Teaching Certification Tests

While teaching certification tests comprise only one component of the certification process, they represent, in addition to the actual test performance, years of education and preparation to embark on your chosen career.

Use this section as a guide through the process of test taking so that you are confident you are making the right decisions when registering for the test, studying for the test, taking practice tests, and working to overcome test anxiety.

Certification Tests

You know that you want to a teaching certification. You have all the requisite knowledge for your subject. The only thing left is for you to find a teacher certification test and take it. Each state administers a different test. Here is a Q and A that addresses some relevant questions you may have regarding teacher certification tests.

What companies may give teacher certification tests?

Pearson and Educational Testing Service (ETS) are the two main teacher certification test companies in the U.S. It is highly likely that you will be required to take a test offered by one of these companies in order to obtain certification to teach, regardless of state.

  • What is the difference between the Pearson and the ETS teacher certification tests?
    There is not very much difference between the teacher certification tests given by the two companies, as far as format goes. There are, though, a number of key differences between tests in any given state, as well as the type of test that is administered for each subject category. Even the subject categories themselves are different, depending upon the state. Pearson offers the Praxis I and II tests, which are administered by some states, but there seems to be no overall pattern regarding which state uses which company.
  • Will I take a paper-based test or a computer-based test?
    Again, this answer depends on the state. Most states, however, are somewhere in the process of changing from paper-based exams to computer-based equivalents, because computer-based tests are easier to grade and administer. As a result, most computer-based exams are easier to enroll for, as they are offered year-round at specified locations. Paper-based tests, on the other hand, usually require registration at least a month in advance of the test, and they are only offered between two and six times per year.
  • Where are certification exams in the certification process? Can I take a test and start teaching?
    Certification is not as easy or quick as passing a single test. Teacher certification tests are provided only upon completion of a given program. Most states will not even administer the test to you until you receive permission to take it, which only becomes available after you are enrolled and taking courses in the teaching program. Those states that will let you take the test will not give you a certificate without program completion, regardless of your grade on the test.
Certification Tests

In addition, many states are now incorporating a number of different assessments, in addition to standardized tests. For instance, classroom observation is becoming increasingly prevalent. Internship classes, which place future teachers in a classroom while they complete their academic studies, are also being required by more and more states.

  • What should I consider when planning for a certification test?
    If you are trying to plan ahead and start preparation for the test before even beginning a teaching program, then you may want to first consider the state or even the county in which you would like to live. The company administering the test varies according to the state in which you want to teach. If you later decide to move to a different state, then you will need to receive certification in the state to which you are moving. State certificates do not transfer, in most cases.


Registration for teaching certification tests is typically possible (and recommended done) online, but it is also possible to register by mail or over the phone. For some tests, one or more of these methods will sometimes be unavailable. For example, the emergency registration period for tests often begins over a month ahead of the test date and usually prohibits registration by mail. Teaching certification tests can be computer based or paper based. Many potential teachers find computer- based tests attractive because they can be taken more often than their paper-based counterparts. Generally speaking, computer-based exams are offered on a rolling basis, which means that they can be taken year-round. Paper-based exams, on the other hand, can usually only be taken two to six times per year, making them more difficult to schedule.

Test centers for computer-based tests are much smaller and more personalized. Instead of being one among a hundred potential teachers, who may all soon be applying in the same job market as you are, test takers complete their exams with perhaps ten others. If test anxiety has been a problem in your past, taking computer-based exams can be advantageous for you. On the other hand, some people find more comfort in the familiarity of paper-based exams, which require the physical bubbling in of answers that many have been doing on tests for years.

Registration for computer-based exams is more flexible, often not required with any more than a week’s notice, though there are some exceptions. It is still advisable to register a month ahead of time for the peace of mind of receiving your preferred time slot.

Sometimes registration for computer-based exams can be less expensive because less money is required to administer a computer-based test. Registering late for paper-based tests can be especially costly; every single paper-based certification test across the United States incurs a late registration fee if the test taker does not register two and sometimes three months ahead of time.

The decision to test by computer or by paper is often a reflection of personal preference, but sometimes that decision is not left to the test taker. In many states, computer-based testing is either relatively new (therefore limited to a small number of the exams available) or not yet available. It depends on the state and on the particular test. Sometimes one test may be available only in the computer format, while another test will only be administered on paper.

Studying Tips

The teaching certification exams all require two things: knowledge and know-how. What is the difference? Knowledge is factual information while know-how is the ability to apply that knowledge in the classroom. They are equally important for everyone seeking teaching certification.

Teacher certification exams will usually include a constructed-response question, which requires the test taker to write an essay in response to a prompt. Normally, this prompt will describe a scenario that requires the test taker to strategize the actions he or she would take in that situation. The grading of constructed-response questions varies between states and subjects. It is crucial that you prepare for these questions ahead of time and know what the graders will be looking for.

The steps below will be of great use when studying for your teacher certification exams. It may help to write them down and place them where they will draw your attention, allowing you to stay on task over the course of study. Keep in mind that you will not be able to study for one of these tests overnight or even cram in the week before the test. The key to studying effectively will be to develop a plan over time and then address your weaknesses early, so that you can be confident and fully prepared on test day.

  • Step 1: Study the test. In order to prepare, you will need to know what will be covered by the test. Many test takers think the object is to remember everything they have been taught in the classroom, but when it comes down to passing and failing, the classroom does not matter on test day. Figure out what areas will likely be covered on the test and divide them into smaller subcategories.
  • Step 2: Self-assess your knowledge base. Look through all the subcategories you have written down, and decide where you lack knowledge or confidence. Try to explain some of the concepts that will be covered on the test. This will help you evaluate any skills you may need for the constructed-response question. Be honest in your self-appraisal.
  • Step 3: Review the constructed-response scoring method. Sometimes grammar will be most important; at other times, organization and subject knowledge will determine whether you pass. Be sure you read the guidelines for constructed-response scoring and understand what each term means for your essay.
  • Step 4: Collect materials for studying. Have textbooks, notebooks, course materials, and packets all together in an easily accessible place.
  • Step 5: Take practice tests. Review the areas in which you are weakest, and then take practice tests until you are ready!

Practice Tests

Since you must pass a test for your teacher certification, you want to make sure to prepare. Practice tests are an integral component of test preparation. They can be particularly useful for the teaching certification tests for a number of reasons.

  • First, exams such as these tend to provoke anxiety, which can hurt performance. Taking practice tests allows anxious test takers to gain confidence as they become more familiar with the particular examination they will take. By taking practice tests, these individuals work through their anxiety ahead of time, so that taking the actual test seems more like a habit than a life-changing event.
  • Second, practice tests are a great evaluative tool that can give you a heads up regarding the particular areas that you still need to study or review. They are objective ways to assess the knowledge that you have. Evaluating your own constructed-response answer may be a bit tricky. Your study guide should include the areas that matter to constructed-response graders. Take a look at those areas before looking back at your answer. Knowing what the graders will be looking for and using those criteria as a guide for assessing your own response should give you an idea of the range in which you will be scoring. If you still think you may not be evaluating this section properly, then you may want to ask a peer to review your answer.

Taking practice tests should help you figure out what you can and cannot remember. If you are particularly anxious about your subject knowledge, use the first practice test to take notes if there is a piece of information you cannot recall. Give yourself a little extra time if you need it, and then, after you are done, go back and review your notes and look up the answers you wish you had remembered while taking the test.

Practice tests can easily make the difference between a passing and a failing grade. They are an extremely useful study tool, designed to evaluate your weak spots so that you know which areas you need to work on. In order to make them really count, though, you need to take them seriously. Eating snacks or answering phone calls while taking a practice test, or completing the practice test in sections, won’t work. To make the most out of practice tests, they should resemble the real thing as much as possible. That means figuring out what time of day you will be taking the test, sticking to the schedule the proctor will use on test day, turning off all electrical devices, and making sure no one will distract you. Some people even turn down the thermostats in their homes to approximate test-taking conditions!

Test Anxiety

One of the biggest problems people face when preparing for teaching certification tests is test anxiety. Test anxiety is common, but it is also treatable. When you suffer from test anxiety, remember that there are two components to it: mental and physical. While people tend to focus on the mental anxiety (fear of getting a low grade, for instance), both components of anxiety should be addressed. If not, the result could be failure to earn your teaching certification.

  • Mentally, you may “blank out” while taking a test, experiencing a brief loss of memory. In addition, you may describe your thoughts during test taking, as opposed to before or after the test, as “racing.” Some people have difficulty concentrating or have irrepressible negative thoughts. These negative thoughts can include memories of poor performances in the past, visions of failing, and focusing on the consequences of failure. Some people can only focus on how all the other test takers in the room are doing: what question others are on, or if people are skipping any of the harder questions. Finally, one of the more common symptoms of test anxiety occurs after the test, when the test taker suddenly remembers many of the answers he or she could not recall during the test itself!
  • Physically, test anxiety might lead to cramps, nausea, excessive sweating, headaches, increased heart rate and breathing, muscle tension, and faintness.
    Many people experience some tension before and during an important teaching certification exam. In fact, some tension is a good sign, as a higher state of alertness can even increase memory capacity. In general, however, test-taking performance is greatly enhanced when most of the tension is alleviated. Here are some ways to relieve both mental and physical test anxiety.
  • Become familiar with the test, and stick to the study plan. Use practice tests to their full advantage. Practice tests allow students with test anxiety to become familiar with both the material on the tests and the physical act of taking the tests. When test day rolls around, you will not feel as though you are doing anything extraordinary, increasing your confidence in your knowledge and expertise.
  • Counter negative thoughts. When you experience a negative thought, counter it with a positive one. Come up with a comforting memory, talisman, or concept that always reassures you, and then use it to counteract any thoughts of failure that might creep in.
  • Take care of your body. Regular exercise does wonders for the mind. Eating healthful foods and eliminating dependence on sugar or caffeine are also extremely effective at reducing tension.
  • Do relaxation exercises. If experiencing muscle tension, sweating, and other physical symptoms during the test, take a mental moment away from the test. Close your eyes; take long, deep breaths; and think of a relaxing environment or a comforting memory. It works!

Last Updated: 05/05/2014

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