Dana Do’s: Tips for Exam Questions About Ethics

There is a difference between ethical decision-making in practice, versus ethical decision-making in test question scenarios. This, in my opinion, is what makes ethics so difficult on the exam. What a professional would do in an ethical dilemma versus answering a test question about an ethical dilemma can be very different.

The code tells us we should follow the spirit and letter of the ethics code. That means we must both understand the code’s real intent (the law of it, so to speak), but also the spirit of the code which means having a more social, compassionate, heartfelt understanding when it comes to looking at what may be defined as unethical behavior. This means looking at function.

In practice, this is less complicated because we have the contextual information. We can look at ethical dilemmas both functionally and topographically. For example, a multiple relationship: topographically unethical, but functionally, what if there is no choice? What if treatment is necessary? Is that still unethical? By looking at the dilemmas in letter and spirit, we incorporate fairness, objectivity, and compassion.

But what about test questions that don’t offer much context around circumstances or function? In that instance, there is no flexibility of letter and spirit, as the code states. This is important to know for how to handle these scenarios on the actual exam. Consider looking at ethics exam questions as black and white. A multiple choice test question is limited to the parameters of the information within that question and the four answer choices. There is no added context, the intention, or circumstance. In that case, don’t assume anything. Focus on the letter. That is the law of the code. Unless, the spirit is provided, the contextual variables could or would change how code items may be enforced.

On your exam, veer on the conservative side of ethical decision-making.

  • Multiple relationships: discouraged and should be avoided. Period.
  • Receiving a gift over $10: unethical. Period.
  • Abruptly disrupting services: unethical.

As a practitioner, we get the luxury of being more flexible, looking at the spirit of these dilemmas. However, professional exams don’t always line up with what being a professional fully looks like. For that reason, and because there is potentially limited contextual information on the exam, it may be better to assess the ethical behavior described in the question from a more conservative perspective.

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