ASWB Exam Prep: Group Formation

By Heidi Tobe on June 1, 2020

Group therapy

This month’s ASWB exam prep blog for the LMSW and LCSW exams covers a topic likely to show up on your ASWB exam: groups. Specifically, we are delving into the topic of stages of group formation. Group questions on the exam can show up in a variety of ways. They may test your factual knowledge on stages of group formation through a recall or application question. You also could see a reasoning based question testing your clinical skills in working with groups. This month we are going to focus on factual recall regarding groups. Next month we focus on how groups show up in the ASWB’s reasoning based questions.

The exam expects you to have a fair amount of knowledge when it comes to working with groups. In TDC’s ASWB exam prep program, we cover topics such as:

-stages of group formation

-how to deal with crises in the group setting

-when to approach group issues within the group vs. individually

-confidentiality issues in groups

Stages of Group Formation

The five stages of group formation include forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. Here is a bit of information on each stage.


Forming is the first stage when the group has just met each other. Feelings of ambivalence about the group as well as anxiety prevail, with limited (or tentative) self-disclosure. Group members tend to be reliant on the leader, who helps provide structure and space for group members to share what they hope for out of the group. 


As the name suggests, this stage includes conflict which can occur between members and/or between members and leadership. Additionally, subgroups can form during this time. The group leader helps group members express and work through frustration and other negative emotions as they arise. During this time, the group leader continues to reinforce group guidelines and expectations set during the forming stage. As is the case throughout the entirety of the group, it is important that when individual members bring concerns to the leader, that the leader brings those concerns back to the group. 


Cooperation emerges during this stage as there is a great understanding of the common goal they are working towards. Trust, intimacy, and commitment to develop within the group. During this stage, the leader is able to be less active. Group norms have been established and there is increased openness and group cohesion.  


During this stage, the group effectively 'runs itself.’ While the leader continues to participate, their primary task is helping the group to run itself effectively. The group collaboratively works towards the goals of the group and the individual members. 


Like any experience of termination in therapy, this stage can be marked by anxiety, loss, sadness, and gratitude. It is a time of reflection and planning. It is normal for some members to see an increase in the symptoms that brought them to the group. As they prepare for termination, the leader helps members express both the positive emotions/gratitude of the group as well as the more difficult emotions of anxiety and loss. Leaders assist in planning for the end of the group in a way that encourages continued maintenance of the goals met in the group. 

Let’s see how you do with a practice application question on the stages of group formation:

ASWB Practice Question

A group for women experiencing depression has been meeting for 3 weeks. Several group members approach the group leader expressing concern that another group member regularly interrupts and dominates the conversation. What stage of group formation is the group most likely in?

A. Forming

B. Storming

C. Norming

D. Performing

(Scroll for answer and Rationale)























The correct answer is B: Storming. During this stage it is common for subgroups to emerge, like the one approaching the leader. Another way this question could show up is as a reasoning question. Instead of asking what stage the group is in, it may ask “what should the social worker do NEXT?” Curious how the exam would expect you to respond to that? We’ll cover that very topic next month!

ASWB Masters and Clinical Exam Preparation 

Whether you’re an expert on groups or need a little extra support, know that TDC has you covered. Our masters and clinical ASWB exam prep courses give you everything you need to pass the exam, and none of the extra stuff that makes studying feel overwhelming. We prepare you for both the factual content AND reasoning skills needed to successfully pass your exam with confidence. You also can email your coach anytime you have questions as you go through the program, so you’ll never be left with confusion or unanswered questions. We’ve helped THOUSANDS of social workers across the nation PASS their exams. Are you next?


Commenter Name
January 5, 2021

I've heard that the LMSW sometimes does not use Tuckerman's group development stage titles, but instead the pre-affiliation, power/control, intimacy, differentiation and separation titles. Have you heard this as well?

Commenter Name
January 6, 2021

Hi Michael, I haven't heard that feedback from any of our customers, but you can certainly familiarize yourself with those terms as well just to be on the safe side.

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