Common-Sense Test Taking

There are timeless test-taking strategies that can be applied to any testing situation. These have been handed down through the years and work quite well if applied together and carefully to the testing situation. They are what I call the common sense methods towards success.

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

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

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

  • If the test is organized into sections, start with the section with which you are most comfortable. This will save time and get your cognitive net warmed up. For example, a test taker may be most comfortable with the Social Studies section of the Curriculum Instruction and Assessment test, and find that the interwoven interdisciplinary nature of the questions help in other sections of the exam.

  • For reading comprehension questions, do not read the paragraph. Use the questions asked after the paragraph to search for the information within the paragraph. The questions tell you what to look for and what the questions want to know. Remember that this is a test of your teaching skill and knowledge of your content area, not your reading skills. Do not spend time reading and re-reading passages. This takes time and is the 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 question correct to a one in three chance.

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

Multiple Choice Tests

  • Follow directions. It is very important to listen to any instructions from the testing proctors, and follow all directions. This includes the oral directions read by the test administrators and any written directions in the test booklet. In particular, pay attention to time suggestions and directions concerning how to progress through the exam.

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

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

  • Determine the "best answer." Since the test questions call for the "best answer," you should read and evaluate all answer choices before deciding which is best. I recommend a method I call "thoughtful elimination." If you can positively eliminate at least two from the selection, and can make a selection from the remaining three, go with that selection and do not change it. Statistically you are most likely to have selected the correct response.

  • Guess wisely. Test scores are based on the number of correct answers. There is no additional penalty for guessing. For questions about which you are unsure, use your knowledge and background in the content area to eliminate as many answer choices as possible, and then guess among the remaining ones.

  • Mark your answers carefully. Answer sheets are scored electronically; it is critical that you mark your answers clearly, carefully, and completely. You may use any available space in the test booklet for notes, but all answers must be clearly marked on the answer sheet. If you skip a test question, be sure to skip the corresponding row of answer choices on the answer sheet.

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

  • Estimate. Many test questions ask for calculations based on numerical information. When dealing with this kind of question, it is often helpful to estimate the answer before reading the response options. It is not always necessary to perform a detailed calculation to answer the question correctly. For instance, "Five percent of 95 = x." Obviously the answer must be close to or around five.

  • Check accuracy. Use any remaining time at the end of the test session to check the accuracy of your work. Go back to test questions with which you had difficulty and verify your answers. Again, check your answer sheet to ensure that you have marked answers accurately and completely, and have erased any changed answers and stray marks.

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

Constructed Response Tests

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

1. Content Constructed Response

A content question might be, "Why did Truman use the atomic bomb to end the Pacific theater of the war?" Note that this question does not ask how to teach, or what is wrong with this teaching model or how to improve teaching strategies for maximum absorption. Indeed, this question seeks to elicit knowledge of content. A possible response might be, "Truman's use of the atomic bomb saved American lives, scared the Russians out of China, and cut as much as a year from the island hopping campaign." Again note the manipulation of content. This is called a tripartite hypothesis. The brief outline that follows shows how to organize the information into an effective response.
  1. Statement of your hypothesis.

  2. Discussion of how the atomic bomb saved American lives.

      a. Examples or information.

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

      a. Examples or information.

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

      a. Examples or information.

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

Now let's look at a pedagogic essay question. A pedagogic essay question looks at the teaching process. An example of a pedagogic question is, "How would you teach Where the Wild Things Are to a fifth-grade multilevel classroom?" This question asks you to address the reflective process of teaching. In order to respond, you must address the teaching framework in its entirety. A possible response hypothesis might look like this: "I would teach Where the Wild Things Are using TGT 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 differently next time.
Now if you add a separate section called Materials to this outline, you have the skeleton of a basic lesson plan. Look at the question again and think about it. It should begin to make some sense to you now.

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

  • Generate a brief outline. While not graded, it will have an impact on the reader. Follow your outline when generating your written response.

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

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

  • If you are working on an essay test, practice making outlines and writing from outlines prior to taking the exams.

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

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

  • Make use of compound complex sentence structure at least twenty percent of the time. A compound complex sentence has subordinating conjunctions and independent clauses combined with coordinating conjunctions. For instance: "However, as I approach college, I find that my high-school education prepared me 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 of questions, choose the topic you can answer most knowledgeably. If there are two or more questions in a series, decide the best order in which to answer the questions.

  • Pace your activities. Know the total amount of time allowed for the questions, and determine the number and types of questions on the test. Allow time to read each question and to plan, write, and review your answers.

  • Write your response. In responding to a constructed response question, be clear, concise, and accurate. A longer response or an essay should answer the question completely, include appropriate concepts and terminology, provide evidence to support and amplify general 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 your responses for content, clarity, and accuracy.

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

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