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Common-Sense Test Taking

Find a vast collection of tips on how to take any kind of teaching license/certification test, particularly the Praxis II.
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There are timeless test-taking strategies that can be appliedto any testing situation. These have been handed down through theyears and work quite well if applied together and carefully to thetesting situation. They are what I call the common sense methodstowards success.

  • Read all questions very carefully. Be looking for thequestions that ask for the "converse" response. Aconverse response question is a question that for allpurposes you will glean as you are taking the test. Aquestion like, "Which response is not...?" and "Whichis most likely to be the opposite of... ?"

  • If you guess, do not change your first guess response. Itis usually correct.

  • Understand what type of test you are taking. Youmay or may not need to answer all of the questions toget a good score. However, leave nothing blank on thePraxis II. You are not penalized for guesses. If you areunsure, guess rather than not respond at all.

  • If the test is organized into sections, start with thesection with which you are most comfortable. This willsave time and get your cognitive net warmed up. Forexample, a test taker may be most comfortable with theSocial Studies section of the Curriculum Instruction andAssessment test, and find that the interwoveninterdisciplinary nature of the questions help in othersections of the exam.

  • For reading comprehension questions, do not readthe paragraph. Use the questions asked after theparagraph to search for the information within theparagraph. The questions tell you what to look for andwhat the questions want to know. Remember that this isa test of your teaching skill and knowledge of yourcontent area, not your reading skills. Do not spend timereading and re-reading passages. This takes time and isthe primary place people lose the race against the clock.

  • Narrow your choices to three selections, then guess.If you can get your choices down to three selections,you have improved your chances of getting the questioncorrect to a one in three chance.

  • Look for key words or specific interrogatives in yourquestions. For example, specific orientation of subject,noun and verbs, or specific interrogatives such as which,how many, and who allow you to scan the questionsquickly and efficiently.

Multiple Choice Tests

  • Follow directions. It is very important to listen to anyinstructions from the testing proctors, and follow alldirections. This includes the oral directions read by thetest administrators and any written directions in the testbooklet. In particular, pay attention to time suggestionsand directions concerning how to progress throughthe exam.

  • Pace your work. Allow one minute average permultiple choice question. The number of questionsvaries for each test. Each test session may be one or twohours long. Before starting a test, flip through the booklet to determine the number of questions. Thendetermine the pace at which you should answer eachquestion. Sixty questions in one hour allows for onequestion per minute.

  • Read carefully. Do not try to speed up by skimmingdirections or by reading the test questions too quickly.To avoid missing important information andinstructions, read the directions, test questions, andresponse options thoroughly.

  • Determine the "best answer." Since the test questionscall for the "best answer," you should read and evaluateall answer choices before deciding which is best. Irecommend a method I call "thoughtful elimination." Ifyou can positively eliminate at least two from theselection, and can make a selection from the remainingthree, go with that selection and do not change it.Statistically you are most likely to have selected thecorrect response.

  • Guess wisely. Test scores are based on the number ofcorrect answers. There is no additional penalty forguessing. For questions about which you are unsure,use your knowledge and background in the content areato eliminate as many answer choices as possible, andthen guess among the remaining ones.

  • Mark your answers carefully. Answer sheets arescored electronically; it is critical that you mark youranswers clearly, carefully, and completely. You mayuse any available space in the test booklet for notes, butall answers must be clearly marked on the answersheet. If you skip a test question, be sure to skipthe corresponding row of answer choices on theanswer sheet.

  • Have a strategy for handling reading passages. Sometest questions may be based on reading passages. Go tothe questions first and understand what they are asking.Make use of the subject, noun, and verb in each questionto provide for better skimming of reading sections.

  • Estimate. Many test questions ask for calculationsbased on numerical information. When dealing withthis kind of question, it is often helpful to estimate theanswer before reading the response options. It is notalways necessary to perform a detailed calculation toanswer the question correctly. For instance, "Fivepercent of 95 = x." Obviously the answer must be closeto or around five.

  • Check accuracy. Use any remaining time at the end ofthe test session to check the accuracy of your work. Goback to test questions with which you had difficulty andverify your answers. Again, check your answer sheet toensure that you have marked answers accurately andcompletely, and have erased any changed answers andstray marks.

  • Use the Page Balancing technique. In this technique, students are encouraged to put questions they are notable to immediately answer at the bottom of the testbooklet as they progress through the test. This is donefor two reasons, the first being an immediate map of thetest as the test progresses. Students will not be huntingfor unanswered questions in the booklet, since thequestions will be placed at the bottom of the booklet forimmediate access. This saves and maximizes time.The second reason is tied to the holistic nature of thetest. Since all of the questions are intertwined, studentscan expect that as they progress through the test, theywill be queued to other answers as they are exposed toother questions. Placing the questions at the bottom ofthe page keeps these questions at the forefront of thetest taker's mind.

Constructed Response Tests

When approaching the constructed response test question,you must first compose an outline specific to the type and purposeof the essay question asked of you.Constructed response questions are represented in twoforms of essay questions. The first is concerned with content-related material, the second with pedagogy. Understanding thedifference between the two predicates will help you determine howto answer the question.

1. Content Constructed Response

A content question might be, "Why did Truman use theatomic bomb to end the Pacific theater of the war?" Note that thisquestion does not ask how to teach, or what is wrong with thisteaching model or how to improve teaching strategies formaximum absorption. Indeed, this question seeks to elicitknowledge of content. A possible response might be, "Truman'suse of the atomic bomb saved American lives, scared the Russiansout of China, and cut as much as a year from the island hoppingcampaign." Again note the manipulation of content. This is calleda tripartite hypothesis. The brief outline that follows shows how toorganize the information into an effective response.
  1. Statement of your hypothesis.

  2. Discussion of how the atomic bomb savedAmerican lives.

      a. Examples or information.

  3. Discussion of how the atomic bomb scared theRussians out of China.

      a. Examples or information.

  4. Discussion of how the atomic bomb cut the islandhopping campaign by one year.

      a. Examples or information.

  5. Conclusion: Restatement of hypothesis throughevidence presented.
2. Pedagogic Constructed Response

Now let's look at a pedagogic essay question. A pedagogicessay question looks at the teaching process. An example of apedagogic question is, "How would you teach Where the WildThings Are to a fifth-grade multilevel classroom?"This question asks you to address the reflective process ofteaching. In order to respond, you must address the teachingframework in its entirety. A possible response hypothesis mightlook like this: "I would teach Where the Wild Things Are usingTGT teaching strategies and heterogeneous grouping."
  1. Hypothesis

  2. Planning issues – How I would plan such a lesson.

  3. Execution issues – How I would teach such a lesson.

  4. Assessment issues – How I would test students.

  5. Modification issues – What I would do differentlynext time.
Now if you add a separate section called Materials to thisoutline, you have the skeleton of a basic lesson plan. Look at thequestion again and think about it. It should begin to make somesense to you now.

3. General Tips for Passing Constructed Response Questions
  • Write neatly. Make the reader happy to pick up yourwork.

  • Generate a brief outline. While not graded, it willhave an impact on the reader. Follow your outline whengenerating your written response.

  • Be brief. Don't generate pages of response. I maintainthe three-page rule with my students. If you can't say itin three pages, restate it.

  • Be positive. Do not take the negative tone or side ofan argument.

  • If you are working on an essay test, practice makingoutlines and writing from outlines prior to taking theexams.

  • Make use of compound sentence structure at leastfifty percent of the time. A compound sentence is asentence put together with a coordinating conjunctionlike and, but, or, and also. For instance: "I needed to bewith my friends in school and in my classes."

  • Make use of simple sentence structure thirty percentof the time. Simple sentences are simply subject, noun,and verb. For instance: "I enjoyed school very much."

  • Make use of compound complex sentence structureat least twenty percent of the time. A compoundcomplex sentence has subordinating conjunctions andindependent clauses combined with coordinatingconjunctions. For instance: "However, as I approachcollege, I find that my high-school education preparedme for college and trained me for life."

  • Do not make grammatical errors.

  • Read directions carefully. Understand the requirements of the test instructions. If there is a choice ofquestions, choose the topic you can answer mostknowledgeably. If there are two or more questions in aseries, decide the best order in which to answer thequestions.

  • Pace your activities. Know the total amount of timeallowed for the questions, and determine the numberand types of questions on the test. Allow time to readeach question and to plan, write, and review youranswers.

  • Write your response. In responding to a constructedresponse question, be clear, concise, and accurate.A longer response or an essay should answer thequestion completely, include appropriate concepts andterminology, provide evidence to support and amplifygeneral statements, and have a cohesive structure.

  • Use a blue or black ink pen to write your responses.

  • Review your response. Use a blue or black ink pen to write your responses.Review your response. Go back and evaluate yourresponses for content, clarity, and accuracy.

Excerpted from

Preparing for the Praxis Exams
Rodney Estrada
Excerpted from Preparing for the Praxis Exams, by Rodney Estrada.