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Preparing for Your Exam

On this page you'll find information to help you understand how teacher certification tests are structured, how we create our products and what makes them better than other guides, as well as study suggestions to help you pass the first time.

XAMonline is dedicated to ensuring you have the tools and resources to be successful on your certification exam and in your classroom. After reviewing this exam preparation page, if you have additional questions, please check our FAQ or Contact Us. We're here to help!

Demystifying Teacher Certification Testing

It is important to keep in mind certification tests are not certifying that you are a great teacher; they are certifying you are highly qualified in subject knowledge. The test questions can reflect content and/or application of teaching methods. For instance, a mathematic question could test knowledge of algebraic calculations or how to teach the concept of zero in subtraction.

Each state implements its own certification and testing requirements; the majority of states use The Praxis Series™, but quite a few have state-specific exams such as Florida Teacher Certification Examinations (FTCE), Texas Examinations of Educator Standards™ (TExES™) and Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL). While some assume tests for a particular subject are the same or very similar across the board, this is not always the case. States’ content overlaps around 60 percent of the time. For example, Massachusetts requires basic math, statistics, algebra, geometry, calculus and trigonometry for elementary education teachers; however, most states do not include calculus or trigonometry for elementary education teachers.

Ensuring You’re Studying the Right Material

Each state also determines which aspects within any given topic it’s going to require (these are called test item skill levels). For instance, if you’re taking a biology test with ecology as a competency, then the skill might be unique to the biomes of that state. Another example, all English secondary tests have a literature component, but they vary in including how to teach writing or reading skills. So how do you ensure your study guide has the correct structure and content?

XAMonline revises and re-aligns its products every 18 to 24 months to ensure you’re studying material that is state-specific and corresponds to current standards. The accuracy of our study guide material and practice test depends on several factors. First, the questions must reflect a careful sampling of the competencies and skills.

Competencies required by the state are public record. In fact, the individual states want you to know what topics are on the test. However, teacher certification tests are designed to measure numerous domains ranging from material acquired over a year of study in a subject to cumulative mastery of material studied over several years— the sheer volume of content to recall can cause test anxiety. The idea is not to be concerned with any one test question (called an item), but rather to focus on the larger set of knowledge and skills that more questions would represent.

It is daunting to think of what to study on your own. XAMonline takes the state list of competencies and skills, and supplies the appropriate content—all in an organized package that aids the study process and promotes retention and recall.

States also vary in how they weight the quantity of questions in each category. One state may structure its test: United States history 30 percent of the questions, World History 30 percent, Political Science 15 percent, Economics 15 percent and other social sciences making up the remaining 10 percent. Another state may have different values for each of those categories. XAMonline researches each state’s official test structure to ensure our guides provide the proper amount of questions based on each state’s value on a topic.

Score Interpretation Varies by State

To understand how teacher certification score reports are used it is important to know that the raw score given by the testing company such as Educational Testing Service (ETS) or National Evaluation Systems (NES) is just that, a raw score. It is up to the individual states to interpret that score. On the PRAXIS test, which used in about 30 states, a hypothetical score of 180 for a particular test might allow you to teach in 20 of the 30 states. For example, North Carolina may say you need a score of 200 whereas Kansas may only require 180. You should check with each state to determine its requirements.

Identifying Test Question Rigor and Skill Reference

Test rigor interests policymakers, the press, and the public because teacher certification tests are intended to be a reflection of cumulative mastery of content. Any one item is evaluated broadly into easy, average or hard. XAMonline identifies question rigor, allowing our study guide user to focus on their weak areas.

What good is a practice test if you waste time flipping through previous pages trying to remember where the skill you got incorrect was covered? XAMonline’s guides prevent frustration and wasted time by including a skill reference within each one of our practice test questions.

What Makes XAMonline Different, Makes Us Better

XAMonline differs from test administrators such as ETS or NES because their free resources and study guides only offer a test outline or brief sample test—they barely skim the surface, while XAMonline provides true study value. Our guides present a superior content review and identify the difficulty level for each skill. Our contrast with commercial publishers such as CliffNotes, Kaplan, Research and Education Association (REA), and Barron’s is simple: we are focused on teacher certification. XAMonline differs because of its love for the profession. Each child deserves a teacher who has had the best preparation and a significant part of that preparation is the certification exam.

In addition to abbreviated guides that only provide test topics rather than the actual content, there are companies that offer test-taking tips and secrets. Essentially, these products teach you how to “outsmart the test makers”. The issue is that high quality teachers are not interested in cramming just to pass their certification, they want to master the content and knowledge in order to be effective in the classroom.

Preparing for Examination: Steps to Excellence

What to study in order to prepare for the subject assessments is the focus of study guides, but equally important is how you study. You can increase your chances of truly mastering the information by taking some simple but effective steps such as systematic note taking and implementing a strategic study plan.

When to Start Studying?

Our informal polls show that most people who passed their certification tests began studying up to eight weeks prior to the test date, so start early. Ask yourself some questions: How much do you really know? Are you coming to the test straight from your teacher-education program or are you having to review subjects you haven’t considered in 10 years?

Take a diagnostic or assessment test first, it can help you decide how to manage your study time and identify your existing content knowledge. Although XAMonline’s guides are structured to follow the order of the test, you are not required to study in that order. The results of your diagnostic or self-assessment test can be a guide for how to manage your time and point you towards an area that needs more attention. By finding a time-management and study plan that fits your life you will be more effective. Also, don’t forget to spend time on practice tests so that you become accustomed to the way the actual test will appear.

Week (prior to test) Activity
8 Take a diagnostic or pre-assessment test then build your study plan according to your time availability and areas that need the most work.
7 Read the entire study guide. This does not have to be an in-depth reading, but you should take the time to mark sections or areas you know you’d like to return to or can be skimmed in further study.
6 to 3 For each of these four weeks, choose a content area to study. You don’t have to go in the order of the book. It may be that you start with the content that needs the most review. Alternately, you may want to ease yourself into plan by starting with the most familiar material.
2 Take the sample test, score it, and create a review plan for the final week before the test.
1 Following your plan (which will likely be aligned with the areas that need the most review) go back and study the sections that align with the questions you may have gotten wrong. Then go back and study the sections related to the questions you answered correctly. If need be, create flashcards and drill yourself on any areas that make you anxious.


The Cornell Method of Effective Note Taking

The Cornell method provides a systematic format for condensing and organizing notes without lengthy recopying.

Take a sheet of loose-leaf lined notebook paper and draw a line all the way down the paper about 1”–2” from the left-hand edge. Draw another line across the width of the paper about 1”–2” up from the bottom. Throughout the lecture, take notes in the large right hand space. Skip a couple lines after each major point. When the lecture is done, write a cue in the left margin corresponding to every significant piece of information. To study, cover the notes and looking at the cue or key idea, see how much you can remember.

Adapted from How to Study in College, Ninth Edition, by Walter Pauk


Study Tips

  1. Some foods aid the learning process. Foods such as milk, nuts, seeds, rice, and oats help your study efforts by releasing natural memory enhancers called CCKs (cholecystokinin) composed of tryptophan, choline, and phenylalanine. All of these chemicals enhance the neurotransmitters associated with memory. Before studying, try a light, protein-rich meal of eggs, turkey, and fish. All of these foods release the memory-enhancing chemicals. The better the connections, the more you comprehend. Likewise, before you take a test, stick to a light snack of energy boosting and relaxing foods. A glass of milk, a piece of fruit, or some peanuts all release various memory-boosting chemicals and help you to relax and focus on the subject at hand.
  2. Use arrows, not highlighters. At best, it is difficult to read a page full of yellow, pink, blue, and green streaks. Try staring at a neon sign for a while and you will soon see that the horde of colors obscure the message. A quick note, a brief dash of color, an underline, or an arrow pointing to a particular passage is much clearer than a horde of highlighted words.
  3. Budget your study time. Although you should not ignore any of the material, allocate your available study time in the same ratio that topics may appear on the test.


Testing Tips

  1. Do not read into the question. Do not assume that the test writer is looking for anything than what is asked. Stick to the question as it’s written—don’t read too much into it.
  2. Read the question and all the choices twice before answering the question. You may miss something by not carefully reading and then re-reading both the question and the answers. If you really do not have a clue as to the right answer, leave it blank on the first time through. Go on to the other questions, as they may provide a clue as to how to answer the skipped question. If later on, you still cannot answer the skipped ones . . . guess. The only penalty for guessing is that you might get it wrong. Only one thing is certain; if you do not put anything down, you will get it wrong!
  3. Turn the question into a statement. Look at the wording of the questions. The syntax of the question usually provides a clue. Does it seem more familiar as a statement rather than as a question? Does it sound strange? By turning a question into a statement, you may be able to spot if an answer sounds right, and it may trigger memories of material you have read.
  4. Look for hidden clues. It is actually very difficult to compose multiple-choice questions without giving away part of the answer in the options presented. In most multiple-choice questions, you can often readily eliminate one or two of the potential answers. This leaves you with only two real possibilities and automatically your odds go to 50/50 for very little work.
  5. Trust your instincts. For every fact that you have read, you subconsciously retain something of that knowledge. On questions that you are not really certain, go with your basic instincts. Your first impression on how to answer a question is usually correct.
  6. Mark your answers directly on the test booklet. Do not bother trying to fill in the optical scan sheet on the first pass through the test. Mark your answers carefully when you transcribe them to the scan sheet.
  7. Watch the clock! You have a set amount of time to answer the questions. Do not get bogged down trying to answer a single question at the expense of 10 questions you can more readily answer.

Best of luck on your exam!

“When I have used your books I always passed the tests the first time.”

Nancy, Florida

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