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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:

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.

Question Types

You may see the following types of selected-response questions on the exam:

Below you will find descriptions of these commonly used question formats, along with suggested approaches for responding to each type.

Single Questions

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.

Example 1

The following question is an example of the single-question format. It tests knowledge of Art EC–12 Competency 09: The teacher recognizes and analyzes similarities and differences among artworks from various cultures from ancient times through the present.

The tradition of court portraiture in many cultures (for example, imperial Rome, Mughal India, ancient China) relates most directly to a ruler’s desire to represent his or her

  1. power and legacy.
  2. physical beauty.
  3. moral purity.
  4. intelligence and education.
Suggested Approach

Read the question carefully and critically. Think about what it is asking and the situation it is describing. Eliminate any obviously wrong answers, select the correct option and mark your answer.

The question addresses the purpose of court portraiture in many cultures throughout history. Look at the options and consider which of them best describes the purpose of court portraiture shared by many cultures.

Option A suggests that the tradition of court portraiture relates most directly to a ruler’s desire to represent his or her power and legacy. History documents many cases of this desire. For example, in imperial Rome, rulers often commissioned portraits to celebrate themselves and their achievements. During the Mughal period in India, rulers commissioned highly naturalistic portraits of themselves and their courts, preserving their memory for posterity. In these and other examples, court portraiture was used as a display of the ruler’s power and legacy. Therefore, option A is the best response to this question.

Option B suggests that court portraiture relates most directly to a ruler’s desire to represent his or her physical beauty. This was rarely the intention of rulers in the commissioning of court portraiture. In fact, many court portraits present an idealized image of the ruler. These idealized images were used to communicate the ruler’s strength, vitality, and in some cultures, divine power. Therefore, option B may be eliminated.

Option C suggests that court portraiture relates most directly to a ruler’s desire to represent his or her moral purity. While this has been a common purpose of art throughout history and across cultures, especially in classical Greek sculpture, it is infrequently the purpose of court portraiture. When moral purity is addressed in court portraiture, the ruler is typically portrayed as having moral superiority, usually as a result of his or her divine power. Therefore, option C may be eliminated.

Option D suggests that court portraiture relates most directly to a ruler’s desire to represent his or her intelligence and education. Rulers have often used court portraiture to display personal attributes, either to humanize their images or to make themselves appear exceptionally powerful. In these portraits, however, the image rarely alludes to a ruler’s intelligence or education. Since court portraiture is typically created to reinforce power rather than to gain power, the inclusion of such information is generally superfluous. Therefore, option D may be eliminated.

Of the four options offered, a ruler’s desire to represent his or her power and legacy is the most common purpose of traditional court portraiture. Therefore, the correct response is option A.

Example 2

The following item is also in single-question format. It tests knowledge of Art EC–12 Competency 019: The teacher understands lessons and activities that develop the productive skills students need to create artworks.

Which of the following would be the most effective instructional strategy for developing high school students’ ability to explain their motivations and goals in making specific artworks?

  1. Asking periodically for student volunteers to describe how their work expresses personal meaning
  2. Having students write a paper for each finished work to explain the rationale behind the work
  3. Beginning every class by calling on students randomly to discuss their progress and intentions
  4. Instituting regular critique sessions during which all students answer questions about their work
Suggested Approach

The question asks you to select the most effective instructional strategy for developing high school students’ ability to explain their motivations and goals in making specific artworks. Look at the options and consider which of them describes the most effective strategy for developing students’ abilities in this area.

Option A suggests periodically asking students to volunteer to describe how their work expresses personal meaning. Use of this strategy would limit participation to only those students who are willing to volunteer, excluding less willing students who would consequently never develop this expressive ability. In addition, students’ descriptions of how their work expresses personal meaning will not necessarily include explanations of their motivations and goals in making their works. Therefore, option A may be eliminated.

Option B suggests having students write a paper for each finished work explaining the rationale behind each work. Writing a paper about a specific work would be a good option for students who already have the skills involved in explaining their motivations and goals, as they would be familiar with the questions they should address when explaining the rationale behind their work. However, for students who have yet to develop these skills, this would be a difficult assignment to complete effectively. Therefore, option B may be eliminated.

Option C suggests beginning every class by calling on students randomly to discuss their progress and intentions. A discussion of one’s progress and intentions during the creation of a specific work can be a valuable way for students to learn to evaluate their work on an ongoing basis. However, this activity does not directly address the need for students to develop the ability to explain their motivations and goals. In addition, this activity would not necessarily include all students; many may miss the opportunity to participate on a regular basis. Therefore, option C may be eliminated.

Option D suggests instituting regular critique sessions during which all students answer questions about their work. Through answering questions from others about their works, students will be encouraged to look at their works objectively and to consider whether they have succeeded in communicating their motivations and goals for the specific artwork. This activity would also encourage the development of students’ ability to communicate their motivations and goals. In addition, the inclusion of all students ensures that they will all have the opportunity to practice this skill on a regular basis. Therefore, option D is the best response to this question.

Of the four options offered, instituting regular critique sessions during which all students answer questions about their work would be the most effective strategy for developing high school students’ ability to explain their motivations and goals in making specific artworks. Therefore, the correct response is option D.

Clustered Questions

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.

Example

First examine the stimulus (a reproduction of a painting by Jackson Pollock).

To answer the following question, please refer to the image of She-Wolf (1943) by Jackson Pollock as it is presented below.

She-Wolf, a painting by Jackson Pollock

An abstract wolf painted in thick black and white linework facing left on a teal blue background; the wolf is surrounded by and covered in graffiti like designs in various line thickness and color.

Now you are prepared to respond to the first of the two questions associated with this stimulus. The first question tests knowledge of Art EC–12 Competency 014: The teacher understands the skills and knowledge that contribute to visual perception.

1. Jackson Pollock said of this painting, “She-Wolf came into existence because I had to paint it. Any attempt on my part to say something about it, to attempt explanation of the inexplicable, could only destroy it.” This quote indicates that Pollock relied on which of the following in the creation of his artwork?

  1. His artistic influences
  2. His recognizable iconography
  3. His intuitive unconscious
  4. His use of a new medium
Suggested Approach

In this question, the stimulus is a reproduction of a painting. Carefully examine the painting. The question asks you to read and understand a statement that the artist made about the process of creating the painting; you are then asked to put together the image and the quotation in order to make a judgment about how Pollock worked. Look at the answer choices and consider which of them most accurately states a source that Pollock relied on as a painter.

Option A states that artistic influences were a primary source on which Pollock relied in creating She-Wolf. The phrase “artistic influences” is generally understood to mean factors within the art world or aspects of life outside of the art world that affect the choices an artist makes. The quotation from Pollock does not refer to such factors either directly or indirectly. The image contains no clear visual references to outside influences. Therefore, option A is incorrect.

Option B, which states that Pollock relied on representational imagery in the creation of the painting, is not directly contradicted by the quotation. It would be possible (if somewhat unlikely) to imagine a representational painter making a statement similar to Pollock’s. However, the image itself rules out this answer choice because of the high degree of abstraction in the painting. Therefore, option B is incorrect.

Option C states that Pollock relied on intuition and the unconscious in the creation of the painting. The quotation begins by saying, “She-Wolf came into existence because I had to paint it.” If the irresistible impulse to make the work had had an external source, it seems likely that Pollock would have been able to identify the source of the need to create the work. The following statement, however, “Any attempt on my part to say something about it . . . could only destroy it” reinforces the idea that there is no external source; rather, the motivation was intuitive, or unconscious. The quotation as a whole can be interpreted as a rejection of an analytical approach to the painting. Finally, the kinds of marks in the painting and the approach to the imagery support this interpretation. Therefore, option C is the best response to this question.

Options D states that Pollock was referring to the use of a new medium in the quotation. However, the media used for this work (oil paint, gouache, and plaster) were not new in 1943. In addition, the statement about the impulse for the painting and Pollock’s hesitancy to analyze the impulse has no logical connection to his choice of medium. Therefore, option D is incorrect.

Of the four options offered, “Intuitive unconscious” is most likely the factor that Pollock was alluding to. Therefore, the correct response is option C.

Now you are ready to answer the next question. The second question in this cluster measures Art EC–12 Competency 013: The teacher recognizes and analyzes distinguishing characteristics of works of art from North America from ancient times through the present.

2. Pollock’s later, more well-known work is generally described as

  1. color-field painting
  2. stain painting.
  3. action painting.
  4. minimalist painting.
Suggested Approach

This question refers to the same painting, Pollock’s She-Wolf. You have already examined the painting in order to answer the previous question. This question moves outward from the stimulus, by asking about Pollock’s later and better known work. You need to use what you know about Pollock’s later work to answer this question.

Option A states that Pollock’s later work is often called color-field painting. The artists known as color-field painters were contemporaries of Pollock. They were similar to him in that they made large, abstract paintings that often filled the viewer’s visual field. However, their use of color was lyrical and transcendental; an example is Mark Rothko.

Option B, stain painting, refers to another technique pioneered at about the same time. With this technique, thinned out oil paint was poured onto unprimed canvas so that the translucent color would soak in rather than staying on top of the canvas. The first artist to experiment with this technique was Helen Frankenthaler.

Option C, action painting, is a term invented by the art critic Harold Rosenberg. It refers to a manner of painting in which the action of painting is paramount. Rosenberg initially used the term to describe Pollock’s techniques of throwing and dripping paint onto canvas that lay on the floor, using a variety of nontraditional tools such as sticks and varying speed to change the character of the marks. Pollock’s philosophy, as quoted in the previous question, remained constant. Therefore, option C is the correct answer.

Option D, minimalist painting, is a reference to a somewhat later approach to painting. In contrast to the work of Jackson Pollock, for example, the minimalists wanted to make their work impersonal, with no obvious gesture and generally flat areas of color. An example is the early work of Frank Stella.

Of the four options offered, option C is the one that links directly to Jackson Pollock’s work. Therefore, the correct response is option C.

Gather Study Materials

For all content areas, think about where you might be able to obtain materials for review:

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:

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:

  1. Define Content Areas: List the most important content areas for your exam as defined in the preparation manual.
  2. Determine Strengths and Weaknesses: Identify where you have thorough understanding and where you need additional study in each content area.
  3. Identify Resources: Identify the books, courses, and other resources you plan to use to study for each content area.
  4. Study: Create and commit to a schedule that provides for regular study periods.

Practice

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:

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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:

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.

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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