dissertation study sought to gather and analyze data about the manner in which social workers experience licensing examination failure. A series of semi-structured, narrative interviews captured the nuance, complexity and uniqueness of this experience. The study had three major objectives that gave it direction. First, the study sought to understand how social workers come to prepare for the licensing examination. Second, it attempted to reveal how social workers experience failing the examination. Third, it tried to illustrate the ways in which social workers respond to the stressors that follow examination failure. The data used for this dissertation study were obtained from a sample (N=15) of alumni of the graduate social work school of a large, urban, public university who failed the entry-level social work examination, or the Licensed Master of Social Work examination, at least once. This dissertation was theoretically informed by the theory of locus of control, attribution theory, and the psychology of event perception. Findings from the study suggest that respondents utilized a range of preparation methods and endorsed a host of emotional reactions to examination failure. Of note was the important role that graduate social work education played in the practical and emotional aspects of examination preparation. Findings from this dissertation can inform future studies on the topic of licensing examination performance. Based on the findings, implications for social work practice, education, and research are discussed.