The Exemption Process

In our MSW Program, students may be exempted from certain generalist year courses if they demonstrate a sound understanding of various foundational social work content. There are two routes to course exemption. The first is to show that you have taken an approved social work course in an accredited Social Work Program OR an approved non-social work course; the second is via exemption exam. On this page, you will find information about both exemption processes. Please read the information carefully to determine which option is MOST appropriate for you.

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Exemption by Course Review

Exemption by course review is a process whereby a student shows that they have taken a course or courses that meet required foundational social work content. In addition to this, the student must also have received an appropriate grade (i.e. grade of “B” or better in their social work courses or a grade of “C” or better in statistics). The exemption by course review option is intended for students with a BSW from an accredited institution who received their degree within the last five years (i.e. students entering as Advanced Standing), UW-Madison Social Welfare majors who received their degree within the last five years from the date of graduation to date of starting the program, and students who may have completed one or more comparable generalist course(s) (e.g. MATH 109 Elementary Statistics or PSYC 275 Research Methods) in a Social Science degree program. If this is an appropriate option, you are encouraged to apply for Course Exemptions by completing the Form AFTER you’ve been admitted to the program (Note these forms will not be reviewed until after admission to our MSW program). Once submitted, your Course Exemption Form will be reviewed and an Advisor will determine which course(s) you have been granted an exemption from. All MSW students will submit the Course Exemption Form, even if not applying for course exemption, to document the statistics course taken to meet the statistics prerequisite.

If you are looking for more information on Advanced Standing status, refer to Prospective Graduate Students.

Exemption by Exam

An exemption exam is a way for you as a student to demonstrate that you have a sound understanding of foundational social work content required in our MSW Program. As such, exemption exams are intended for students who have had some prior exposure to the required content. This includes having taken a similar non-social work course NOT eligible for exemption by course review OR, having taken a social work course more than five years ago OR, having received a grade of lower than a ‘B’ in a given foundational content area. Students with circumstances that match those described above may want to consider the exemption exam option.

Please note, that the schedule for Exemption Exams varies according to program but exams are typically offered before the start of classes. The specific time and date for each exam will be posted below and on our Facebook page. Two hours are allotted for each exam. There is no fee for each exam. Students are required to register for EACH exam they are interested in taking at least one week BEFORE the scheduled date. This should be done using the registration form found at the bottom of this page. Finally, study materials can also be found below.

Part-Time MW Program (PTP) students: ALL incoming students have the option to test out of year 1 courses via exemption exam. Students with a BSW from an accredited program that is older than 5 years have the option to test out of year 1 AND year 2 courses by taking the exemption exams listed below. If you have a BSW that is older than 5 years old and are interested in seeking exemption from SW 400/401 Field Practice and Integrative Seminar I and II by portfolio, please contact the PTP Advisor to see if you meet the criteria for exemption and learn more about the requirements. Students who take and pass an exemption exam are considered ‘exempt’ from that course and would therefore not need to take it in the PTP. Students without a BSW who passed all of their year 1 exemption exams would start the program in year 2, while students with a BSW older than 5 years that take and pass all year 1 and year 2 exemption exams would start the program in year 3. Students who test out and start in a field year (i.e. year 2) should be aware that they will have limited field options due to the date of the exams.

Exemption Exam Schedule
Be sure to click on “Exemption by Exam” above and read all information

Exemption Exam Next Scheduled Full-Time MSW Program Exam Next Scheduled Part-Time MSW Program Exam
SW 605 Field of Social Work TBD July 31, 2023, 6-8pm
SW 606 Social Policy Tuesday, January 17, 2023, 1-3pm August 1, 2023, 6-8pm
SW 612 Psychopathology for Generalist Social Work Wednesday, January 18, 2023, 10am-noon August 9, 2023, 6-8pm
SW 710 Diversity, Oppression and Social Justice in Social Work Wednesday, January 18, 2023, 1-3pm August 2, 2023, 6-8pm
SW 650 Research Methods Thursday, January 19, 2023, 10am-noon August 4, 2023, 6-8pm
SW 711 Human Behavior and the Environment TBD August 3, 2023, 6-8pm
Statistics TBD August 10, 2023, 6-8pm

Exams for BSWs Only

The following exams are available only for students who have graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work (BSW) from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited social work program. BSWs who did not achieve a grade of “B” or better in one or more of these courses or for whom their BSW is older than five years from the academic year of graduation to the academic year of enrollment are eligible to take these exams.

Part-Time MW Program (PTP) students: Please review the information in “Exemptions by Exam” specific to PTP students.

Exemption Exam Next Scheduled Full-Time MSW Program Exam Next Scheduled Part-Time MSW Program Exam
SW 400 & 401 Field & Integrative Seminars I & II See Full-Time Program Field Handbook (found @ Student Resources) for more information on exemption from first year of Field See Part-Time Program Field Handbook (found @ Student Resources) for more information on exemption from first year of Field
SW 441 Practice II: Generalist Practice with Individuals, Families & Groups TBD August 7, 2023, 6-8pm
SW 442 Practice III: Generalist Practice with Organizations & Communities TBD August 8, 2023, 6-8pm

Exemption Exam Details/Study Materials


This is a special exam and exam process only open to BSWs who graduated more than five years from the academic year of graduation to the academic year of enrollment in the MSW Program. Please see the Field Handbook found in the Student Resources section of the website for complete details and necessary forms for this exam. The exam is for both courses.

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SW 441 focuses on developing generalist social work knowledge and skills for working with and on behalf of individuals, families, and groups. Lecture and labs focus on development of basic social work direct practice skills and techniques necessary for working at the micro level, with individuals, groups and families. It integrates content on multiculturalism, diversity, social justice, and social change issues.

To prepare for this exam, review and study any of the following:

Kirst-Ashman, K. & Hull, G. Jr. (2002). Understanding generalist practice (3rd ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Thomson Learning.


Kirst-Ashman, K. & Hull, G. Jr. (2006). Understanding generalist practice (4th ed.). Belmont, CA:Thomson Higher Education.


Kirst-Ashman, K. & Hull, G. Jr. (2009). Understanding generalist practice (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.

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SW 442 is designed to assist the student in learning about the theory and practice of planned change in communities and organizations and to incorporate a generalist model into practice at these levels of intervention. The course focuses on developing knowledge and skills that will allow the student to intervene in a variety of organizations and communities. It integrates content on multiculturalism, diversity, social justice, and social change issues.

Students preparing for this exam should study:

Brueggemann, W.G. (2006). The practice of macro social work (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education.

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SW 605 provides a basic introduction to the history, evolution, and current status of the profession of social work and social welfare institutions. It covers historical and political development that shaped the emergence and role of the social work profession and highlights critical issues for the profession as we move into the 21st century.

Students preparing for the 605 exam should review and study the following:

Day, P., & Schiele, J. (2013). A new history of social welfare (7th. Ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Popple, P. & Leighninger, L. (2005 or 2008) Social work, social welfare and American society (6th or 7th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Trattner, W. (1999). From poor law to welfare state: A history of social welfare in America(6th ed.). NY: The Free Press.

Wilensky, H. and Lebeaux, C. (1965). Industrial society and social welfare:The impact of industrialization on the supply and organization of social welfare services in the United States. NY: Free Press, Ch 6, 10, and 11.

Encyclopedia of Social Work. (2008) Articles on Historical Overview, Origins of Casework, History of Social Work as a Profession and Community Organization (20th ed.). Silver Spring, MD: NASW.

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Social Work 606 has three main purposes: To provide an overview of American social welfare policy, particularly income support policy (including descriptions of all the major social programs); to provide an analytic framework that can be used in understanding current social policy discussions; and to provide a brief overview of policy making processes. The course also includes content on the measurement of poverty, trends in poverty, causes of poverty, and the antipoverty effectiveness of various social programs.

Students preparing for the Policy exam should have knowledge of current events and should study:

Dolgoff, R. & Feldstein, D. (2013). Understanding social welfare: A search for social justice (9th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

The Social Work Library has this textbook on reserve now.

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Please be aware: If you exempt from this course and plan to seek licensure for clinical social work in the State of Wisconsin, you will need to take SW712!

This foundation course prepares social work students to recognize major mental health concerns across the lifespan. The course includes an introduction to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders (DSM) as the organizing framework for reviewing major mental disorders and critique of the current “medical model” approach to mental health in the United States. The course considers mental health issues from a generalist perspective including the role of the social environment, culture and stigma in mental health services, access and policy.

Students preparing for the 612 exemption exam should review and study the following:

  • Review the SW 612 syllabus.
  • Review the course materials on stigma and cultural formulation.
  • Corcoran, J. & Walsh, J. (2015) Mental health in Social Work: A Casebook in Diagnosis and Strengths-based Assessment (2nd Ed). New Jersey: Pearson Education.

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Social Work 710 (formerly 640) is designed to provide students with a knowledge base that should enable them to make their assessments and interventions more responsive to racial and ethnic differences. Typical themes include socio-economic inequality, discrimination, prejudice, stereotypes, assimilation, biculturation, cultural pluralism, traditional helping networks, etc. Problems are explored in light of the combined implications of having simultaneous membership in multiple groups — racial, ethnic, gender, class, and/or sexual-affectional orientation groups.

Students preparing for this exam should study and review:

Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo, 1962-. (2014). Racism without Racists: Color-blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.,

Anderson, Margaret L. & Collins, Patricia Hill (2016). Race, Class, and Gender: An Anthology, 9th edition. Cengage Learning. ISBN: 978-1-305-09361-4

Tracy E. Ore, (2018). The Construction of Difference and Inequality: Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality, 7th edition. Oxford University Press, ISBN: 978-0-190-64796-

Carbado, D. et al. (2013) “Intersectionality: Mappings the Movements of a Theory.” DuBois Review, 10:2 (2013) 303–312.

Takaki, Ronald T., 1939-2009. (1993). A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America. Boston: Little, Brown & Co.

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The purpose of SW 650 is to develop students’ understanding and skills in the approaches, techniques, and challenges of conducting social work research and to enable students to be competent and discerning consumers of social science literature.

Students preparing for the Research Methods exam should study:

Rubin, A. & Babbie, E. Research methods for social work (7th ed. or later). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Thompson Learning. [NOTE: Chapters 22 and 23 will not be covered on the exam.]

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Social Work 711 surveys the behavioral science knowledge base of social work practice as it relates to understanding and intervening in the problems of clients and constituents. It draws together relevant social science theories – primarily from sociology and psychology but also from biology, anthropology, economics, history and political science – to form a multi-disciplinary view of human behavior. Current knowledge about individuals, both male and female, families, communities, including racial and ethnic minority communities, society and culture is included in the course. The primary social work practice goal is to facilitate the process of problem identification and assessment, and intervention planning at both direct and indirect service levels.

Students preparing for the 711 exam should study:

Hutchison, E. (2018). Dimensions of human behavior: The changing life course (6th ed.). CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

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Students preparing for the statistics exam should study any basic text in statistics. It is not advisable to take this exam unless you have taken a course in statistics.

  • Course topics that must be covered include: distributions, measures of central tendency, dispersion and shape, the normal distribution, experiments to compare means, standard errors, confidence intervals, effects of departure from assumptions, method of least squares, regression, correlation assumptions and limitations, basic ideas of experimental design.
  • The statistics course must have been completed within the past five years from academic year of graduation to academic year of enrollment in the MSW Program.
  • A grade of C or better in a statistics course is required (no C- or CD).