Early Career Corner
Preparing for the EPPP as a school psychologist
By Kristin Thompson, PhD, and Prerna Arora, PhD
Early career school psychologists are presented with a number of decisions upon graduation, one of which includes whether to pursue professional licensure as a psychologist. Doctoral-level school psychologists are in a unique position, in that the decision of whether to become a licensed psychologist (which is independent of school psychology certification) is not as pressing of an issue as it may be in other fields of psychology. In fact, while the majority of doctoral level clinical and counseling psychology graduates become licensed, past studies have estimated that as few as 36 percent of doctoral level school psychologists are licensed (Curtis et al., 2008). The traditional work setting for most school psychologists, a K-12 school setting, typically requires only state certification as a school psychologist and does not require one to have a professional psychology license in order to practice. Similarly, many academic positions in school psychology do not require one to be a licensed psychologist in order to obtain a full-time faculty position. These factors, as well as the fact that the process of getting licensed is lengthy and often quite expensive, are major considerations in deciding whether to get licensed. Likely the most intimidating factor for many, however, is the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), the major exam required for one to qualify for licensure. According to the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB, 2013), the EPPP serves to help in the “…evaluation of the qualifications of applicants for licensure…and is intended to evaluate the knowledge that the most recent practice analysis has determined as foundational to the competent practice of psychology…” (p. 4).
For many early career psychologists, the EPPP induces significant dread and anxiety, as it is often associated with fears of low pass rates and anxieties of how to accommodate hundreds of hours of studying within one's schedule. The EPPP can be even more daunting for those from a school psychology background, given that it covers domains in the field of psychology that are not intensely studied in school psychology programs. For example, in addition to clinical psychology, abnormal psychology, test construction, learning theory, ethics, and psychological assessment, the EPPP includes several domains not typically covered in school psychology programs such as industrial organizational psychology, social psychology, physiological psychology and psychopharmacology. The EPPP also covers these topics across the lifespan, whereas school psychologists are typically just trained in issues affecting children and adolescents.
For school psychologists, there are several advantages to being licensed as a psychologist. Licensure allows for more diversity in working setting, as a license is required to work in a private practice or deliver clinical services in a hospital or outpatient setting. Being licensed also opens up more opportunities for supervision and contribution to the training of doctoral students, as most internship programs require interns to have a licensed supervisor. Though not required, the American Psychological Association (APA) encourages faculty of APA-accredited programs to be licensed. Despite these benefits, several disadvantages to seeking licensure exists, including the cost of the exam and license application fees (which can sum to well over $1000), as well as the time commitment needed to study for the EPPP.
Despite these anxieties surrounding the EPPP, recent statistics indicate that early career psychologists may not need to be as intimated by the EPPP. Although rumors exist of as few as half of all applicants passing the EPPP on the first try, data actually indicates that as many as 80% of examinees from APA-accredited psychology programs pass the EPPP on the first try (ASBPP, 2013). Little data exist examining pass rates of graduates of school psychology programs specifically, but one recent article found that while PhD clinical psychology graduates outperform those from PsyD clinical psychology programs, counseling psychology PhD programs, and school psychology PhD programs, there were no significant differences in pass rates between school psychology and counseling psychology graduates (Kupfersmid, 2011). Similarly, while many fear the EPPP because of the hundreds of hours of studying required, a 2012 study published in Training and Education in Professional Psychology reported that pass rates did not improve significantly for those who spent more than 200 hours of studying (Shaffer, Rodolfa, Owen, Lipkins, Webb, & Horn, 2012).
For those early career professionals seeking to take the EPPP, obtaining guidance from those who have successfully maneuvered the process may be of help. We polled several early career school psychologists employed in various settings to share what suggestions they had for dealing with the daunting process of preparing to take, and pass, the EPPP.
Emery Mahoney, PhD, who recently graduated and is currently completing her postdoctoral hours stated that “creating a schedule and sticking to it” was very beneficial. Janna Kautz, PhD, an early career school psychologist who worked full-time in a school setting while studying provided similar advice, “think of study sessions as an appointment on the calendar to help hold yourself accountable. The amount of information to review can be intimidating, but looking at it in smaller amounts each day makes it less daunting.” Dr. Kautz also added that she found the depth of knowledge obtained through the studying process to be “extremely beneficial while working in a school setting, as I am better prepared to answer questions and provide more applicable recommendations to parents and teachers.”
Katie Eklund, PhD, an assistant professor in school psychology, also recently took the EPPP and became licensed. She stated that she spent 2-3 intensive months studying prior to the exam and encouraged attending workshops that are regularly offered for those studying for the EPPP. “I took a 4-day workshop and it was worth every penny. It helped me narrow down what I needed to study and provided me with valuable test-taking strategies.” Another licensed psychologist practicing in the schools provided additional tips on helping manage the large amount of information needing to be studying for the EPPP: “ I focused a lot of my study time on areas I knew nothing about or knew less about, but I could easily learn. I gave less time to areas where I felt I couldn't make large gains in the time I had.”
Using a variety of study modalities was also suggested by several of the early career psychologists polled, particularly when fitting studying into a busy work schedule. Lisa Costella, PhD, an early career psychologist in a medical setting stated, “I designated a small window of time to study intensely. I gave myself three months and set the goal of studying between 150 and 200 hours. I used study guides, online exams, and listened to audio CDs. Taking the online exams multiple times was the most useful study activity for me.” A psychologist working in private practice who took the EPPP twice found it beneficial to structure her study regimen but also emphasized her use of various study modalities when preparing for the EPPP her second time, after which she passed.
Of those polled, studying the material with a colleague who is also preparing for the examination was suggested by nearly all. Dr. Mahoney stated, “ I found it helpful to add in some social interaction which made the process more fun and my study partner was also able to explain concepts that I did not understand and vice versa.” When asked what they would have done differently, taking the EPPP closer to graduation was a sentiment described by several of those polled. In addition, maintaining a positive mindset was encouraged. As Dr. Mahoney stated, “ One of the things I wish I had done differently was not to get so discouraged by my performance on the practice exams I took throughout my study process. If I received a lower score from one week to the next I took it as a sign that I had somehow lost ground, when really I should have viewed these as opportunities to learn new information to which I probably had not previously been exposed.”
The EPPP is an intimidating test; however with the right preparation and planning, it does not need to be the major barrier for a school psychologist deciding whether to become licensed as a professional psychologist. Below are resources for the EPPP and deciding whether to become a licensed psychologist:
- Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards
- The path to EPPP excellence
- What you need to know to get licensed
Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (2013). ASPBB information for candidates – 2013, Retrieved from http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.asppb.net/resource/resmgr/EPPP_/IFC.pdf
Curtis, M.J., Lopez, A.D., Castillo, J.M., Batsche, G.M., Minch, D., & Smith, J.C. (2008). The status of school psychology: Demographic characteristics, employment conditions, professional practices, and continuing professional development. Communique, 36, 27-29.
Kupfersmid, J. (2011). School psychologists' performance on the examination for professional practice in psychology (EPPP). Communique,
Shaffer, J.B., Rodolfa, E., Owen, J., Lipkins, R., Webb, C., & Horn, J. (2012). The examination for professional practice in psychology: New data-practical implications. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 6, 1-7.