Section 2: How to Prepare for the Exams
This section of the preparation manual provides information to help you prepare to take a Pre-Admission Content Test (PACT).
Learn What the Exam Covers
You may have heard that there are several different versions of the same exam. It's true. You may take one version of the exam and your friend may take a different version. Each exam has different questions covering the same subject area, but both versions of the exam measure the same skills and content knowledge.
You'll find specific information on the exam you're taking in the Overview and Exam Framework section of the preparation manual, which outlines the content areas that the exam measures and what percentage of the exam covers each area.
Begin by reviewing the preparation manual for your exam in its entirety, paying particular attention to the content specifications. The content specifications detail the knowledge and skills to be measured on the exam.
Once you have reviewed the preparation manual, you can create your own personalized study plan and schedule based on your individual needs and how much time you have before exam day. Be sure to also seek other resources to strengthen your content knowledge.
Keep in mind that study habits are individual. There are many different ways to successfully prepare for your exam. Some people study better on their own, while others prefer a group setting. You may have more energy early in the day, but another test taker may concentrate better in the evening. Use this guide to develop the approach that works best for you.
Assess How Well You Know the Content
Use your review of the competencies to focus your study time on those areas containing knowledge and skills with which you are less familiar. You should leave yourself time to review the content of all domains and competencies, both the familiar and the less familiar ones, but the focus of your preparation time and priority in your studying should be placed upon those areas about which you are least confident.
Think carefully about how well you know each area; research shows that test takers tend to overestimate their preparedness. People often glance at the specifications, or at the exam questions (with "a peek" at the answers at the same time), and think that they know the content of the exam. This is why some test takers assume they did well and then are surprised to find out they did not pass.
The exams are demanding enough to require serious review. The longer you've been away from the content the more preparation you will most likely need. If it has been longer than a few months since you've studied your content area, make a concerted effort to prepare. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose from such an approach.
Familiarize Yourself with the Different Types of Exam Questions
The PACT exams include several types of exam questions, which can be broken into two categories: selected response (multiple choice) and constructed response (for which you write or record a response of your own that is scored by trained raters based on scoring guidelines). You may be familiar with these question formats from taking other standardized tests. If not, familiarize yourself with them so you don't spend time during the exam figuring out how to answer them.
How to Approach Unfamiliar Question Formats
Some questions include introductory information such as a table, graph, or reading passage (often called a stimulus) that provides the information the question asks for. New formats for presenting information are developed from time to time. Exams may include audio and video stimulus materials, such as a movie clip or some kind of animation, instead of a map or reading passage.
Remember that with every question, you will get clear instructions on how to respond.
Approaches to Answering Selected-Response Questions
The information below describes some selected-response question formats that you will typically see on PACT exams and suggests possible ways to approach thinking about and answering them. These approaches are intended to supplement and complement familiar test-taking strategies with which you may already be comfortable and that work for you. Fundamentally, the most important component in ensuring your success is familiarity with the content that is covered on the exam.
The questions on each exam are designed to assess your knowledge of the content described in the competencies of each exam. In most cases, you are expected to demonstrate more than just your ability to recall factual information. You may be asked to think critically about the information, to analyze it, to compare it with other knowledge you have, or to make a judgment about it.
Be sure to read the directions carefully to ensure that you know what is required for each exam question. Leave no questions unanswered. Your score will be determined by the number of questions you answer correctly.
You may see the following types of selected-response questions on the exam:
- Single Questions
- Clustered Questions
Below you will find descriptions of these commonly used question formats, along with suggested approaches for responding to each type.
The single-question format presents a direct question or an incomplete statement. It can also include a reading passage, movie clip, graphic, table, or a combination of these.
Read the questions carefully and critically. Think about what the questions are asking and the situations being described. If you are unsure about a question, use your knowledge of the content area to eliminate as many of the alternatives as you can; then select from the remaining choices.
Clustered questions are made up of a stimulus and two or more questions relating to the stimulus. The stimulus material can be a reading passage, graphic, table, or any other information necessary to answer the questions that follow.
You can use several different approaches to respond to clustered questions. Some commonly used strategies are listed below.
|Strategy 1||Skim the stimulus material to understand its purpose, its arrangement, and/or its content. Then read the questions and refer again to the stimulus material to obtain the specific information you need to answer the questions.|
|Strategy 2||Read the questions before considering the stimulus material. The theory behind this strategy is that the content of the questions will help you identify the purpose of the stimulus material and locate the information you need to answer the questions.|
|Strategy 3||Use a combination of both strategies. Apply the "read the stimulus first" strategy with shorter, more familiar stimuli and the "read the questions first" strategy with longer, more complex or less familiar stimuli. You can experiment with the sample questions in the preparation manuals and then use the strategy with which you are most comfortable when you take the actual exam.|
Whether you read the stimulus before or after you read the questions, you should read it carefully and critically. You may want to note its important points to help you answer the questions.
Understanding Constructed-Response Questions
Your examination may contain constructed-response questions that require you to demonstrate your knowledge in a subject area by providing in-depth explanations on particular topics. Essay, problem-solving, and oral-response are types of constructed-response questions.
For example, an essay or oral-response question might present you with a topic and ask you to discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the opinion stated. You must support your position with specific reasons and examples from your own experience, observations or reading.
Keep these things in mind when you respond to a constructed-response question:
- Answer the question accurately. Analyze what each part of the question is asking you to do. If the question asks you to describe or discuss, you should provide more than just a list.
- Answer the question completely. If a question asks you to do three distinct things in your response, you should cover all three things for the best score. No matter how well you respond, you will not be awarded full credit if you do not answer the question completely.
- Answer the question that is asked. Do not change the question or challenge the basis of the question. You will receive no credit or a low score if you answer another question or if you state, for example, that there is no possible answer.
- Give a thorough and detailed response. You must demonstrate that you have a thorough understanding of the subject matter. However, your response should be straightforward and not filled with unnecessary information.
- If your response is written, reread it. Check that you have written what you thought you wrote. Be sure not to leave sentences unfinished or omit clarifying information.
Understand How Constructed-Response Questions Will be Scored
Information about the scoring of constructed-response exam questions can be found on the Understanding Your Exam Results page on the Texas Educator Certification Examination Program website. Familiarize yourself with the scoring information provided on this page, and be sure your responses take this information into account.
Gather Study Materials
For all content areas, think about where you might be able to obtain materials for review:
- Did you have a course in which the area was covered?
- Do you still have your book or your notes?
- Does your college library have a good introductory college-level text in this area?
- Does your local library have a high school-level text?
Do you know a teacher or professor who can help you organize your study? Would a study group suit you and help you maintain momentum? People have different study methods that work for them — use whatever you know that works for you.
Each prep manual provides a combination of exam preparation and practice, including sample questions and answers with explanations. You can also find informational tutorials about the testing experience.
Plan and Organize Your Time
You can begin to plan and organize your time while you are still collecting materials. Allow yourself plenty of review time to avoid cramming new material at the end. Here are a few tips:
- Choose a testing date far enough in the future to leave you plenty of preparation time. For exam date information, refer to the exam's information page on the Texas Educator Certification Examination Program website.
- Work backward from the exam date to figure out how much time you will need for review.
- Set a realistic schedule — and stick to it.
Develop Your Study Plan
A study plan provides a roadmap to prepare for the exams. It can help you understand what skills and knowledge are covered on the exam and where to focus your attention. A study plan worksheet is available on the Texas Educator Certification Examination Program website. You can use this worksheet to:
- Define Content Areas: List the most important content areas for your exam as defined in the preparation manual.
- Determine Strengths and Weaknesses: Identify where you have thorough understanding and where you need additional study in each content area.
- Identify Resources: Identify the books, courses, and other resources you plan to use to study for each content area.
- Study: Create and commit to a schedule that provides for regular study periods.
Exams with constructed-response questions assess your ability to explain material effectively. As a prospective teacher, you'll need to be able to explain concepts and processes to students in a clear, understandable way. What are the major concepts you will be required to teach? Can you explain them in your own words accurately, completely, and clearly? Practice explaining these concepts to test your ability to effectively explain what you know.
Using Study Materials as Part of a Study Group
People who have a lot of studying to do sometimes find it helpful to form a study group with others who are working toward the same goal. Study groups give members opportunities to ask questions and get detailed answers. In a group, some members usually have a better understanding of certain topics, while others in the group may be better at other topics. As members take turns explaining concepts to each other, everyone builds self-confidence.
If the group encounters a question that none of the members can answer well, the group can go to a teacher or other expert and get answers efficiently. Because study groups schedule regular meetings, members study in a more disciplined fashion. They also gain emotional support. The group should be large enough so that various people can contribute various kinds of knowledge, but small enough so that it stays focused. Often, three to six members is a good size.
Here are some ways to use the preparation manual as part of a study group:
- Plan the group's study program. Parts of the study plan template can help to structure your group's study program. By filling out the first five columns and sharing the worksheets, everyone will learn more about your group's mix of abilities and about the resources, such as textbooks, that members can share with the group. In the sixth column ("Dates planned for study of content"), you can create an overall schedule for your group's study program.
- Plan individual group sessions. At the end of each session, the group should decide what specific topics will be covered at the next meeting and who will present each topic. Use the content subareas and objectives in the preparation manual to select topics, and then select practice questions.
- Prepare your presentation for the group. When it's your turn to present, prepare something that is more than a lecture. Write two or three original questions to pose to the group. Practicing writing actual questions can help you better understand the topics covered on the exam as well as the types of questions you will encounter on the exam. It will also give other members of the group extra practice at answering questions.
- Take a practice exam together. The idea of a practice exam is to simulate an actual administration of the exam, so scheduling an exam session with the group will add to the realism and may also help boost everyone's confidence. Remember, if you take a practice exam, allow only the time that will be allotted for that exam on your administration day. You can use the questions in the preparation manual for your practice exam.
- Learn from the results of the practice exam. Check each other's answers. Answers to the selected-response questions with the correct response are included in the prep manual. If your exam includes constructed-response questions, look at the constructed-response sample questions, which contain sample responses to those types of questions and shows how they were scored. Then try to follow the same guidelines that the test raters use.
- Be as critical as you can. You're not doing your study partner a favor by letting him or her get away with an answer that does not cover all parts of the question adequately.
- Be specific. Write comments that are as detailed as the comments about the sample responses. Indicate where and how your study partner is doing an inadequate job of answering the question. Writing notes for your study partner may also help.
- Be supportive. Include comments that point out what your study partner got right and that therefore earned points.
Then plan one or more study sessions based on aspects of the questions on which group members did not perform well. For example, each group member might be responsible for rewriting one paragraph of a response in which someone else did an inadequate job.
Whether you decide to study alone or with a group, remember that the best way to prepare is to have an organized plan. The plan you follow should set goals based on specific topics and skills that you need to learn, and it should commit you to a realistic set of deadlines for meeting these goals. Then you need to discipline yourself to stick with your plan and accomplish your goals on schedule.
Smart Tips for Success
Learn from the experts. Take advantage of these answers to questions you may have and practical tips to help you navigate the exam and make the best use of your time.
Should I guess?
Yes. Your score is based on the number of questions you answer correctly, with no penalty or subtraction for an incorrect answer. When you don't know the answer to a question, try to eliminate any obviously wrong answers and then guess at the correct one. Try to pace yourself so that you have enough time to carefully consider every question.
Are there trick questions on the exam?
No. There are no hidden meanings or trick wording. All of the questions on the exam ask about subject matter knowledge in a straightforward manner.
Are there answer patterns on the exam?
No. You might have heard this myth: The answers on selected-response exams follow patterns. Another myth is that there will never be more than two questions with the same lettered answer following each other. Neither myth is true. Select the answer you think is correct based on your knowledge of the subject.
Can I write on the erasable sheet(s) I am given?
Yes. You can work out problems or make notes to yourself on the erasable sheet(s) provided to you by the test administrator. You may use your notes in any way that is useful to you, but be sure to enter your final answers on the computer. No credit is given for anything written on the erasable sheet(s).
Tips for Taking the Exam
- Skip the questions you find extremely difficult. Rather than trying to answer these on your first pass through the exam, leave them blank and mark them. Pay attention to the time as you answer the rest of the questions on the exam, and try to finish with 10 or 15 minutes remaining so that you can go back over the questions you left blank. Even if you don't know the answer the second time you read the questions, see if you can narrow down the possible answers and then guess.
- Keep track of the time. Keep an eye on the timer, and be aware of how much time you have left to complete your exam. You will probably have plenty of time to answer all of the questions, but if you find yourself becoming stuck on one question, you might decide to move on and return to that question later.
- Read all of the possible answers before selecting one. Then, reread the question to be sure the answer you have selected really answers the question. Remember, a question that contains a phrase such as "Which of the following does NOT ..." is asking for the one answer that is NOT a correct statement or conclusion.
- Check your answers. If you have extra time left over at the end of the exam, look over each question and make sure that you have answered it as you intended. Many test takers make careless mistakes that they could have corrected if they had checked their answers.
- Don't worry about your score when you are taking the exam. No one is expected to answer all of the questions correctly. Your score on this exam is not analogous to your score on other similar-looking (but in fact very different!) exams. It doesn't matter on the exams whether you score very high or barely pass; what matters is meeting the minimum passing score.
- Use your energy to take the exam, not to get angry at it. Getting angry at the exam only increases stress and decreases the likelihood that you will do your best. Highly qualified educators and exam development professionals, all with backgrounds in teaching and educational leadership, worked diligently to make the exam a fair and valid measure of your knowledge and skills. The best thing to do is concentrate on answering the questions.
Do Your Best on Exam Day
You followed your study plan. You are ready for the exam. Now it's time to prepare for exam day.
Plan to end your review a day or two before the actual exam date so you avoid cramming. Take a dry run to the test center so you're sure of the route, traffic conditions, and parking. Most of all, you want to eliminate any unexpected factors that could distract you from your ultimate goal — passing the exam!
On the day of the exam, you should:
- Be well-rested.
- Bring two pieces of original (no photocopies or digital ID) and valid (unexpired) identification, printed in English in the name in which you registered. Your identification must contain your name, a recent recognizable photograph, and your signature. For more information, refer to the ID Policy page on the Texas Educator Certification Examination Program website.
- Arrive at least 30 minutes before the scheduled reporting time.
- Eat before you take the exam to keep your energy level up.
- Wear comfortable clothes and dress in layers.
You cannot control the testing situation, but you can control yourself. Stay calm. The supervisors are well trained and make every effort to provide uniform testing conditions. You can think of preparing for this exam as training for an athletic event. Once you have trained, prepared, and rested, give it your best effort...and good luck!
Are You Ready?
Review this list to determine if you're ready to take your exam.
- Do you know the admission requirements for your Educator Preparation Program?
- Have you followed all of the exam registration procedures?
- Do you know the topics that will be covered in each exam you plan to take?
- Have you reviewed any textbooks, class notes, and course readings that relate to the topics covered?
- Do you know how long the exam will take and the number of questions it contains?
- Have you considered how you will pace your work?
- Are you familiar with the types of questions that you may encounter during your exam?
- Are you familiar with the recommended test-taking strategies?
- Have you practiced by working through the practice questions in the preparation manual?
- If constructed-response questions are part of your exam, do you understand the scoring criteria for these items?
- If you are repeating an exam, have you analyzed your previous score report to determine areas where additional study and exam preparation could be useful?
If you answered "yes" to the questions above, your preparation has paid off. Now take the exam, do your best, and pass it!
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