It is essential to the fairness and validity of any testing process that those who take the test are who they say they are, do not attempt to cheat on the test, and do not reveal any information about test content to those who have not yet taken the exam. This is certainly true with license exams, which are considered high-stakes tests because failing can directly impact one’s professional standing and job opportunities.
Violating exam security or subverting a license exam, one of the forms of unprofessional conduct that can lead to discipline from the Board of Behavioral Sciences, occurs most commonly when someone who has just taken their exam shares its content with others who have not yet taken the exam. “Subverting,” as it is used here, means impacting the integrity of the exam; while sharing content is perhaps the most common way this happens, it certainly is not the only way it could occur. Someone who hacks into the testing centers’ computer network to give examinees extra time is also subverting the exam process.
Violating exam security is not always an obvious thing. Of course it would be a violation to use your phone’s camera to take pictures of exam questions, and then to share them with others about to take the test. That is one of many reasons why testing centers do not allow phones. But violating exam security can also happen in subtler ways.
In recent years, a number of social media groups have sprung up to help provide social support to those in various stages of their careers, including some groups specifically focused on prelicensed therapists. In those groups, people who have recently taken their licensing exams can provide very helpful social and emotional support to those who are about to test. However, I have seen several instances of group members posting questions like “What will I need to know about cognitive-behavioral interventions for my exam?”
Ed. note: This post is a lightly-modified excerpt from Basics of California Law for LMFTs, LPCCs, and LCSWs. In part 2, I follow up with some specific examples of the line between what (probably) can be shared and what can’t.
When someone who has recently taken a licensing exam answers that question, they likely have good intentions; they’re trying to help a fellow professional to focus their preparation on those pieces that will be most helpful. But in doing that, they are giving the person who asked for the information an unfair advantage in testing.
Licensing exams are only fair if everyone goes into them on a level playing field in terms of their awareness of specific exam content. Think of it like a soccer game (or baseball, or football, or whatever sport you prefer): Of course some people will come in better prepared than others. Some people train more for their sports or have more natural athletic ability. Similarly, some people study harder than others for exams, and some people are naturally better test-takers. But in a sport or in an exam, for it to be fair, everyone has to have an equal playing field. A football field can’t be uphill for one team and downhill for the other. For an exam, everyone has to be asked the same questions in relatively equal conditions — that’s why testing centers are so specific about their rules.
When people share information from their license exams, even if they’re not sharing the exact text of questions, they’re creating an uneven playing field. How would you feel if you failed your test, only to hear later that members of some Facebook group you weren’t a part of had been told by a recent test-taker that “It really helped that I studied cognitive-behavioral therapy. You should really emphasize cognitive-behavioral therapy in your studying”?
If you are a member of such groups on any social media site, and you see specific discussion of exam content, please do all you can to prevent test information from being posted or shared. Obviously there is risk to those who are sharing test information, as they could lose their (sometimes brand new) license over it. But there is also significant risk for all those anxiously preparing for their own upcoming exams, whether members of the particular group or not: If the BBS learns that exam content is being circulated among those who have not yet tested, one possible response would be for them to simply shut down that cycle of the exam, and not allow anyone to test until the next exam cycle starts months later with new exam content.
In Part 2, I’ll give some specific examples of what I think are good things to share and what I think would likely be considered out of bounds. Of course, I’m not the BBS — the ultimate determination of what would be considered “subverting a license exam” is up to them. But I hope this guidance is helpful when considering what to share. Basics of California Law for LMFTs, LPCCs, and LCSWs is available on Amazon.
[Originally published January 22, 2015. Republished with minor updates June 13, 2018.]