Taking Teacher Licensure Exams

Most states require master’s of education students to pass a series of exams before they can become licensed teachers. Depending on the state, the exams range in number and difficulty level but are a major part of becoming an educator.

To be licensed as an elementary education teacher, I had to pass five exams. The first two assessed my basic communication and literacy skills. The remaining three were subject-specific and covered content and pedagogy related to elementary mathematics, the general curriculum (including social studies and science), and reading.

I took the three subject-specific exams within two weeks, but I wouldn’t recommend this. My decision to start student teaching this fall was a last-minute one, and I had one chance to pass the exams beforehand. I was lucky enough to pass them all on the first try, but if I had to take them again, I’d definitely do things a little differently.

Ignore the horror stories

The first thing I did after signing up for my exams was text all of my teacher friends to hear about their own exam experiences. I was horrified to hear that, except for one, everyone I talked to took the exams multiple times. To say these stories got into my head would be an understatement.

The thing is, everyone is different. Most of the people I spoke to had taken the exams while they were undergraduate students and admitted they hadn’t really studied because they didn’t realize how difficult the tests would be. The key is to not let anyone else’s experience prematurely define your own and cause unnecessary stress.

Enroll in the right courses at the right time

Some teacher licensure exams are based on a specific subject that might be covered in one of your master’s program courses. If you think far enough ahead and time things out right, you can take a subject-specific exam soon after you finish the course that is related to it. Though some tests are still paper-based, most are now computer-based and are therefore offered several times throughout the month.

I took a master’s course on elementary mathematics during the fall but waited to take the related licensure exam until the following spring. As a result, preparing for and taking the exam was more time extensive.

On the other hand, I took my reading and literacy exam a week after the related course had ended. Since I had already spent the past month studying for the course’s final, everything was fresh in my mind, and I felt very confident coming out of the licensure exam that I had done well.

Come up with a exam strategy

While it’s obviously very important to be familiar with the content your exam is based on, it doesn’t hurt to come up with an exam strategy to give you that extra edge. Before taking my exams, I looked up how they were scored, analyzed my test-taking strengths and weaknesses, and based my strategy on that.

For example, I was very uncomfortable with the open-response portion of my math exam. Though I had read several sample prompts and reviewed their answers, I wasn’t confident I would do well on it. On exam day, I focused on doing my best on the multiple choice portion because I knew that even if I got the lowest score on the open response question, I could still pass the exam by getting a certain number of multiple choice questions right.

Study smarter

Prior to studying for my exams, I took several practice tests to get a better idea of my strengths and weaknesses. Rather than focusing on all of each exam’s objectives, I could pinpoint those I needed to work the hardest on.

I also took note of how many questions on an exam were based on specific objectives. Almost half of the questions on my math exam were related numbers and operations objectives. Therefore, I spent more time studying those concepts than those related to statistics and probability, which made up only about 9 percent of the exam.

And, while I don’t believe that cramming is particularly effective, there’s something to be said for completely immersing yourself in the books. Every morning before work and each night after dinner, I sat at the kitchen table and studied. Aside from being better prepared to take my exams, I felt like I was brushing up on subjects I needed to master to be a better teacher, and that made all time spent well worth it.

Lisandra I. Flynn spent 2012 to 2014 working toward a master’s degree in elementary education while working full time as an editor. After seven years in publishing, she recently transitioned from corporate life to student teach fifth grade in an elementary school. Flynn shares her journey from the office to the classroom and offers insight and advice to those seeking their own career change.