ELA/Math Prep FAQs

What to Expect on the NEW ELA and MATH State Exams:

This article addresses frequently asked questions (FAQ’s) pertaining to the NEW ELA and Math State exams. It is designed as a guide for parents and families of Kweller Test Prep. As of 2013, new core-curriculum learning standards will apply to the upcoming tests, and the overall format of the exams will be changed. Kweller Test Prep provides small group and one-on-one private instruction for the ELA and Math State exams. If interested, please contact us.

ELA/Math Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What is the “ELA”?

A. “ELA” stands for “English Language Arts.” This includes critical reading (passages of prose and poetry), writing, short answers, short responses, extended responses, grammar, and vocabulary.

Q2. What is on the “Math” State test?

A. The “Math” State test consists of core math topics that will be tested from grades 3 to 8. Like the ELA, each grade receives its own test.

Q3. What grades take the ELA and Math state tests?

A. New York City and State public and many private school students take these examinations starting in the 3rd grade. The last set of ELA and Math exams occurs in the 8th grade, at which point many students take other State Math and English tests, known as Regents exams.

Q4. What is the “common core”?

A. Every state has guidelines, which are basic minimum standards for achievement in Math, English, Science and Social Studies. Students are expected to meet these “core” standards to go on to the next level of schooling. For example, students are expected to comprehend primary and secondary sources. Additionally, language standards will be assessed within the context of reading passages.

Q5. Who administers these exams?

A. The New York State Department of Education is responsible for administering the ELA and Math State tests each year. The Department also administers the Regents Exams, which are required tests in virtually every subject in New York City public and many private schools.

Q6. Are the ELA and Math tests like the ERB’s?

A. The exams test similar content but serve different purposes. The ELA and Math tests are state tests used mostly in public schools. The ERB is mainly for placement for private schools.

Q7. Why have the ELA and Math state tests changed?

A. New York State has adopted more comprehensive core standards that each child needs to follow, in order to be promoted to the next grade level. The new State exams reflect these changes. Long ago, there was “social promotion,” a time when students were promoted due to their age, but that is no longer the case now.

All About the ELA State Test

Q1. What type of reading material is tested on the new ELA?

A. The texts will be taken from a variety of fictional and nonfictional work. What is new is that the passages will discuss more modern topics, such as technology,and current events, as opposed to the outdated topics in years prior.

Q2. Will the passage length remain the same as in years prior?

A. No. The passages will be much longer than what your child has experienced in prior years on ELA tests, with fewer pictures.

Q3. Will the question types remain the same?

A. Standardized tests have similar question types from year to year. On the new ELA test, expect to see a lot more interpretive answers as opposed to straightforward ones. When the questions ask you to choose the BEST answer, they really mean it. There will be many great second answer choices, and so it will be more difficult than before to rely on the process of elimination.

Q4. What skills will the test questions focus on?

A. The questions will focus on comparing two or more texts (including listening passages, writing passages, and graphics); discussing arguments, evidence, and claims; engaging with both literary and informational texts; and responding to more text-dependent prompts. 35% of prompts will require students to argue/convey an opinion, 35% will require them to explain, and 30% will require them to convey experience.

Q5. Can my school teacher help my student prepare for the new ELA?

A. School teachers and other school faculty throughout New York State have attended mandatory workshops regarding the new ELA exam and its format since September. Hopefully, your school has hosted a workshop on the changes for parents as well. Several new workbooks and guides have been published and distributed to school students since September.

Q6. What are the “constructed-response” questions on the ELA?

A. Here, students are expected to gather their thoughts based on what they have read in the prior passages and organize them in a well-written short response. They need to provide “evidence” as they write. No multiple-choice options will be provided. Students should expect to see one prompt or question followed by several lines where they are expected to compose an answer.

Q7. What does my child need to do to prepare for the constructed response questions?

A. When a student is asked to respond to a prompt or question, he should always show support for that answer by stating the answer and providing textual evidence to support it. (We frequently tell our students here at Kweller Prep, “Don’t choose it unless you can prove it.”) The goal of the short-response questions is to require students to succinctly demonstrate their ability to comprehend text. In responding to these questions, students will be expected to write in complete sentences. Responses should require no more than three complete sentences.

Q8. How “short” are the short responses?

A. Each short response is between 2 to 3 lines. Please note the test creators expect them to be filled! The ELA will provide lined space for the constructed response answers. Your child MUST write as much as possible to get a complete score. Encourage the child to keep constructively writing.

Q9. What should my child expect from the Extended Constructed Response questions?

A. Extended constructed response sample questions are designed to assess a student’s ability to write from sources. They will focus primarily on common core writing standards. Many will be framed around a central question, and all will reference one or two texts. Extended constructed response questions allow students to demonstrate the ability to write a coherent essay using textual evidence to support their ideas. Student responses will be rated based on CCLS writing standards and a student’s command of evidence to defend his or her point.

Q10. What will be tested on the Multiple Choice Critical Reading?

A. Central idea, style elements, character/plot development, and a lot of vocabulary-in-context questions will be tested. Expect to see many multi-step questions here, where students will be expected to combine skills to answer questions correctly. Straightforward answers will be few and far between. Some questions will ask students to identify aspects of text or vocabulary. Many questions will require students to combine skills. For example, questions may ask students to identify a small piece of text that best supports the central idea.

Q11. What does my child need to do to prepare for the multiple choice questions?

A. Each set of multiple choice questions is based on the prior passage. The student must first comprehend the central idea of the reading excerpt, and then show understanding of how that idea is supported. Students should read a lot beforehand throughout the school year. Students should comfortably be able to answer the “who-what-where-when-why” of each passage they read. It is very important that students recognize what the best answer choice is. There are many good answer choices, but only one will be the best.

Q12. Does handwriting count?

A. This year, bad handwriting will count against the student. In prior years, it did not. Parents would joke about their children writing sloppily like “future doctors,” but unfortunately illegible handwriting is not acceptable anymore on State tests. If the people grading the test can’t read an answer, it will receive a grade of zero.

Q13. How are the multiple choice Critical Reading questions different on the New ELA?

A. The new ELA will have many evil “distractor” answer choices as well. Basically, this means that those who design the test questions are also designing “trap” answers that could lead your child in the wrong direction. The multiple-choice questions in particular will have more “traps” than in prior years. Critical reading skills are key in avoiding these “trap” answers and choosing the correct one.

Q14. Can my child receive extended time on the ELA and Math tests?

A. Yes, but you will need to have a 504 or IEP plan. Please contact your school regarding this; you should try to have these forms completed months in advance.

All About the Math State Test

Q1. What should we expect on the new Math State test?

A. This particular test will have many more multi-step, interpretive questions for students to decipher. The core curriculum math standards will be tested depending on the child’s grade level, and each grade, from 3rd to 8th, receives its own Math State test. For example, the new Math test will have more questions pertaining to fractions as opposed to easy straightforward questions with whole numbers that were tested on prior exams.

Q2. How is the Multiple Choice on the new Math State test different?

A. Every multiple choice question on the new Math State test will have “trap” answers, making this test one of the most difficult in years. Because distractors will be based on plausible missteps throughout the solving of the problem, each student should work out the math problems carefully before looking at the multiple-choice options. Multiple-choice math questions are designed to assess NYS common core math standards and incorporate both standards and math practices in real-world applications. Math multiple-choice questions assess procedural and conceptual standards. Unlike questions on past math assessments, many require the use of multiple skills and concepts.

Q3. Can my child use a calculator?

A. Yes, starting from grade 6. Also, after the 8th grade testing ends, students can use scientific calculators on Regents exams, and even graphing calculators on the PSAT, SAT, ACT and many Advanced Placement (AP) exams and subject tests. However, that won’t occur until years later.

Q4. What should my child expect from the Math Short Constructed Responses?

A. Here, the student is expected to solve the math problem and show all work proving how he or she got to the right answer. No multiple choice options are available for this part. The Math Short Constructed Response questions are similar to past 2-point questions, asking students to complete a task and show their work. Like multiple-choice questions, short constructed response questions will often require multiple steps, the application of multiple math skills, and real-world applications. Many of the short constructed response questions will cover conceptual and application standards.

Q5. What should my child expect from the Math Extended Constructed Responses?

A. The Math Extended Constructed Response questions are similar to past 3-point questions, asking students to show their work in completing two or more tasks, or one more extensive problem. Extended Constructed Responses allow students to show their understanding of math procedures, conceptual understanding, and application.

Q6. Where can I obtain sample questions for the ELA and Math State tests?

You can find sample questions for the ELA and Math State tests here: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/assessment/ei/eigen.html.

How to Pass the ELA and Math State Tests

Quick Article and Quick Tips — By Frances Kweller, Founder of Kweller Prep

Fewer than 1/3 of the students passed the NYS English Language Arts (ELA) and Math state tests. However, over 90% of the students I trained at Kweller Prep scored a 4 or higher, among the highest levels in the entire state. Kweller Prep is headquartered in Forest Hills, Queens, with a smaller location in midtown Manhattan. Our ELA and Math programs, as demonstrated, are wonderful, but for those of you who can’t make it, here are my tips on how we got so many kids—from all different levels and backgrounds—to excel on the ELA and math state exams this year.

READ, READ, READ. You have to help your child get into a “reading level” at least one to two grade levels above his or her own. At Kweller Prep, we used 5th and 6th grade reading material to teach our 3rd and 4th graders; our motto is, the tougher, the better. Kids are like sponges at this age- they absorb everything. There is plenty of advanced reading material available at higher levels—use it! Don’t be afraid of going three reading levels higher to challenge your child. You would be amazed at how hard the reading material we used to prep kids for this year’s ELA was. They all excelled—and enjoyed the course! Play Math Games! There are so many fantastic math Olympiad questions online. Get your child to solve the hardest around! At Kweller Prep, we found the kids enjoyed the challenge of “teaming-up” to answer math game problems. We truly believe that the more challenging, the better.

Make prep for the ELA & Math state tests fun! Give your child incentives or prizes every time he or she gets questions right. At Kweller Prep, we rented an ice cream truck once most kids were at an 80% accuracy or higher. We allocated towards small prizes that made a big difference—everything from high bouncing balls to Harvard T-shirts for our kids. This way, students felt rewarded for all of their hard work. Remember handwriting? Unfortunately, in school, students no longer seem to have the pressures of good penmanship or writing in legible script. At Kweller Prep, we handed to 7th and 8th grade students 2nd grade handwriting books so they could practice their print; a great and free alternative is handwriting paper. We obsessed over handwriting, trying to fix years of illegible text in our two-month ELA/Math Prep course—and guess what? They succeeded! By teaching kids to write slower, and having them really concentrate on the cleanliness of each letter, we produced cleaner writers- making for better writers overall.

Teach them SAT words! I cannot stress enough how kids in grades 3 to 8 are like sponges. The ELA and Math tests are supposedly all about “college readiness,” right? Well, what test is more college-ready than the SAT? I suggest you invest in the Direct Hits books of core SAT vocabulary, which is well worth the investment. There is also a wealth of test preparation material for the new ELA and Math state tests online from different states that started implementing the core curriculum years ago; print it out and use it! At Kweller, we printed exams from almost every other state to challenge our kids in the course. Personally, Georgia and Texas were my favorites!

Challenge them! Make no mistake, I do not support the ELA and Math State Exams, but I do believe in challenging kids to excel beyond their grade levels. Go ahead! Buy your 3rd grader the 5th grade English & Math workbook. You will be surprised at how interested he or she will be in learning the “hard stuff.” Send your kids to Kweller Prep! I mean, I sincerely hope you do, but if not, then feel free to reach out to us anyway with questions!

ELA and Math State Tests Standards

New York State adopted the Common Core Standards in July 2010 with the understanding that New York State could add an additional 15% of NYS-specific standards in ELA and Mathematics. The Board of Regents approved the New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards in January 2011. See the New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards for Math and ELA here: https://www.engageny.org/resource/new-york-state-p-12-common-core-learning-standards.

The Common Core State Standards are fewer, clearer and higher than most state standards, and include rigorous content and application of knowledge through higher order skills. But how do the CCSS compare to the NYS standards? See the table below for some key differences between the current NYS Standards and Common Core State Standards.

ELA Differences for NYS vs. Common Core

Math Differences for NYS vs. Common Core

Standards increase in complexity from K-12, helping to articulate what students need to know and be able to do along this trajectory and assist with differentiation Fewer topics; more generalizing and linking of concepts
  • Well-aligned with the way high-achieving countries teach math.
Literacy-building as a shared responsibility for all content area teachers Emphasis on both conceptual understanding and procedural fluency starting in the early grades
Literacy-building as a shared responsibility for all content area teachers Emphasis on both conceptual understanding and procedural fluency starting in the early grades
  • More time to teach and reinforce core concepts from K-12
  • Some concepts will now be taught later
Emphasis on steadily increasing students’ ability to understand more and more complex text over time Focus on mastery of complex concepts in higher math (e.g., algebra and geometry) via hands-on learning
Integration of research skills across standards and grades
Emphasis on writing to argue, inform, and explain in the upper grades to prepare students for college-level writing Emphasis on mathematical modeling in the upper grades

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The information here is simply a guide for parents and families interested in the Kweller Prep Program. We cannot promise this information is entirely accurate. To the best of our knowledge, however, it is.