What can I share from my license exam? (Part 2 of 2)

Basics of California Law 5th edition coverIn Part 1, which was an excerpt from my Basics of California Law text, I discussed the subtle ways that even well-meaning therapists can subvert a license exam. Here in Part 2, available only online, I’ll get more specific about what kinds of things I think can be safely shared and what probably can’t.

A word of caution is in order: I’m not the final judge of these things. Only a licensing board can ultimately determine whether a particular behavior qualifies as violating exam security or subverting the exam. And there’s good reason for boards to not get as specific in their published rules as I’ll get here: People would try to stay within the letter of the law while defying its spirit.

If a state licensing board put in their rules, “You can’t share exact text of exam questions,” some people would start sharing questions with just a couple of words changed. If the board said “It’s okay to share topics, but not specific questions,” it would invite endless debate on what exactly qualifies as a “topic.” For example, say there were a question on diagnosis on the exam. Someone who had taken the test might share with others, “you really need to know the diagnostic criteria for Bipolar I disorder.” If questioned, they would argue that what they shared was just a “topic” and not the actual test question. It sucks that sometimes policy has to be written — or that written policies have to be avoided — based on the few people who would misuse the rules, but that’s reality.

(A quick sidenote here: I’ve written this post from the perspective of someone licensed by California’s Board of Behavioral Sciences. Some other boards and other states may indeed have more specific rules about what information from an exam can and cannot be shared. Naturally, you’ll want to stay current with the rules appropriate to your state and license.)

So what we’re left with is guidance from licensing boards that we can’t subvert a license exam or violate exam security, but no written specifics beyond that of what we can and can’t say. How do we know where to draw the line? It’s especially challenging in places like Facebook groups, where therapists are trying to be helpful and supportive to those about to take the tests… but where there’s also a written record of everything posted.

As I said in Part 1, everyone taking a licensing exam has the right to a level playing field. So as I see it, sharing information that offers your audience an advantage in terms of their awareness of what content to expect on the test is out of bounds. Here are some examples of what I think probably can be shared and what probably can’t. Again, I’m no lawyer, and I’m not a licensing board. If you have a question about the specific legality of a behavior, please consult an attorney. What’s here arguably reflects more on my own clinical and teaching experience, and my internal sense of fairness, than it does on any written standard. I’ve tried to parse that out where appropriate.

“I felt strongest [or weakest] in the area of law and ethics.”

Probably fine. The exam guides specify how much of each license exam is based on legal and ethical issues — that’s public information — and sharing your own self-confidence or even your performance in broad categories doesn’t give anyone a particular advantage. You’re not being specific in any way here about the legal and ethical content of the test.

“The testing room in [location] was too [hot/cold/crowded/etc.].”

Probably fine. This one’s as close as I can get to saying “definitely fine.” You’re not in any way violating exam security or subverting the exam by saying it was warm in the testing room, or by informing future test-takers of normal security procedures (leave your phone in your car, for example). In fact, the only way I can imagine that a statement like this wouldn’t be fine is if it was something like “The testing room in Los Angeles was too full of test questions about Maria, a woman dealing with co-occurring substance abuse and depression.” Don’t say that.

“I found studying of theories to be especially helpful.”

Probably fine. It’s no secret that theories will be covered on the exams. This doesn’t help future test-takers know which theories are covered more than any others, and so doesn’t offer anyone an unfair advantage.

“I found studying cognitive-behavioral therapy especially helpful.”

Requires more explanation. Of course CBT could come up on the exam. Did you find studying CBT helpful because it showed up on the test more often than you expected, or because your knowledge of CBT relative to other theories had been weak before you started your exam preparation? Without additional context, people reading your post would probably presume that you are trying to tell them what’s emphasized on the test. That would create an unfair advantage, I think. (Obviously, I’m just using CBT as an example here. The same logic would apply regardless of which theory or group of theories is being discussed.)

“I would really encourage you to study [particular topic].”

Probably not OK. It certainly gives the appearance that you are telling people what you saw on your exam, and giving those lucky enough to see your post an unfair advantage over those who don’t.

“I wouldn’t worry about [particular topic] when preparing for your license exam.”

Tough call. It’s an interesting logical argument: Are you actually violating exam security or subverting the exam by suggesting what isn’t on it? It’s hard to know how this would play out in a disciplinary hearing. My own sense of fairness suggests avoiding this, since it’s still giving those lucky enough to see your post an unfair advantage over those who don’t. A licensing board may or may not agree, but I wouldn’t take the risk. Besides, the more people share different things that weren’t on their exams, the easier it gets to put together what was.

As I said above, I tend to go back to the question of whether a particular post would in any way unbalance the playing field for future test-takers. If it would, you’re far safer not posting. Besides, there are ways of helping soon-to-be test-takers that are perfectly fair, and probably ultimately even more impactful, than sharing license exam content. For as anxious as some people get about their exams (rightly so! they’re a big deal), hearing someone who just took the exam say, “You’ve got this! You’ll do great!” can make all the difference in the world.

Originally published January 26, 2015. Republished June 20, 2018.