If your education students are a bit nervous or fidgety this week in class, here’s why:
On Saturday, thousands of college students and pre-professionals across the United States will arise early in the morning — earlier than most college classes start — and trek to a nearby site to take the first battery of tests known as Praxis I (i.e., the Pre Professional Skills Test or PPST). The PPST is administered multiple times throughout the calendar year in a fashion similar to the SAT and GRE. Maybe you remember: sleepy Saturday morning; lecture-hall desks; No. 2 pencils; people you don’t know; circular sticker keeping the paper test booklet sealed until the proctor finally says, “You may open your test booklets and begin.” Fond memories, eh?
The PPST is a “basic-skills” exam that tests (a) literal and inferential reading comprehension; (b) mathematical computation; and (c) writing skills through a timed essay and grammar/sentence correction questions. It costs $130 to take. In most states, the growing trend is students must pass the PPST before they can be admitted into the major of education. In other words, in many states, education is now a major that students must test into. In great part, this is the case to increase the percentages of program completers (i.e., students who graduate as Highly Qualified Teachers according to NCLB), which is directly tied to program accreditation by state agencies. These direct and indirect pressures from accreditation bodies shape the pool of teachers in significant ways (size of the pool, quality, diversity, etc.), but that’s a story for another time. After all, the test is this Saturday.
Educational Testing Service (ETS), which designs the PPST, offers many helpful suggestions for long- and short-term test participation here. In addition to pointing your students toward these suggestions, here is how you can help them before Saturday.
First, give them successful vicarious experiences by reminding them that people just like them pass Praxis all the time. Link them up with a student or two who has passed so they can see it firsthand and get some tips and advice. While tips may help, the fact that this information comes from similar peers is more likely to increase students’ beliefs in their capabilities.
Second, explain test anxiety, how it works, how to recognize it and how to self-regulate oneself in a performance situation. An affective disturbance such as test anxiety can debilitate cognitive functions if not recognized and regulated. Finally, to quote one of my students, instruct them to “congratulate themselves for what they know, and refuse to get mad at themselves for what they don’t,” while taking the test. These are some of the things I’ll be doing when I accompany my students as they take this important exam.
For further reading about the PPST and what the experience is like from students’ perspectives (particularly ethnic minority students), I recommend the following research study:
Bennett. C., McWhorter, L., & Kuykendall, J. (2006). Will I ever teach? Latino and African American students’ perspectives on PRAXIS I. American Educational Research Journal, 43(3), 531-574.
Dr. Emery Petchauer is an assistant professor of education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania; his research includes teacher preparation for ethnic minority students particularly at HBCUs and how involvement in hip-hop implicates students’ educational approaches, experiences and lives.