Frequently Asked Questions about the APHSW-C Certification Program

For questions on the certification program not answered below, please reach out to the Certification Board at [email protected] or 502-852-3359. SWHPN staff is unable to answer questions related to scores, testing centers, or other questions specific to the exam. 

What were the results of the first exam in early 2019?

The results of the first test cycle are finalized and scores have been received by the candidates. The test had a pass rate of 86.7%. 188 candidates took the exam; 163 passed and 25 failed. If you received a passing grade, you can now use the APHSW-C certification! Click here to see the list of social workers who became APHSW-C in 2019.

How is the cut score determined?

There have been many questions about the cut score and how it was determined. This is explained on page 19 of the Candidate Handbook which states:

A criterion-referenced standard setting process is used to establish the passing point for the exam. This means that each candidate’s performance on the exam is measured against a predetermined standard. Candidates are not graded on a curve and do not compete against each other or against a quota.

This passing score for the exam is established using a panel of subject matter experts who carefully review each exam question to determine the basic level of knowledge or skill that is expected. The passing score is based on the panel’s established difficulty ratings for each exam question. Under the guidance of the psychometrician, the panel develops and recommends the passing point which is reviewed and approved by the APHSW Board. The passing point for the exam is established to identify individuals with an acceptable level of knowledge and skill. Receiving a score higher than the passing score is not an indication of more advanced knowledge or a predictor of better job performance. All individuals who pass the exam, regardless of their score, have demonstrated an acceptable level of knowledge.

What's the history of the certification program?

The first meeting of the SWHPN Certification Committee took place in 2016, after leaders in the field recognized the special skills and knowledge that social workers bring to the practice of hospice and palliative care. Led by Dr. Barbara Head, this committee explored funding opportunities and developed a proposal for an evidence-based certification for social workers in hospice and palliative care - the first of its kind.

Through a generous grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, sufficient funding was received to develop the program and exam for the APHSW-C.  We're grateful to the Moore Foundation for their leadership on this important professional designation for social workers.

What is SWHPN's role in the new certification program?

The SWHPN Board offered its expertise and leadership during the initial development of the program. The APHSW Board, a separate organization, oversees the implementation and administration of the certification program and the exam.

For its part, SWHPN provides optional education that may cover the topics on the exam via online learning opportunities. These will be designed to not only benefit those applicants sitting for the exam but our membership and profession as a whole.

SWHPN membership is not required to take the APHSW-C exam, though SWHPN members do receive a discount. Any exam preparation materials are developed independently by SWHPN. These materials are optional and are not required, endorsed, reviewed or approved by the APHSW Board. 

Why do we need an evidence-based specialty certification program?

Social workers are essential to the practice of hospice and palliative care. We bring specialized skills and knowledge to that practice and should be recognized as advanced practitioners. Our colleagues in nursing and medicine have had specialty certification programs for over 20 years.

Currently, there is a credentialing program through NASW for hospice and palliative social workers. NASW decides who receives the credential based on education, experience, letters of reference and colleague ratings of ability to practice submitted by the applicant.

The APHSW-C certification requires verification of knowledge and competency based on the passing of an evidence-based exam specifically and scientifically constructed to reflect the essential knowledge and skills required for specialty practice.

What are the benefits of an evidence-based program?

Benefits of holding the evidence-based APHSW-C certification include: 

  • Mastering a defined body of knowledge 

  • Receiving recognition by employers and colleagues

  • Meeting standards of accreditation bodies such as JCAHO

  • Improving patient/family care

  • Assuring the public that a practitioner has the knowledge and skills to provide safe, high-quality care

Who is eligible to take the exam?

All candidates must meet eligibility requirements listed on the APHSW-C Certification page and in the Candidate Handbook to earn the APHSW-C certification. 

What type of test is it, and how was it developed?

A nationwide job analysis was conducted in fall 2017, based upon established literature and job descriptions. A questionnaire was administered online to a large sample of practitioners. The results of this analysis determined the skills and knowledge of the advanced palliative and hospice and social worker and served as the basis for the outline for the test content.

The APHSW exam consists of 175 multiple-choice items, covering four main areas of practice.

  % of exam
Assessment and Reevaluation 31
Planning and Intervention 32
Death, Grief and Bereavement 21
Professionalism 15
Total 100


Each area tests the applicant on their ability to recall, apply concepts, and analyze specific problem situations.

The test will be administered by PSI, a private corporation providing a full range of program management, test development, and test delivery services to over 100 clients and testing over 200,000 candidates annually. Their staff is dedicated to testing development, informational technology, test administration, and candidate customer-service. Working with PSI ensures the certification program meets the highest standards for a psychometrically sound and legally defensible testing program. PSI has been a long-standing provider of program management for the certifications of hospice and palliative nurses and hospice medical directors.

Click here to see the full exam specifications in PDF.

What can I do to prepare for the exam? 

Candidates are encouraged to review the Exam Specifications, List of Resources, and Clinical Practice Guidelines to prepare for the exam.

SWHPN offers webinars and a Core Curriculum for Palliative and Hospice Social Work that expands on the domains listed in the test specifications. These materials are developed independently by SWHPN are not required, endorsed, reviewed or approved by the APHSW Board. 

What are the testing windows for the next examination?

The next two administrations of the exam will be held during two testing windows in 2020; one beginning in March, and another beginning in September. Registration for each testing window will open two months before the exam. 

The application period for the March/April 2020 testing period is now closed. Applications for the next testing period in September/October 2020 will open on July 1st.

2020 Testing Windows Application Acceptance Window
March 15-April 15, 2020 January 1-February 15, 2020
September 15-October 15, 2020 July 1-August 15, 2020




You can find more information on the APHSW-C Examination page.

What if I fail the exam? Can I retake it? 

Yes, you may retake the exam if you fail, but you must re-register during another testing window and pay the examination fee. Exam attempts are limited to two attempts per year. 

What if I need to reschedule or cancel my test date? 

If you have questions about your test date or location, you should reach out to the PSI Candidate Support Center at 1-800-345-6559.

How can I verify an individual's certified status? 

Please go to the Certification Verification page.

What is the process for renewing my certification or becoming recertified?

To maintain use of the certification, it must be renewed every 4 years. 60 continuing education credits are required to recertify. Please refer to the Candidate Handbook for additional details.

How can I contact the APHSW Board for any additional questions? 

For questions on the certification program, please reach out to the certification team at 502-852-3359 or at [email protected]