Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Test Prep on the Cheap

I took a really ugly and painful test for teacher certification in my state this Saturday. I had forgotten about the test until about a month before, and then put off studying until about a week before. I didn't have any books, certainly didn't have time to take a prep class, and just needed to get a basic idea of what was going to be on the test and what my approach should be. My dirty little secret is that I teach and tutor test prep classes for a major company but have never used more than my Internet connection and free materials to study for any test I've taken (including the SAT, GRE, Praxis I and II, and various state tests).

The basic list of things I think it's important to know about a test before taking it includes:
1. The content range of the test
2. The structure, format, and length of the test
3. The position and any biases of the test makers
4. The way in which the test is scored
5. The approximate difficulty of the questions

With that in mind, here's how I prepped for the test I just took.

1. I started with the webpage belonging to the company giving my test (in this case, as in most, ETS). Generally, they will provide some of the most basic information, such as how many questions and how long. This gives you a starting point for generating a strategy.
2. I took the practice questions given on ETS's site. This gave me a general idea of what questions looked like and how hard they were.
3. I checked my answers to ETS's test. I used that, and the bibliography offered, to get an idea of what they were looking for. (For example, I saw Nancie Atwell in the list of suggested readings, so I know that they prefer a writing workshop constructivist approach to writing. Good news for me.)
4. I made notes on areas of weakness or confusion and kept that list on a notepad next to my desk.
5. I searched for the name of my test on google. Several sites came up, mostly belonging to colleges, with general tips for test day. A few offered syllabi of the covered material. I made notes on topics I didn't know on my notepad.
6. I went to Amazon and searched for my test type. My Internet research had given me the names of a few books and I started with those. I used the search within this book feature and read as much as I could until Amazon cut me off.
7. I used my notes on topics of weakness to do further Internet reading into genres, time periods, and theories I needed to review.
8. I doublechecked my admission ticket, sharpened some pencils, and went to bed.

That's it, that's all I did. Now, if I'd been a little more dedicated, I could have spent some time in the library, but for an hour a day for 5 days, this provided a pretty good background.

When I took the GRE, I spent more time but not any more money. Fortunately for you if this is what you're doing, there are a lot more online materials available. Do similar research, and you will find interactive vocab flashcards, math reviews, and about 10 full length practice tests you can take.

I'd be out of a part time job if I talked everyone out of test prep classes, but unless you have trouble self-motivating or have a serious weakness in a major area covered by the test, you can do most of your test prep without the major expense.