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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

The following question is an example of the single-question format. It tests knowledge of English Language Arts and Reading Competency 001—(Foundations of Teaching Reading): Understand research-based, evidence-based, and culturally relevant foundational concepts, principles, and best practices related to reading instruction and assessment.

A fifth-grade class is reading together a chapter of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. English learners in the class are struggling to understand the meaning of unfamiliar words, such as croquet, hedgehog, and flamingo. Which of the following additional strategies would be most appropriate for the teacher to use to make the content of the chapter accessible to these students?

  1. providing the students with a photograph or illustration that represents each unfamiliar word
  2. having the students form groups to discuss the meanings of the unfamiliar words
  3. working with the students as they reread the passage slowly, emphasizing each unfamiliar word
  4. creating for the students a list of the unfamiliar words and their definitions to study
Suggested Approach

Read the question carefully and critically. Think about what it is asking and/or the situation it is describing. Eliminate any answers that seem obviously wrong to you, select the correct answer choice, and mark your answer.

As you read the question, think about why words such as croquet, hedgehog, and flamingo might be difficult for students who are English learners to understand. Then think about how a teacher could make these words more accessible to English learners and about how students make connections to help them make meaning of unfamiliar words.

Option A suggests that English learners will be provided with a visual image, such as a photograph or illustration of each unfamiliar word. This strategy would help all students, particularly English learners, make a connection between the word they do not know and the visual image with which they are presented. The students can use a visualization strategy to create a mental picture of what the object represented by the unknown word looks like.

Option B suggests the students in the class would work in small groups to talk about unfamiliar words. Without instruction from the teacher, it would be challenging for students to arrive at a conclusion of the words' meanings, particularly for a student whose first language is not English and who may have difficulty understanding and participating in small-group discussions. Option B can be eliminated as the correct response.

Option C suggests that a teacher can make unfamiliar words comprehensible to English learners by reading them slowly and with emphasis. This practice may help students learn word pronunciations, but it would not help students learn the words' meanings. Therefore, Option C can be eliminated as the correct response.

Option D suggests that providing English learners with a teacher-created list of unfamiliar words and definitions would help the students learn the words' meanings. Not only does this practice not engage students in their own learning, but it would not be effective in helping them construct meaning of the unfamiliar words with no context provided. Option D can be eliminated as the correct response.

Of the options offered, only the practice of providing English learners with visual images of unfamiliar words would be effective in helping them make connections and meaning. Therefore, the correct response is option A.

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 read the stimulus (excerpt from a short story).

Read the excerpt below from "The Attack," a short story by Lulu Delacre; then answer the two questions that follow.

After they were done, Mamá leaned back in her chair.
"Listen, niños," she said, measuring her words. "Your father and I think you need to finish school in Mexico. Tony will stay here in the house with one of your older brothers. He needs the care that the county provides."

Emilio looked up, holding his breath.

"What?" José blurted from the edge of his seat. "You mean forever?"

"No, not forever. We'll drive back to visit, just as we visited Mexico some summers. It will be great to live there with family and friends who love you. Aren't you excited?" Mamá said, trying to make light of it.

José sank in his chair.

Emilio glanced down, pulled into the well-known dark place again. He could almost hear his twin's thoughts. What about Marco, Pablo, and all his new soccer buddies? Was he supposed to leave the only home he had ever known, the country of his birth? Would he ever become a fútbol1 star if he left America? José had shared his dreams so many times with Emilio. Emilio felt tears running down his cheeks. A tear for his brother. A tear for himself.

1fútbol: soccer

Now you are prepared to respond to the first of the two questions associated with this stimulus. The first question tests English Language Arts and Reading Competency 006—(Reading Literary Texts): Understand the genre-specific characteristics, structures, and purposes of diverse traditional, contemporary, and classical literary texts; analyze how authors use these elements and characteristics to achieve specific purposes; and demonstrate knowledge of research-based strategies and best practices for promoting students' ability to engage in text-based analyses of a range of complex literary texts.

1. In the excerpt, the author uses the phrases "holding his breath," "the edge of his seat," and "sank in his chair" primarily to:

  1. establish a mood of suspense.
  2. illustrate conflict between the characters.
  3. reveal the characters' emotions.
  4. support the central theme of the excerpt.
Suggested Approach

As you read the question, think about why the author uses the three phrases in the excerpt. The question requires analyzing the author's purpose and craft. After analyzing the author's use of the phrases, look at the response options and consider which of them describes the author's use of the phrases.

Option A suggests that the phrases establish a suspenseful mood. Rather than build suspense, the phrases describe Emilio and José's reactions to their mother's announcement that the brothers will be moving to Mexico.

Option B suggests that there is conflict between the characters. However, nothing in the excerpt indicates that there is conflict between the brothers and their parents or between the brothers themselves. In fact, the final paragraph reveals that Emilio feels sympathy for his brother.

Option C suggests that the phrases convey Emilio's and Jose's emotional response to their mother's unexpected announcement. "Holding his breath" conveys Emilio's shock, while "the edge of his seat" conveys José's nervousness, and "sank in his chair" emphasizes dejection.

Option D suggests that the phrases support the central theme of the excerpt. The phrases clearly convey Emilio and José's feelings about moving to Mexico, thus supporting character development more than theme.

Of the options offered, only option C refers directly to the characters' emotions. Therefore, the correct response is option C.

Now you are ready to answer the second question. The second question tests English Language Arts and Reading Competency 006—(Reading Literary Texts): Understand the genre-specific characteristics, structures, and purposes of diverse traditional, contemporary, and classical literary texts; analyze how authors use these elements and characteristics to achieve specific purposes; and demonstrate knowledge of research-based strategies and best practices for promoting students' ability to engage in text-based analyses of a range of complex literary texts.

2. After a group of fifth-grade students reads the excerpt, the teacher leads a discussion in which the students respond to the following prompts.

What problem is revealed in the excerpt?

How does the author reveal this problem?

Which character will try to solve the problem?

Why will that character try to solve the problem?

These questions will primarily support students' development of which of the following skills?

  1. using textual evidence to infer themes
  2. analyzing how narrative voice enriches plot
  3. describing personal connections to a text
  4. identifying plot elements such as rising action
Suggested Approach

As you read the question, think about how the prompts guide the students' thinking by focusing on the problem revealed in the excerpt and a character's motivation for attempting to solve the problem.

Option A suggests that the prompts would guide students to infer a theme. While the prompts would guide students to draw inferences about a character's motivation and future actions, the prompts would not lead students to infer themes.

Option B suggests that the prompts would guide students to analyze how the omniscient narrator presents a problem objectively through the characters' external dialogue and then presents the problem subjectively by revealing Emilio's internal thoughts and emotions. 

Option C suggests that the prompts would guide the students to make text-to-self connections. However, responding to the prompts would instead guide students to look for clues about a character's future actions and motivations. While making text-to-self connections would help students relate to the characters, students will need textual evidence to support their responses to the prompts.

Option D suggests that the prompts would lead students to identify a specific plot element. The prompts will instead guide students to use their analysis of the text to gain a deeper understanding of how characters' motivations and actions drive plot.

Of the options offered, only option B describes students' analysis of multiple literary elements. Therefore, the correct response is option B.

Preparing for the Constructed-Response Question

When preparing for the examination's constructed-response question, read the sample question and scoring rubric carefully (both are available in Section 5 of this preparation manual). You may wish to draft a response to the sample question by reading the question and planning, writing, and revising your essay.

Please note that, on the actual examination, you will be scored only on the response that you type on the computer. Also, because you may not use any reference materials during the exam, it is recommended that you refrain from using a dictionary, a thesaurus, or textbooks while writing your practice response.

Once you have written your practice response, reread the scoring rubric, and then read the sample responses. Rationales that explain how the responses characterize the score point description are provided for each response. After you have read through these materials, review your own response in light of the score point descriptions. You may also wish to review your response and the score scale with staff in your educator preparation program.

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 interactive practice exams for some fields.

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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