Is it good to participate in Social Media exchanges like Facebook and LinkedIn while you are studying for your MFT/LCSW/LMSW exams?
That's a good question-and one that is coming up quite frequently. More and more people are joining online communities during their studying processes. People do so for a variety of reasons, including everything from receiving support, to offering support to others, to gaining additional resources to prepare for their exams. All of these reasons make sense as studying for the exams can be stressful and peer support is an obvious way to connect. While these online communities have their benefits, it would be a disservice to ignore their drawbacks. You want to be careful in how you utilize these groups as they can lead to more problems than benefits if not utilized well. Here are a few areas of concern to be aware of:
1. Being part of the online conversations can INCREASE your anxiety.
When engaging in coaching with individuals who are members of Facebook study groups, I have yet to talk to someone who hasn’t experienced anxiety in response to other people’s posts. While it's true that there can be helpful feedback and encouraging words, there are also a lot of people who are posting about their own anxieties. This anxiety becomes contagious. When it comes to studying for the exam, reading about the anxiety of hundreds of other people is not going to help. If we thought it was a good strategy, we'd recommend it-but it's not. Your best source of support is your TDC coach or someone you personally know that has recently PASSED the exams who can give you tips on how to cope and focus.
2. There is misinformation shared.
There have been a number of times where people have shared posts that contain incorrect information or information taken out of context. Here’s the thing: ANYONE can make up practice questions and post them. ANYONE can create and market a study program. ANYONE can call himself or herself a “coach” or “tutor.” This doesn’t mean those questions or programs reflect the exam or will in any way adequately prepare you. And while some people are incredibly gifted tutors, passing alone does not mean an individual is equipped to help you pass your exam.
The amount of time and resources TDC has put into our program to ensure our content is high-quality and reflects the actual exam is immense. Some of the information out there not only fails to reflect the exam, it is just plain wrong. Still, we receive fairly regular emails from clients challenging a question’s rationale based on conflicting information they have read on social media. We don’t mind this-our team is happy to respond to your questions and concerns (truly, we encourage you to share any concerns you have with your coach. That’s what we’re here for!). It’s upsetting, though, to see confusion instilled in our clients that would not be there had they not read some comments on Facebook from questionable sources. This point ties directly into number 1 above, as the sharing of misinformation can and often does lead to increased anxiety. If you have spent 50+ hours going through a program and then come across rationales from another source that contradicts what and how you have learned, you’re going to feel anxious and your (well-earned) confidence may very well be shaken. This is a big piece of why we discourage our client’s from simultaneously utilizing multiple exam prep materials. That, along with the fact that this program has everything you need and nothing you don’t.
3. You don't know any of the people
One thing I don't think many people take time to think about is the fact that you don't actually know any of the people in your online group (unless, of course, a friend or colleague has joined with you). It would be one thing if you were conferring with someone you knew to be a great clinician with good coping and distress tolerance skills, but in those groups you really have no idea who you are dealing with. You have no idea the knowledge level or abilities of the people there. If you are feeling confused and clueless, going to a group of other people who are feeling confused and clueless may help you feel less alone, but it's not necessarily going to take away the confused and clueless feelings. While there are no doubt some amazing clinicians and test takers that are members of different online groups, it is difficult to distinguish who those people are. Be careful who you are going to as an “expert.”
Here are 3 alternatives:
1. Engage strategically and intentionally in the online communities of your choosing.
We are certainly not telling you to disengage from all online communities; rather, we are saying be smart about it. Shop around and try out some different groups. See which ones fit your needs and your personality. Which ones are giving valuable support and which ones are causing you more distress? Which are engaging in ethically sound practices to support one another and which are breaching ethical standards? Stick with a group you can be proud to be a part of, that lifts you up, and allows you to lift others up.
2. When possible, connect with others in “real life.”
Whether you meet with your licensure supervision group, former classmates (in person, over the phone, or via skype), or coworkers who are also preparing for their exams, be strategic and intentional about who you are studying with. What kind of clinicians are they? Do they have a deep understanding of ethics? Does being around them motivate and energize you, or bring you down and cause you to question your knowledge or abilities? Choose to surround yourself with people who contribute positively to your studying and vice versa. It might take some creativity (I know people who moved out of state after they graduated and do weekly skype groups with former classmates in other cities and states). It might take some vulnerability and putting yourself out there to reach out for help from coworkers or supervisors, but making sure you’re surrounding yourself with quality people you personally know will make it worthwhile.
3. Sign up for a quality program.
Find a program with proven success rates that gives you an opportunity to ask questions and get help. All of our social work and MFT programs include access to coaching. You are paired with a coach who is there to answer questions and offer support as you go through your exam preparation process. Not only have our coaches passed the exam, they have passed their exams with at least 90% correct (for social work) AND have been trained in the TDC model of coaching by Amanda Rowan. You want to make sure that the people you are seeking help from have A. a deep and thorough knowledge of the material, B. an understanding of how the test is structure, and C. the ability to translate that information to others. Is this a big financial investment? Yes. I assure you it is a better use of funds, though, than paying to reapply for and retake the exam. Be wary of programs that sound too good to be true-they probably are. Never be afraid to ask for data that backs up the claims a program makes, including our own!
Summing it up:
For better or for worse, social media is here to stay. It can benefit or harm your studying process, depending on how you use it. Don’t hear us wrong-there is some awesome stuff out there-just make sure you are engaging wisely. If you are currently on social medial study groups, I recommend you do an experiment. Next time you sign onto the group pause and ask yourself "What is my intention? What do I hope to get from this action?" Then pay attention to what you actually feel when you read posts. How do you feel if people post that the test was hard? That the test was easy for them? That they think a question is wrong on a study program? That they don't feel prepared? Use this information to guide how you interact with social media. If, during this experiment, you find the outcome matches your intentions, that is great! Keep it going! If not, it might be good to sign off and reach out to a coach for other suggestions!
What has your experience been with social media study groups? What has been helpful? What has been harmful? Share your experiences in the comments below!