Preparing for Your Certification Tests

The final requirement to getting teaching job after you've received your education degree is passing your state's certification test. Each state determines how to qualify potential teachers to make certain they meet the standards established by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. This means it's the responsibility of each potential teacher to determine what tests will be given and prepare accordingly.

There are many ways to prepare for your state exams. Preparation kits including descriptions of the exam, sample test questions, flashcards and other helpful tools are available both online and in bookstores.

In many cases, you may be able to prepare your own testing materials. Most official testing websites offer a description of the type of test(s) you will be given—multiple- choice, essay questions, and so forth, as well as how many of each type of question will be asked and how each set of questions will contribute to the overall score. By determining the degree of importance each set of questions or prompts has, you can plan your study time accordingly. These websites will also offer a good sampling of test questions. By taking these questions and reviewing the results, you can determine the areas in which you are strongest and those in which you will need to focus. Preparing your own flashcards, notes and other study materials can save money over purchasing a prepared set—although do bear in mind that making your own study kit is time- intensive. As well, professionally prepared study kits are not likely to overlook anything, while materials you prepare on your own, could.

One of the most important aspects of good study habits is time management. You'll need to determine those aspects of your life that are immovable—such as your job schedule, your children's needs such as school, doctor appointments, and bedtime, and other scheduling requirements that cannot be adjusted. Everything else will need to take second place to the need to prepare for these all- important state certification exams. For the time being, social activities, movies, sporting activities, and everything else will temporarily assume lower priority. Remind family and friends (and yourself) that this only temporary. In the end, doing a good job of preparing for your certification tests will mean passing on the first attempt with a high score so that you can more easily step into a job you'll find fulfilling.

Practice Tests

Because you won't be permitted to teach until you've completed your state- required certification exams, you'll want to prioritize you time to allow plenty of practice time! Although the tests will primarily include information you learned when you worked toward your education degree, you'll need to do more than simply brush up with a quick review. Among the most common State administered certification exams are the California Basic Educational Skills Test, the Certification Examinations for Oklahoma Educators, the Certification of Educators in Texas, the Florida Teacher Certification Exam, the Georgia Assessment for the Certification of Educators, and of course the Praxis II. Each of these tests follows a different format. Some combine multiple- choice questions with writing prompts designed to produce written essay responses, others depend entirely upon multiple- choice, and still others incorporate passages and ask a series of questions based upon them. Not only does each test combine different types of testing methods, they also give different weights to each section in the final score.

The problem teachers who have reached this last step face aren't a lack of sufficient study materials but rather the opposite problem. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of websites eager to sell you study kits in exchange for your hard- earned money. How can you determine which of these test preparations are most useful?

First, it might be a good idea to visit the official website of the particular certification testing organization you're concerned with. These professionally designed, easy- to- navigate websites offer a plethora of information including how the test is organized in terms of types of questions; the weight given to each question or each section; whether or not making an educated guess on multiple choice questions is a smart move which could improve your score, or whether it might result in a lower score. Many of these websites also explain the content categories that are involved in each testing section and even the number of questions in each subcategory that will be included. This is tremendously helpful; you'll know exactly how many of what types of content area questions you'll be asked, and that will help you with time management.

These websites also include a number of practice questions. These practice questions serve a number of purposes. By taking them, you'll incorporate some time management methods because you know you'll have limited time to get all the questions answered. Additionally, the language in the questions as well as the breadth or depth of content information will be an accurate reflection of the types of questions you're likely to encounter when you arrive at the testing site to complete your certification exam.

At this point, you have a number of choices. If finances are an issue and you really cannot afford to invest money in a teaching certification practice kit, understand you'll invest considerably more time in making your own study materials. You'll need to search the library for study guides that address your specific test, and develop your own flash cards. You may want to form a study group with others as well; several of you will have a better chance at creating study materials that are sufficiently broad.

A much better idea, of course, if to do a little online research and purchase either a study kit that includes sample tests identical to the actual exam in terms of length and types of questions, flash cards, audio materials and other preparatory goods. Beware of websites that promise far too much for far too little money. Receiving sample tests that don't accurately reflect the types of questions you'll encounter is not only useless, a waste of your study time and your money, it can actually be counterproductive. After all, if you arrive at the test site convinced you've studied everything you need to know and find yourself faced with a world of questions you've spend no time reviewing, the anxiety you feel will skyrocket, your confidence will vanish, and that, alone, is enough to cause you to fail! Most websites that sell teacher certification test prep materials allow you to see a few of the sample questions. If they seem too simple or off topic, it's best to avoid such sites. Another way to make sure the materials you order are the best they can be is to ask teachers who've used them successfully. Don't bother reading onsite testimonials; those are marketing devices only. Instead, visit a blog or call a teacher or two for advice. You might also consider asking a favorite teacher from the school where you earned your education degree.

Some students prefer the convenience of ordering materials online or purchasing them from a bookstore; others prefer enrolling in a class that will walk them through the most important content areas and provide strategies as well. Both on- line and face- to- face teacher certification test prep courses are available. Check local technical colleges, vocation schools, high schools, and universities for face- to- face options.

No matter how you go about it, preparing for this, your final step in achieving your goal of becoming a classroom teacher, is important. Don't assume that because you completed your education degree class work and graduated, that you know everything you need to know. You want your final score to reflect your hard work and ability, so that you can land the best possible teaching position!

Studying Tips

Just because you've completed your education degree and graduated from your program doesn't mean you've learned the types of studying tips that will make preparing for your state's teacher certification exam(s) as easy and time- efficient as possible. There are a number of things that you can do to make the best use of your time, to teach yourself the content information you need to fully understand and to learn strategies that will help you if you find yourself confronted by unfamiliar content or a question you don't fully understand.

The first and most important thing when studying for your teacher certification test is to learn how best to manage your time. First make a list of the daily or weekly activities that are set in stone and cannot be adjusted for any reason. Work, medical appointments, bill- paying, delivering children to school or extracurricular activities, walking the dog, and similar activities should be included. Next, note which of these items have a bit of flexibility in terms of when they are done. Obviously, you've got to get to work when you are expected, and make sure your children arrive at their activities on time. But it's possible to pay bills during your lunch break, for example, or break the dog's long walk into two shorter ones. Next, you'll have to notify family and friends that for a limited time, you are going to be largely unavailable for social activities. Naturally, there may be exceptions, such as a family member's birthday. But your daily chats with your closest friend will have to take a back burner for now. Plan your study time when you are at your best. For some, that might mean waking an hour or two earlier in the morning. For others, it may mean secluding yourself in the evenings so you can concentrate. If you study best away from the distractions of home, plan study time at the library or a coffee house or restaurant that offers wi fi and doesn't mind visitors who stay for a stretch of time. It's also important to ‘know thyself'. If you tend to procrastinate, make sure to create a schedule and stick to it! If necessary, ask a spouse or friend to check up on your progress.

You will need to retain a large amount of information in order to do your best on your teacher certification exam. There are several methods to help you do this. The first is called ‘chunking'. As the name suggests, chunking involves grouping pieces of related information and learning them as a whole, in a single unit. If you absorb one chunk each day, at the end of the week you should be able to use these small chunks to create a larger chunk that contains the material in the five smaller groupings. If you come across a question that you don't know the answer to, mentally reviewing your ‘chunks' is likely to provide at the very least an educated guess.

Another technique is really a set of devices. Mnemonic devices come in all kinds of forms, and they can be a playful or efficient way to include a great deal of information in a single word. The word ‘mnemonic' refers to memory, and such devices were used by ancient Greeks to remember long passages of speeches. For example, let's say you have problems remembering the names of all the great lakes and don't want to waste time struggling to recall the one or two you can't bring to mind. Creating an acronym which uses the first letter of each lake's name provides a prompt that can't fail. Erie, Huron, Superior, Michigan, and Ontario can be reduced to a single word: HOMES. Another mnemonic device is to set a list, table, timetable or other related information to music. Mentally singing the elements table to the tune of My Country Tis of Thee will keep you from forgetting any of the elements and will likely lift your mood, at the same time. Yet another mnemonic device is visual in nature. You can associate a word you tend to forget with a picture that has nothing to do with the word's meaning, but with its sound. Let's say you often blank out when trying to remember Meriwether Lewis, who, together with William Clark, surveyed the land in the early 1800's that later became the Louisiana Purchase. William Clark is easy for you to remember if you've got an uncle named Clark and his son is named William. Meriwether Lewis is likely to be much more difficult—unless you create a visual picture. Imagine your uncle and his son skipping around a big piece of land with a doll you had as a child named Louise. The weather is gorgeous. All the elements are there; William and Clark are merry because they have beautiful weather and are playing with Louise. Louise, of course, represents both Louisiana, and the name Lewis. One picture certainly is worth a thousand words—or at least, the few you need to recall quickly!

One final study tip: either purchase or create a good set of flash cards and keep them with you at all times. Being stuck in traffic and forced to wait at the dentist's office can turn into unexpected study time!

Test Anxiety

Who hasn't felt it? A pounding heart that threatens to jump out of your chest, drenched palms, a knot in your stomach, the feeling you are about to become sick to your stomach...test anxiety comes in all sizes an forms. Fortunately, there are a number of techniques that you can learn and incorporate to gain control over anxiety and even make it work to your advantage.

First, let's consider what causes test anxiety. It's a psychological phenomenon that manifests physically, but it can largely be managed by learning a few tricks. We feel terribly anxious when we feel ill- prepared, or that we will freeze and won't present ourselves at our best. Those who suffer the most with test anxiety often resist preparing for a test because the moment they sit down with a book, the anxiety hits. In order to avoid the discomfort, for avoid studying. While it makes sense, it's the worst possible way to approach test anxiety. The truth is, repeated exposure to test anxiety will actually ease it and make it more manageable, not more overwhelming. Experiencing it when there's no penalty is actually a great strategy. Put yourself into a situation where you know your particular brand of test anxiety will emerge. Now, write down what you are feeling, and rate each feeling on a scale of one to ten. Some common physical manifestations include nausea, the urge to bolt, the urge to cry, breaking into a cold, and very wet, sweat, a headache (especially in the back of the neck), a heart that pounds so hard it seems possible it's a heart attack. A less common physical symptom is a sudden mental vagueness, a feeling of dizziness or feeling ‘outside' of oneself.

Next, rank these symptoms. Which occurs first? Do two of these symptoms occur simultaneously? Which occurs last? Pay attention to the first and last occurring symptoms. Is the final symptom much less severe, or just as severe? Chances are good it is less so. In that case, cross it off your list, and tell yourself that the headache in the back of your mind is really pretty minor, nothing worth dwelling on. Continue up the list, crossing off those items that really are a big deal only because you are abnormally focused on them.

What you're left with are the symptoms that really aren't something you feel you can handle. As frightening as they may be, you're about to have a little fun with them. Practicing for a test doesn't have to be limited to academic practice. It can include physical practice, as well. Let's say the anxiety symptom that sends you over the edge is the urge to scream. Do it. Scream as loud and as long as you like. Or if you feel like bolting, jump up, shove yourself away from the desk, and run right out of the house and as far as you feel like going. At some point, the urge passes. You might feel a little silly, but there's a better chance you'll feel, well, amused! It's ok to laugh and recognize that the fear didn't kill you, even when you gave into it. When you sit down to take the actual test and the desire to bolt or shriek overcomes you, close your eyes for a moment and remember just how marvelous it felt to give in to those desires. Give into them again—mentally. In less time than you can imagine, the urges will pass and will be replaced with a feeling of confidence because you've faced your worst fear and discovered you're larger than it is!

Another technique that is especially useful if your primary symptom is a slamming heart, the inability to take a deep breath, dizziness or a feeling of being outside the body is called square breathing. It's a technique that's been used by therapists for decades with nearly perfect results. You'll need to start practicing now, because you'll need to have the technique incorporated into your body so well that you barely know you're doing it.

Square breathing is simple, and can be practiced anywhere. Take a slow breath in through your nose, while counting to three. Hold the breath for a three- count. Breathe out slowly through a slightly opened mouth to the count of three. Finally, allow your lungs to remain empty for a count of three. Repeat this exercise two to five times, several times a day. The simple act of recognizing you are in control of your breath helps you psychologically feel that you are in control of your ability to take, and pass, your teacher certification exam.

Last Updated: 06/08/2014