Social Work Exam Prep: Developmental Stages Question

By Heidi Tobe on December 1, 2019

Social Work Exam Prep

As part of our blog, we want to provide opportunities for you to practice with FREE LCSW practice questions. In our social work exam prep, we cover the most commonly tested topics in our 'Top 50 Topics' series. In addition to our social work exam prep, we also want to provide an opportunity to go over some of these topics in our monthly social work blog. Each blog includes an additional (FREE!) LCSW and LMSW social work exam questions for you to practice with to help you with the social work licensing exam. This week, our attention turns to Stages of Development.

You can just about be guaranteed that there will be a few questions on your exam pertaining to developmental stages. We have found that Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development and Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development are the most commonly tested on the exam, so this is where our exam prep primarily focuses its attention. If you're one of our social work exam prep customers, you'll find a helpful Developmental Stages quick study in step 3 of the program (as well as many mock questions on the developmental stages) so you'll be fully prepared.

Developmental Stages Q&A

Question: How many developmental stages will show up on my exam?

Answer: It's difficult to give a definitive answer on this for a couple of reasons. First, there are several versions of the exam being administered at any given time. Second, the ASWB doesn't release this specific information. From our experience, though, you may see an average of 1-3 developmental stages questions on your LMSW or LCSW exams. As we discuss in our programs, the vast majority of the exams are made up not of recall, but of reasoning based scenarios.

One of the flaws we've found in other social work exam prep programs is that they inundate you with WAY more recall information than you need to know for the exam. This can lead to feeling overwhelmed, but underprepared for the actual questions that show up on the exam. One of the things I most appreciated as a TDC customer (and now as a coach) is that TDC gives you everything you need and nothing you don't to pass your exam. We give you the right amount of recall without being overwhelming. We then focus on the reasoning based strategies needed to be successful on the scenario based questions making up the majority of the exam.

Question: How can I best prepare for questions regarding developmental stages on the ASWB exams?

Answer: First, you want to start with learning the factual information around these questions. Then you want to learn how to apply your knowledge to practice scenarios as they may show up on the exam. We give an example of this below, and many more examples throughout our exam prep.

Question: Which developmental theorists do I need to know for my exam?

Answer: Erikson, Piaget, and Freud seem to be the most commonly tested developmental theorists that show up on the exam. We also include Mahler in our program as she could also be tested on. Let’s take a look at a potential test item that incorporates this topic:

Social Work Exam Prep Question:

A 32 year-old man seeks treatment from a social worker for ongoing problems with both his personal and professional functioning.  He reports that even though he has been moderately successful in his career, he continues to feel uncertain about his abilities, feeling as if at any moment he will be exposed as a fraud. When the social worker inquires about his personal relationships, he looks down and says that he doesn’t really let anyone get close to him.  According to Erikson, this client likely experienced difficulty during which developmental stage?

A.     Trust vs. Mistrust

B.     Industry vs. Inferiority

C.     Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt

D.     Initiative vs. Guilt

Several stages of Erikson’s theory can be particularly confusing. So how can you remember the difference between inferiority, guilt, or shame and doubt when they all sound like similar concepts?  Try thinking about building blocks. Still confused? One of the tricks I used when I was studying for the exam was to focus on the first word in each stage and think about building blocks – each stage builds on the one before it.  Let’s just think about answers B, C, and D above, since these are the most frequently confused stages.

First, the child must learn to be autonomous (a big part of this is learning to walk and separate physically from caregivers) – success at this stage translates into feelings of self-assurance in adults.  Then, once the child learns to be independent, they can take the initiative to explore and play in their world (think of the imaginative play that preschoolers are known for!) – success at this stage translates into motivated, goal-directed behavior in adults.  Finally, now that the child has both independence and the urge to do things, they can be industrious (keep in mind all of the work, academic and social, that happens for school-age children) – success at this stage translates into competence and achievement in adults.

social work exam study guide

Answer and Rationale:

I hope it’s clear from the summary above that the correct answer to the question above is C, Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt.  The prevailing characteristic that comes through about the client is his lack of self-assurance. We see him doubting himself professionally and perhaps also personally. This may explain his tendency to keep others at arm’s length (protecting himself from failure). If the ‘building blocks’ strategy doesn’t work for you, keeping playing with it and find something that does – it’s not important why it works, only that it helps you remember and apply the information when you need to!

Social Work Exam Prep

Are you ready to pass your LMSW or LCSW exam? Our straightforward, sensible approach can help you not only pass, but pass with CONFIDENCE. We've helped THOUSANDS of social workers successfully pass their exams and have no doubt we can get you ready to pass, too. One of the best parts of our program is that every customer has access to a coach they can email anytime questions come up, so you're never alone in your studies. If you're preparing for the LCSW or LMSW exam check out our social work exam study guide here: Social Work Exam Prep. Also check out our social work aswb masters exam guide for the LMSW Exam Prep. If you're preparing for the MFT exam, check out our MFT Exam Prep programs. Learn more about our exam prep in general at The Therapist Development Center home page.

Are you looking for more study questions?

We post monthly social work prep questions on some of the most commonly tested topics. Be sure to check back next month for a new practice question and blog!

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Commenter Name
October 20, 2020

I am confused why the answer is C. I thought it was A because of the response he gave the therapist. Please provide a more detailed explanation. Thanks

Commenter Name
October 20, 2020

Hi Candace,

When we see a lack of self-assurance along with self doubt (self doubt is key: think of self *doubt* and autonomy vs. shame and *doubt*), this best lines up with autonomy vs. shame and doubt. It doesn't say he doesn't trust people. If it said he didn't get close to people because he doesn't trust them, we could consider trust vs. mistrust. It doesn't say they feel inferior or incompetent in their job, but that feel uncertain about their abilities and think they will be exposed as a fraud. If the whole question focused only on feeling like they were incompetent in their job, we could look at industry vs. inferiority. And it doesn't at all talk about guilt in the question, so initiative vs. guilt doesn't make sense.

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