ELA Test Taking Tips
The English Language Arts Exam will be administered in April. Below are some tips that may be helpful to students taking the test.
Preparing for a Test
- Pay attention in class. Exercises and activities throughout the year practice skills that will benefit you on standardized tests.
- Know what to expect. Your teacher can provide you with information about the tests you will be taking.
- Get plenty of sleep the night before the test and eat a healthy breakfast in the morning.
- Arrive on time. Running late can raise your stress level and hurt your performance.
Taking a test
- Read directions and questions carefully.
- Consider every choice. Don’t be fooled by distractors, or answers that are almost correct.
- Spend time wisely. Within each section, answer the easiest questions first and come back to the more difficult questions later.
- Make sure to record your answer on the correct line of the answer sheet. As you mark each answer, ask yourself “Am I on the right question number in the right section of the test?” and “Is this the answer I mean to mark?”
- Use any extra time to check your work.
Tips for Answering Multiple-Choice Questions
- Read each question carefully. Pay special attention to any words that are bolded, italicized, written in all capital letters, or otherwise emphasized.
- Read all choices before deciding on the answer.
- Eliminate any answers that do not make sense, that disagree with what you remember from the passage, or that seem too extreme. Also, if two answers have the same meaning, you can eliminate both.
- Beware of distractors. These are incorrect answers that look attractive because they are partially correct, they contain a common misconception, or they apply the right information in the wrong way. Distractors are based on common mistakes students make.
- Rule out incorrect answers, and then choose the answer that is most accurate or complete. Pay special attention to choices such as none of the above or all of the above.
- If a question seems too difficult, skip it and come back to it later. Keep in mind, though, that most tests allow you to go back only to questions within a section.
- To make sure your answers are scanned accurately, be sure to fill in all circles solidly.
Reading Comprehension Questions
Reading Comprehension questions ask you to read a short piece of writing and answer several questions about it. To answer reading comprehension questions, follow these steps:
1. Read through all questions quickly.
2. Read the passage with the questions in mind.
3. Reread the first question carefully.
4. Scan the passage to look for key words related to the question. When you find a key word, slow down and read carefully.
5. Answer the question.
6. Repeat this process to answer the rest of the questions.
Sometimes the answers to reading comprehension questions can be found in the text you have read. Other times, however, you will need to make an inference in order to answer the question. Making an inference means putting together the clues given in the text with your own prior knowledge to make an educated guess.
As you make inferences, remember that each inference needs to fit with all of the clues in the passage and with your prior knowledge. You can eliminate answers that contradict the text and those for which there is no evidence. Then, from the remaining answers, choose the one that seems most logical.
Finding the Main Idea
Many standardized test questions will ask you to identify the main idea or theme of a passage of text. In general, nonfiction texts have main ideas; literary texts (poems, stories, novels, plays, and personal essays) have themes. Sometimes, however, the term main idea is used to refer to the theme of a literary work, especially and essay or poem.
The main idea is a brief statement of what the author wants you to know, think, or feel after reading the text. In some cases, the main idea will actually be stated. Check the first and last paragraph for a sentence that sums up the entire passage.
Usually, however, the author will not tell you what the main idea is, and you will have to infer it. To infer the main idea, ask yourself these questions about the text:
- Who or what is this passage about?
- What does the author want me to know, think, or feel about this “who” or “what”?
- If I had to tell someone in one sentence what this passage is about, what would I say?
Tips for Answering Multiple-Choice Main Idea Questions
- Eliminate any statement that contains incorrect information.
- Eliminate any statement that applies only to one paragraph or section of the passage.
- If two statements are similar, choose the one that contains more information, as long as all information is correct.
Identifying the Theme of a Literary Passage
Following a literary passage, you might be asked to identify the theme, or central idea, of the passage. The theme is usually a general statement or insight about life. It is expressed through the plot, images, characters, and symbols in a text. To find the theme of a passage, ask yourself these questions:
- How and why has the main character or speaker changed by the end of the story?
- What has the main character learned by the end of the story?
- How is the reader supposed to feel about the events of the story?
- What is the author trying to say about life?
- What is the “moral” or lesson of the story?
Using Context Clues
Some standardized test questions will ask you to choose the best definition for a word that might be unfamiliar to you. You can often figure out the meaning of this word by using context clues. Context clues frequently can be found in nearby words and phrases that provide hints about the word.
The following table shows words that signal each different type of context clue.
Type of Context Clue
and, like, as, just as, completely, thoroughly
but, nevertheless, however, although, though, in spite of, on the other hand,
that is, in other words, or
including, such as, for example, for instance, especially, particularly
cause and effect clue
if/then, when/then, thus, therefore, because, so, as a result of, consequently
Answering Short-Response Questions
Short-response questions can take two forms: graphic organizers and essay prompts. Graphic organizers might ask you to identify character traits and support them with details, to list important ideas form the passage, or to compare and contrast two people, places, things, or ideas. Essay prompts ask you to answer a question about the selection and use specific details from the passage to support your answer.
Tips For Answering Short-Response Questions
- Before reading the passage, skim the questions. When you skim, you glance through material quickly to get a general idea of what it is about.
- As you read, underline any information that relates to the questions. After you have finished reading, you can decide which of the underlined details to use in your answers.
- Determine what the graphic organizer is asking you to do. Also note how many points you are required to list. Then choose the most important points to include. You don’t need to use complete sentences in graphic organizers. Instead, include just enough information to help the reader understand your point.
- On extra paper or in the margin of your test booklet, list the most important points to include in your essay answer. Then number them to show the order in which they should be included. Finally, draft your answer.
- Write at least four sentences for each short-response essay. The first sentence should state the answer to the question. The second sentence should provide one detail supporting that answer. The third and fourth sentences should each include at least one additional detail. Use transitions to connect the sentences in your short-response essay.
- If you have extra time, use it to revise and proofread your answers.