Five Assessment Tools Social Work Students Should Know

Updated on March 28, 2020
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Fin lives in the Central Valley, where he is a student at CSUB. He writes in his free time and is interested in social issues and travel.


I just wanted to note that I am a student pursuing a Social Work credential in California. While I have taken a variety of courses dealing with diverse populations, I really haven't had the time to be exposed to assessment tools. A few were mentioned here and there in my coursework, but there was no class that offered an overview of the tools out there.

I wanted to share just a few of the more common ones available and provide a brief overview of their uses. I am not an expert, so please consult a professional if you need more information.

If you are a social work student, please feel free to comment and share your opinions.

If you are curious about social work, I hope this introduction can provide you with some insight into the many populations the profession deals with. If you are considering a career in this industry, I encourage you to follow up.


These tools are not comprehensive or in any way represent the core measures when working with clients. Rather I tried to provide a diverse sample of some of the more basic assessment measures that one might encounter. Please don't use this article as a guide to appropriate SW practices. These are some samples that a new SW or a student unfamiliar with assessment tools might wish to be aware of. In addition, not only should you look at the tools, but what they measure and why.

Social Workers Have Many Roles

From the National Association of Social Workers (NASW)

What do Social Workers Do?

The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet basic and complex needs of all people, with a particular focus on those who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty. If you’re looking for a career with meaning, action, diversity, satisfaction, and a variety of options, consider social work.

The Assessment Tools

Many people's perception of what social workers (SW) due is limited to what they hear on the streets or see on television. There may be those who believe that all SW do is go into homes where children are being neglected. While there may be that element involved in one aspect of the profession, there are many other roles a SW may find themselves suitable for. There are other audiences to be served.

During your interaction with clients as a SW, you may find yourself using an assessment tool to measure a client's ability to cope with a situation. Whether it be dealing with someone experiencing anxiety, coping with substance abuse, or facing cognitive dysfunction, assessment tools provide an evidenced based framework from which you can provide a diagnosis and determine an appropriate intervention.

The tools I would like to look at today are:

  • The Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD-7)
  • The Patient Health Questionaire (PHQ -9)
  • The Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS)
  • The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT)
  • The Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MOCA)

Please keep in mind that this is an overview for informational purposes only and not an official analysis of the included tools. In addition, this sample represents a very brief example of some of the tools which a social worker may encounter.

Assessment Tools

The assessment tools help provide an overview of the client's current situation and are just one of many different considerations a professional will use in order to determine how to proceed.

For the non-professional, it may be interesting to see how the questionnaires help provide a means of analysis.

I HIGHLY recommend that if you practice these tests yourself that you seek professional advice before accepting a self-diagnosis.

Client Type (e.g)
GAD - 7
Tests for panic, social anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
measure for anxiety levels
PHQ - 9
Measure for Depression
major depression
Mindfulness, awareness of the present, attention
inability to focus
Alcohol use and abuse
Cognitive Awareness
A brief summary of the tests and their purpose. Please consult a professional for any clinical interpretations.

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GAD - 7

This is a simple and quick test that the patient can fill out in order to evaluate their anxiety level. As its name implies, it offers an evaluation of generalized anxiety disorder which may include symptoms that interfere with a patients ability to comfortably function.

This is a self-administered test and focuses on symptoms exhibited by the patient within the last two weeks.

Generalized anxiety disorder is often referred to as one of the more common mental disorders. An evaluation by a professional can be used to determine if a follow up is needed.

Questions are fairly simple, basic and non-intrusive.

Overview of the GAD 7

PHQ - 9

The PHQ 9 is a more in-depth tool for measuring levels of anxiety and depression in patients.

This tool can be self-administered or completed by an administrator and is used to measure severe depression and the potential for suicide.

A link to the exam follow at the end of the article.. As with the GAD 7, its main focus is on symptoms present within the past two weeks.

Screening Using the PHQ 9

Rest gently


MoCA stands for the Montreal Cognitive Assessment and was developed in 1996 by Ziad Nasreddine in Canada and is used to measure cognitive development. It has expanded since and is considered an evidenced based measure for the evaluation of patient functioning.

It consists of 30 questions that examine situations such as identification, memory, logic and perception. It is usually administered by a facilitator and takes about ten minutes to complete. Since its development, it has become available in more than forty languages.

It is considered invaluable for detecting the presence of Mild Cognitive Disease as well as as a predictor of Alzheimer's. There may be some cultural biases with this tool - as with any - as well as a test on the patient's ability to draw. Therefore, interpreting the results should be done with some level of caution.

A role play with the MoCA Assessment Tool


The Mindfulness Attention Assessment is a 15 question test that allows patients to self evaluate their behavior and experiences.

Questions include whether or not the patient has broken anything because they were distracted as well as their ability to recall names of people they had just met.

This could be used in order to evaluate the potential for anxiety disorders or even depression. Generally mindfulness means living in the moment and patients may find that they lack the ability to focus on present tasks. This of course, could interfere with one's quality of life.

As with many conditions that are influenced with automatic thoughts or unhealthy thinking patterns, the mindfulness evaluation can be used to help the patient recognize the unpleasant results of their thinking. Some of this can be cured using CBT techniques and perhaps even the awareness itself of how prone the patient is to distractions can be a helpful inspiration to change.

This is definitely one worth looking at.

Would you be interested in seeing more articles on the Social Work Profession?

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Substance Abuse Disorders are one of the more popular areas of the profession and possibly one of the more universal needs.

The AUDIT is an exam that can be administered or taken on the patient's own, but asks some very private and specific questions concerning alcohol intake. First published in 1989, its use is worldwide and this is considered one of the more essential tools for measuring both Alcohol Use Disorder and Alcohol Abuse Disorder.

For clarification on the above, it is recommended that you consult the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or the DSM V.

Here is a video the provides an overview of the AUDIT and a role play.

Overview of the Audit

In Conclusion

This certainly isn't a comprehensive list of the exams that are available to social workers in their interactions with clients, nor are the summaries of the included assessments complete.

I just wanted to provide a small sample of a diverse selection of tools one might use in the profession. Again, I have to stress that consultation from a professional is recommended for any in-depth interpretations.

If you are a social worker or a student, I would like to hear your feedback and if you are thinking about the profession, I would encourage you to look into it further. There are many ways today to see videos of social workers in action with social media tools.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2019 Fin


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    • wpcooper profile imageAUTHOR


      12 months ago from Barstow

      As I said, you should go back and pursue this. You will need some math in social work, but there are so many other fascinating aspects to it: looking at systems perspectives, understanding the various theories such as the hierarchy of needs etc...I would not give up on it yet.

    • wpcooper profile imageAUTHOR


      12 months ago from Barstow

      well this is a second career for me. Social work does take some high end math...mostly stats (which is a lot of Algebra). But now there are programs that compute things for you....

      I would encourage you to continue pursuing your options.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 

      12 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      I wanted to become a social worker but was deterred by my community college's insistence that I take several high-level math classes to get my AA degree. I probably could have gone ahead and entered a four-year college despite that but I suck at high math (algebra, calculus, statistics, and others). When I failed Algebra three times my student grant dropped me and I couldn't continue.

      I know some social workers. Some burned out and went on to other things, however, I think it's about what kind you are, where you work, your position, and overloaded work due to shortages of workers.

      I liked having this information though. I have had lots of exposure to social workers in the mental health field and appreciate them greatly. Well done.


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