The California Law and Ethics Exam is a major source of anxiety for many people in the process of becoming a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I have heard colleagues repeatedly express anxiety about studying for the exam, the exam process itself, and even the process for receiving results. I’ll address each of these areas below as it relates to my own experience with the exam. As someone who just went through the process myself, I can relate to some of these concerns.
Before I continue, a quick aside on sharing test experiences: Ben’s two posts (part 1 & part 2) on what can and can’t safely be shared from a licensing exam are worth checking out before you post your exam experience on Facebook or otherwise share it with the world, especially in writing.
For starters, I strongly suggest that you utilize at least one of the study resources available to you in this process. I understand that everyone learns and studies differently, and that we are all at different points of the licensure process, but these resources can significantly impact results. The two primary online study resources are available through the Therapist Development Center (TDC) and Gerry Grossman. Both of these resources offer study material, as well as mock exams. Another resource that is available for those in the process of studying is Ben Caldwell’s book, Preparing for the California MFT Law and Ethics Exam. This book is concise (126 pages) and manages to address each of the knowledge areas of the test in a clear, digestible manner. Regardless of which resource you use, I do recommend you use at least one.
I will admit that my own experience is somewhat unique here, in that I am a member of the AAMFT Legislative and Advocacy Committee. My role on that committee is to be continuously involved in advocating for changes to legal and ethical rules faced by MFTs in California. That being said, I still had to study and still had to work to manage test anxiety. In regard to studying, I utilized Ben’s book and a mock exam from Gerry Grossman (Grossman is the only resource that offers standalone mock exams for purchase). Ben’s book was a great refresher for many of the nuances of law and ethics. The Gerry Grossman mock exam was helpful in that it gave me a sense of how questions would be worded. Honestly, the provided rationales for each exam item were among the most beneficial resources. The rationales were especially helpful because I was able to learn why a question was right/wrong, instead of just receiving a raw score.
In regards to length of studying, I spent 5-7 hours in total preparing. That time was primarily split between reading, taking the mock exam, and collaborating with peers. As I mentioned earlier, everyone studies and learns differently. The one thing I do want to comment on about length of studying is to not overdo it. There comes a point when studying actually becomes more harmful than helpful. There are only 75 questions on the exam, so the 50+ hours I have heard some colleagues say they have spent studying seems rather excessive.
As someone who typically does not experience test anxiety (or at least not a lot of it), I did not think it was necessary to make drastic changes to my routine before the exam. Here is a list of the things I thought were helpful (most of which I try and keep as part of my regular self-care routine):
- I made sure that I got a good night’s rest for the couple of days before my exam. I tried to get at least 8 hours each day.
- I kept a healthier diet than normal, especially because I am notorious for having my stomach influence my mood!
- I exercised regularly. I’m a runner, so for me that meant a couple of extra runs in the weeks leading up to the exam.
- I kept my regular work schedule, including the day before and the day of the exam. I didn’t want the test to occupy any more space in my life than it needed to.
The Test Itself
For some background information on the Law and Ethics Exam and why it was created, check out this post.
Regarding the test itself, I felt as though the questions were relatively straightforward and that the time provided was adequate. I have heard a lot of feedback that some questions were lengthy or worded strangely, which has some truth to it. Typically, I was able to remove two of the possible answers right away because they clearly were incorrect. The problem that most people run into is making the decision between those final two possible answers. My suggestion for managing these situations, especially if it is one of those tricky questions, is to understand the rationales while you study. This had the greatest impact because I was able to apply the rationales to the exam questions to identify the answer that was most correct.
Results and Next Steps
The final item I want to address is the process for receiving results. I’ll try not to stand on my soapbox for too long here, but I have been especially frustrated with the feedback from colleagues and peers about the process of receiving results. As much as I empathize with those who have to wait for results, it is difficult to watch individual anxiety and frustration being directed towards the BBS and PSI (the company that actually administers the tests). If anything, these two organizations have been explicitly clear that the process of calculating and sending results is complex and very labor intensive. My recommendation is to RELAX. These organizations are working diligently, many times outside of typical work hours, to help enhance this process.
All that being said, the timeframe for receiving results will vary between exam cycles. The BBS actually anticipates that the time required to calculate the passing score will continue to decrease with each new cycle. For those who will be testing within the first couple of weeks of any new exam cycle, I do encourage you to hold off contacting the BBS or PSI for at least 4-5 weeks. That will give them time to calculate scores and begin notifying people of results.
I wish you the best of luck in your exam process. Take a deep breath, relax, you are going to do great!