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How to Prep for the Essay Portion of Your Teacher Certification

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Writing is one of the core skills you need to master before earning your teacher certification. Here are some tips on preparing for the writing portion of your certification exam.

What the Essay Portion Covers

The writing portion of your certification exam measures your ability to use proper English and create a comprehensible explanation for each prompt. Keep in mind that prompts are structured to test your overall writing ability, not necessarily your knowledge about education and teaching.

For example, the Praxis exam includes two essay topics and allots 30 minutes for each. The first is an argumentative essay that asks you to use your personal experiences and opinions to claim a position on the given topic. The second is an information-based essay that requires you to conduct brief research and draw conclusions.

The essays are scored separately on a one-to-six scale, where one means you need to retake all your writing classes and six means you have excellent skills and can clearly communicate your thoughts. Any score in between means you made some errors in grammar, spelling, logical flow or addressing the prompt.

Each state has its own testing requirements, so check with your state's certification program before registering for a Praxis exam. Your state's website usually contains information about scoring and time limits for your specific test.

How to Prepare for the Exam

The only way to get better at writing is to write often. To keep yourself organized and on task, create a study plan that includes:

  • Writing concepts you need to review
  • Days and times that you will dedicate to writing
  • Resources for practice prompts
  • Specific days that you will take timed practice tests
  • Reminders for registration and exam dates

Writing plan

At first, don't worry about time constraints and just practice your writing skills. Closer to the test, you'll want to practice writing within the given timeframe, so set an alarm and practice writing faster. If possible, ask a trusted classmate or friend to proofread and score your timed essays based on your state's testing rubric.

If you need extra help, search online for practice prompts, review grammar rules and take online courses. The Praxis Study Companion is an excellent resource that provides information about the test and a few example topics. Your state's certification website can direct you to study guides specific to your state's exam. For example, the state of California has a writing skills test guide posted on their website to help prepare teachers for the CSET exam.

For more self-paced, structured learning, check out these online courses at Study.com: Praxis Writing Core Academic Test and PPST Writing Test. These courses are incredibly helpful even if you're not taking the Praxis exam. You can also look for writing courses specific to your state's certification test.

Praxis releases Interactive Practice Tests (IPTs) on certain dates throughout the year. It might be helpful to use the Writing IPT or your state's practice test a week or two before your exam to polish up your skills and prepare you for the real deal.

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Tips for Timed Writing

When you practice timed tests, try to simulate the testing environment as much as possible. Consider these tips:

  1. Take a few deep breaths before the timer starts. Your brain needs lots of oxygen to function efficiently.
  2. Read the prompt a few times and make sure you understand what is being asked.
  3. Develop a thesis statement and jot down specific examples or evidence.
  4. Create an outline with an introduction, thesis, supporting points and conclusion.
  5. Write the essay.
  6. Proofread and revise your work.

Be sure to stay on topic and address all points and questions asked. Remember that your audience is educated adults, but not necessarily teachers. Include citations for information-based essays, and do not plagiarize. Pay close attention to the logical flow and cohesiveness of your essay. You may find it helpful to write the body paragraphs first and leave the introduction and conclusion for last.

When proofreading, look closely for:

  • Complete sentences
  • Subject-verb agreement
  • Consistent verb tense
  • Correct capitalization
  • Proper punctuation
  • Accurate spelling

If you forget how to spell a word, find a synonym. Also, try to form concise statements and avoid overly wordy sentences. Doug Lemov, author and director of Teach Like a Champion, passionately speaks about ''the art of the sentence'' and how forming meaningful individual sentences is the key to great writing. Though his concept is geared toward teaching students, it is also directly applicable to your writing exam prep.

Notebook and pens

Continue Working on Your Skills

The core certification test isn't the last place you'll see essay questions. Some subject assessment tests such as the Praxis Early Childhood Education test include constructed-response questions, which are basically mini essays. These don't require as much preparation since they are shorter in length, but they do require the same thought process as a longer essay. You still need to address the topic being asked, clearly state your point, provide specific details and use correct grammar.

Above all, recognize that the better you are at writing, the better you'll teach writing skills to your students. Let that motivate you to improve your own skills and ace the writing portion of your certification exam.

By Rachael Pasini
November 2016
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