Becoming a therapist is ridiculously expensive. There’s grad school, which costs about five times as much even in inflation-adjusted dollars today than it did 30 years ago. There’s the time between graduation and licensure, which is often filled with low-paying employment. And then at the end of all of that, you take your final license exam. (Some states have bumped up some exams to be earlier in the process.) Given all the expense that leads up to it, it’s common to wonder why that last major hurdle is itself so expensive. If your education and experience should have prepared you for licensure, why should you have to do license exam prep courses in addition? And if you do go the test-prep route, why is it so expensive?
Let’s take those questions in order.
Why do you need a license exam prep book or course?
Simply put, some people don’t. The exams aren’t filled with secret knowledge. Exam developers are relatively transparent, at least in broad strokes, about the content that will be tested on each exam. And since exams need to be legally defensible, specific exam items are usually developed based on common teaching textbooks and primary sources such as ethics codes. So there’s a good chance that your graduate education covered a lot of what you’ll be tested on. (Don’t take that as a defense of the exams themselves, which are awful.)
Of course, having been exposed to the content isn’t the same thing as being able to call it back to mind several years later. What exam prep companies typically do well is (1) filtering all that information down to its most essential elements, and (2) organizing it in such a way that it’s easier to remember in ways that are likely to be useful on the exam. They also can help with test-taking skills and strategies, and anxiety management.
How much people actually benefit from exam prep materials is hard to say. To be sure, many of those who take prep courses and read prep books likely would pass their exam anyway, even without the prep materials. But it’s also true that many of those who use prep materials say that they felt more knowledgeable and confident, and less anxious, taking the real exam. As such, many say that they are happy with the value they receive from their prep courses and books.
Why is exam prep so expensive?
We can speak from experience here, having developed prep materials for California’s Law & Ethics Exams for LMFTs, LPCCs, and LCSWs. Researching, developing, writing, editing, publishing, and regularly updating license exam prep materials is a major investment of time and money. And the potential audience for most of these products is, by nature, limited. (Try as we might, our books are never making the New York Times bestseller list.) Prep companies naturally want to recoup their investment, and ideally make some profit as well.
The cost of these products can feel exploitive, especially if you’ve been crushed by student debt and working in difficult, low-paying positions for some time. But the companies themselves are not seeking to exploit you. In fact, many of our internal discussions here at Ben Caldwell Labs focus on precisely this tension: We want to be able to help as many therapists as possible to succeed, which suggests keeping prices as low as we reasonably can. But we also want to expand our product line, helping even more therapists succeed in various ways, and we want to be able to make a sustainable business of it. That suggests raising prices to whatever will produce the most total dollars.
So far, we’ve been able to keep prices down. That’s in keeping with our mission, and we have the luxury of not needing to maximize profits to serve outside investors. We believe we can provide high-quality prep materials at a lower price point than some of our colleagues in this space. But we also know that those colleagues are also doing their best to serve their customers and their business needs, and that they produce good products too.
There is one more thing worth mentioning, since we’re talking about prices. Copyright and terms-of-service violations are unfortunately common in exam prep. Whether it’s copying our practice test questions to an online flashcard site, or sharing your login with another user, these violations raise prices for everyone who seeks to get their materials honestly. They’re violations of law, and in many cases they represent ethical violations as well. Every test prep company has to spend at least some time and money policing this kind of thing, making our products more expensive than they otherwise would be. Please respect copyright, and when you’re using an online program, respect their terms of service. If you’re done with your license exam prep materials, here’s what you can and can’t safely do with them.