Once you register as an Associate MFT, CSW, or PCC with the Board of Behavioral Sciences, you have a year to attempt the California Law and Ethics Exam for your profession. There are basically two schools of thought about when you should take that exam. One of them is wrong.
If you’re in your first year as an associate, you should take the exam right now.
Here are the competing views:
There are three big benefits to this approach. One, your legal and ethical knowledge should still be fresh from graduate school. Two, assuming you pass, you’ll have a meaningful stressor out of the way. Third and perhaps most importantly, if you take the test early enough in your first year of registration, failing is basically inconsequential. You just need to wait 90 days, and try again. (Yes, paying the cost of the test again doesn’t feel great. But that’s the only real consequence.) You don’t need to take a CE course to attempt the test again unless you renewed your registration in between exam attempts.
It’s understandable why a lot of folks put off their tests. As a new Associate, your primary focus can easily be on finding a job. Once you have that job, it’s easy to get into a routine of focusing on client care, supervision, and whatever else the job entails. Your job probably doesn’t give you the luxury of several hours a day to study for a test — and also, you just finished grad school! It’s okay to want a break from testing.
But don’t wait too long. You would miss out on those benefits that come with taking the exam early. And far too many associate MFTs, PCCs, and CSWs wait until the very, very end of that first year to take the test. They often suffer for it. You need to plan at least some time for the simple logistics of the test. It takes couple of weeks for your application for exam eligibility to process. It will likely take at least a few more days to schedule the test at a convenient time and location for you to actually take the exam. And then it takes a couple of days for PSI to send your test results back to the BBS, and for the BBS to update their system.
If you don’t adequately plan for these logistical delays, you might find that your registration number lapses. At that point, in many work settings you can no longer see clients under California law. You must attempt the test and renew your registration to resume clinical work.
Even if you’re a procrastinator, and I haven’t convinced you to take the test early, it’s a good guideline to submit your application for exam eligibility at least 30 days before your number lapses in order to avoid any gap in your registration. And even that assumes that everything will process smoothly, which isn’t always the case.
I know, none of us look forward to tests. Especially law and ethics tests. But the exam covers a fairly limited scope of knowledge, you have to do it eventually, and most people pass on the first attempt. Do it! Do it now! Get it out of the way!
You’ll be glad you did.