Section 2: How to Prepare for the Exams
This section of the preparation manual provides information to help you prepare to take the TExES exams.
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. The Educator Standards section of the prep manual lists the standards necessary for a teacher of that subject.
Once you have reviewed the preparation manual and the standards, 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 TExES 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.
Exams may also include interactive types of questions. These questions take advantage of technology to assess knowledge and skills that go beyond what can be assessed using standard single-selection selected-response questions. If you see a format you are not familiar with, read the directions carefully. The directions always give clear instructions on how you are expected to respond.
For most questions, you will respond by clicking an oval to choose a single answer choice from a list of options. Other questions may ask you to respond by:
- Selecting all that apply. In some questions, you will be asked to choose all the options that answer the question correctly.
- Typing in an entry box. You may be asked to enter a text or numeric answer. Some questions may have more than one place to enter a response.
- Clicking check boxes. You may be asked to click check boxes instead of an oval when more than one choice within a set of answers can be selected.
- Clicking parts of a graphic. In some questions, you will choose your answer by clicking on location(s) on a graphic such as a map or chart, as opposed to choosing from a list.
- Clicking on sentences. In questions with reading passages, you may be asked to choose your answer by clicking on a sentence or sentences within the reading passage.
- Dragging and dropping answer choices into "targets" on the screen. You may be asked to choose an answer from a list and drag it into the appropriate location in a table, paragraph of text, or graphic.
- Selecting options from a drop-down menu. This type of question will ask you to select the appropriate answer or answers by selecting options from a drop-down menu (e.g., to complete a sentence).
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 TExES 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. This content has been carefully selected to align with the knowledge required to begin a career as a teacher in the state of Texas.
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, graphic, table or a combination of these. Four or more answer options appear below the question. The following question is an example of this type. It tests knowledge of Bilingual Education Supplemental Competency 002: The beginning bilingual education teacher understands processes of first- and second-language acquisition and development and applies this knowledge to promote students’ language proficiency in their first language (L1) and second language (L2).
A group of English-language learners (ELLs) encounters various words in a short story in their first language that are no longer in common use today. Which of the following linguistic concepts should the teacher use to best help the ELLs understand this phenomenon?
- Language extinction
- Linguistic assimilation
- Language change
Read the question carefully and critically. Think about what it is asking and situation it is describing. Eliminate any obviously wrong answers, select the correct answer choice and mark your answer.
As you read this question, you need to determine which of the response options refers to the linguistic phenomenon encountered by the English-language learners (ELLs) in this classroom situation. Frequently, bilingual teachers must rely on their understanding of basic linguistic concepts in order to help support ELLs’ first (L1) and second language (L2) development. In this instance, the ELLs have encountered words in their L1 that are no longer in common use in that language today. To help the students understand this phenomenon, the teacher needs to rely on a general understanding of how languages evolve over time.
The term presented in option A is interlanguage. According to theories of second-language acquisition, an interlanguage evolves within a person during the process of acquiring a second language. This intermediate language contains properties of the learner’s first and second languages and increasingly approximates the second language as the second language develops. Knowledge of this concept will not help explain the phenomenon the students encountered in their reading.
The term presented in option B is language extinction. This term refers to a process by which speakers of a language slowly stop using it, resulting in the language dying out. Clearly, in the situation described, the students’ primary language is a living language. Only certain words in the language are no longer in common use. That phenomenon, in fact, provides evidence of the language’s vitality, rather than of its demise. Thus, it would be inaccurate to use the concept language extinction to explain the loss of specific words.
The term presented in option C is linguistic assimilation. This term refers to a process in which one sound influences one or more features of another sound that precedes or follows it in a word or utterance (e.g., a voiceless sound becomes voiced), so that the sounds become more similar or even alike. This process is phonological and not related to the phenomenon the students encountered in their reading.
The term presented in option D is language change. This term refers to a process that is related to the dynamic nature of language, in which major components of a language (e.g., phonology, syntactic features, lexicon) change over time. Such changes take place for a variety of reasons. In the classroom situation described, the students encountered words that were no longer in common use in their L1. This is an example of a change in the language’s lexicon. Lexical changes may take place as the objects certain words refer to are no longer in common use or as the words are replaced by new words. Thus, the phenomenon the students encountered represents a clear example of language change. Using a basic knowledge of how languages evolve over time, the teacher can help the ELLs develop an appreciation for the dynamic nature of their language. The correct response is option D.
In this way, analysis of the four options should lead you to select option D as the best response.
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.
As you consider questions set in educational contexts, try to enter into the identified teacher's frame of mind and use that teacher's point of view to answer the questions that accompany the stimulus. Be sure to consider the questions only in terms of the information provided in the stimulus — not in terms of your own experiences or individuals you may have known.
Use the information below to answer the questions that follow.
When selecting English-language reading materials for English-language learners (ELLs) who are beginning- or intermediate-level readers of English, a bilingual teacher makes sure to include English-language versions of stories, folktales and other narratives from the ELLs’ home cultures.
Now you are prepared to respond to the first of the two questions associated with this stimulus. The first question tests knowledge of Bilingual Education Supplemental Competency 001: The beginning bilingual education teacher understands the foundations of bilingual education and the concepts of bilingualism and biculturalism and applies this knowledge to create an effective learning environment for students in the bilingual education program.
1. The materials described most likely contribute to an effective learning environment by
- providing the ELLs challenging content, the materials will motivate them to learn correct English grammar and use it in their communications with peers.
- validating and affirming the ELLs’ home cultures, the materials will promote their development of a bicultural identity.
- introducing the ELLs to key aspects of their home cultures, the materials will prompt them to examine the values and beliefs of the majority culture.
- exposing the ELLs to new literary genres, the materials will enhance their understanding of language diversity and variation.
Carefully consider the information presented in the stimulus. Then read and consider this first question, which asks how the materials described in the stimulus are likely to contribute to an effective learning environment. Recall that the teacher is selecting English-language reading materials for the ELLs. The stimulus focuses on the fact that in making these selections, the teacher includes English-language versions of stories, folktales and other narratives from the ELLs’ home cultures.
Option A suggests that the ELLs will find these materials challenging and that this will motivate them to improve their English grammar. There is no evidence in the stimulus that the teacher’s focus is on selecting materials that are written at a level that the ELLs are likely to find challenging. On the contrary, the teacher is actively seeking out materials that are likely to be familiar to the ELLs. To promote second-language (L2) development, ELLs must be exposed to L2 input that is comprehensible. Selecting overly challenging L2 materials would not contribute to an effective learning environment for ELLs because such materials would not be readily comprehensible.
Option B suggests that the materials described in the stimulus would contribute to an effective learning environment by validating and affirming the ELLs’ home cultures, thereby promoting their development of a bicultural identity. To reinforce ELLs’ bilingual and bicultural identity, it is critical that their home language and culture are regarded with high esteem in the classroom and, ideally, in the larger school community as well. One way to convey respect for ELLs’ home cultures is to incorporate aspects of the home cultures throughout the curriculum. In the stimulus, the teacher is clearly following this practice by making sure to include materials from the ELLs’ home cultures in the English-language reading curriculum.
Option C suggests that the materials selected by the teacher will prompt the ELLs to examine the values and beliefs of the majority culture by introducing them to key aspects of their home cultures. There is no evidence in the stimulus that the teacher plans to use the selected materials as a way to introduce ELLs to aspects of their own cultures. Also, while the materials are likely to prompt ELLs to reflect on their home cultures, no evidence in the stimulus suggests that the teacher plans to use the materials to focus the ELLs’ attention on the majority culture.
Option D suggests that the teacher will use the selected materials to introduce ELLs to new literary genres, thereby enhancing their understanding of language diversity and variation. Again, while some of the materials may be new to some of the ELLs, there is no evidence in the stimulus to suggest that the teacher is selecting these materials in order to introduce the ELLs to new content. On the contrary, an important reason bilingual teachers select instructional materials representing ELLs’ home cultures is that the structure and content of such materials are likely to be familiar to them and thereby more comprehensible.
In this way, analysis of the four options should lead you to select option B as the best response.
Now you are ready to answer the next question. The second question measures Bilingual Education Supplemental Competency 003: The beginning bilingual education teacher has comprehensive knowledge of the development and assessment of literacy in L1 and the development and assessment of biliteracy.
2. According to convergent research related to reading in a second language, which of the following best explains why the materials described would be effective in supporting ELLs’ reading in English?
- Reading comprehension is reinforced by materials that conform to ELLs’ prior knowledge of basic concepts about print
- Reading fluency and comprehension are enhanced when ELLs are provided with materials that contain easily decodable text
- Reading fluency is reinforced when ELLs are provided with frequent opportunities to read materials that are written at their independent reading level
- Reading comprehension is enhanced by materials that are based on contextual and textual schemata that are familiar to the ELLs.
Again, carefully consider the information presented in the stimulus. Then read and consider this second question, which asks you to use your knowledge of convergent research related to reading in a second language to determine why the materials described would be particularly effective in supporting ELLs’ reading in English.
In carefully analyzing the options in the previous question, it is evident that, besides the correct response, all of the other options were based on either faulty or inaccurate reasoning. On reading through this second question, however, all of the response options are accurate statements regarding reading fluency and/or comprehension. In this situation, it becomes especially important to refer back to the stimulus to determine which of these statements best addresses the situation described.
Option A focuses on reading materials that conform to ELLs’ prior knowledge of basic concepts about print. Concepts about print include concepts such as understanding that print has meaning and recognizing the directionality of print. In the stimulus, the focus is on selecting reading materials related to the ELLs’ home cultures. While such materials would likely conform to basic English print conventions, so would materials that are completely unrelated to ELLs’ home cultures. Therefore, this response option does not directly relate to relevant information in the stimulus.
Option B focuses on reading materials that contain easily decodable text. While the materials described in the stimulus may contain easily decodable text, this is not the teacher’s primary criterion in selecting them.
Option C focuses on providing ELLs with frequent opportunities to read materials that are written at their independent reading level. While the selected materials may include ones written at the ELLs’ independent reading level, it is also likely in the situation described that some of the materials could be written at their instructional reading level.
Option D focuses on enhancing ELLs’ reading comprehension by using materials based on familiar contextual and textual schemata. In the stimulus, the teacher is selecting materials reflecting ELLs’ home cultures. Such materials are very likely to address familiar topics and content and to follow textual patterns (e.g., story structures) that are also familiar to the ELLs.
In this way, analysis of the four options should lead you to select option D as the best response.
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.
Preparation manuals are available for all Texas educator certification program exams. Each prep manual provides a combination of exam preparation and practice, including sample questions and answers with explanations. You can also find informational tutorials and some interactive practice exams.
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 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 domains and competencies 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. Interactive practice exams are available for some fields.
- Learn from the results of the practice exam. Check each other's answers. Answers for the selected-response questions with explanations for the answers 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. If you meet the minimum passing scores along with any other requirements for obtaining teaching certification, you will receive a license. In other words, 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 Texas testing requirements for your teaching field?
- 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, pass it — and begin your teaching career!
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