Becoming a Massachusetts teacher takes more than caring about children, graduating from college, or knowing your subject matter. To become a certified teacher in Massachusetts you must pass the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL). The MTEL are a series of exams which include communication and literacy skills, as well as tests of subject matter knowledge. All paths to teacher certification include the Communication and Literacy skills exams. There are many companies whose sole purpose is to help you pass the MTEL. They range in expense from a $40 book, to courses that cost hundreds of dollars. However, there are free resources that help future teachers pass the test in an efficient and cost effective manner.
To earn my New York State teacher certification, I passed four New York State Certification Exams. In 2010 I moved to Massachusetts and took another five MTEL. I passed all exams the first time. Before I started working as a teacher in Massachusetts, I volunteered to help future teachers pass both subject matter tests and the Communication and Literacy Skills exams using the exact free method I describe here. What follows is an explicit explanation of how I and my future educators passed the exams to become certified teachers.
The first step is to understand the test. The first test prospective educators usually take is the MTEL Communication & Literacy Exam. Every Massachusetts education educator must pass these exams no matter their educational field. The Communication & Literacy MTEL is comprised of two tests; the Reading subtest and the Writing subtest. The MTEL Communication and Literacy Skills has two testing options. As of 2022, if you chose to take the subtests separately, the Reading subtest costs $76 and the Writing subtest costs $85. Both subtests combined cost $112 (a four hour session). Information on signing up for the MTELs is located at http://www.mtel.nesinc.com/Home.aspx
The Reading test is comprised of 42 multiple choice questions. There are 5 objectives on the Reading subtest: Meaning of Words and Phrases, Main Idea and Supporting Details, Writer’s Purpose and Point of View, Relationships Among Ideas, Critical Reasoning, and Outlining Summarizing Graph Interpretation. Each objective had 6-8 questions. There are around seven reading passages on the test with six multiple choice questions following the passage.
To study for this test, print out two to three MTEL Communication & Literacy Reading Subtest full length practice tests. The tests can be found online for free at multiple sites. Below are two test.
Go into a quiet space with a 4 hour timer. Take the test from beginning to end. As you take the test, make notes on each question. I had my students rate each question in the margin after answering it. I use the following notation
|C||Confident the question is correct|
|2||Two answers could have been right and mark the two you thought could be correct|
|0||Circle words that you do know the meaning or jargon you are unsure of.|
After answering every question, grade your test. All practice MTEL exams come with an answer key. There is no need to study the answers in which you were confident (C) and answered correctly. All questions marked G or 2 and answered incorrectly is where you spend time studying. Even if you guessed correctly, it is not good enough. One never knows if they will guess correctly on the real MTEL. While going over these questions ask yourself the following questions. What was the question asking? What makes the right answer correct? How was I tricked or could be tricked with this question? Do I need to research this topic?
Once you have taken at least two practice tests calculate your score. The MTEL passing score is 240 out of 300. The MTEL does not convert the score to a percentage, but to be safe, the goal should be 75% or higher. The MTEL is a costly exam and it is best to pass the test the first time.
Most MTEL are taken online. Practice using the online soft at http://www.mtel.nesinc.com/PageView.aspx?f=HTML_FRAG/GENRB_CBTTutorials.html
The Writing subtest includes 35 multiple-choice questions, 7 short-answer sentence correction items, and 2 open-response assignments. The multiple choice and short answer questions are 50% of the points. The multiple choice questions comprises of the following subjects: Establish and Maintain a Main Idea, Sentence Construction/Grammar/Usage, Spelling/Capitalization/Punctuation, and Revise Sentences Containing Errors. To study for the multiple choice section of the exam use the same method as the Reading subtest.
Full length MTEL Communication & Literacy Writing Subtests can be found online for free.
The open response portion of the exam is worth 50% of the total points. It comprises of a summary exercise and a composition exercise. Each writing exercise is looking for specific information. The summary must be 100-150 words. The response should be three paragraphs and be close to 150 words. It needs to communicate the main idea and significant supporting detail from a passage and your own clear thoughts. When writing the summary, use words you know how to spell and grammar you know how to use properly. Rubrics can be found at ttps://www.mtel.nesinc.com/Content/Docs/MA_FLD201_Writing_PRACTICE_TEST.pdf. Read through exemplary summary responses. First read the article and then the summary. Exemplary summary writing responses can be found at: https://www.mtel.nesinc.com/content/Docs/MA_CommLit_SuppORIs.pdf
Practice writing at least two summaries. When you are done, have a friend read the article and your response. Ask them the following questions: Did you show fidelity to the article? Were you concise with the length and supporting details? Does the summary make sense? Did you use proper grammar and conventions?
The Open Response is a traditional five paragraph persuasive essay and should be around 300-600 words. The exam will give you an issue usually related to education and you must take a side. Since almost all open response questions are persuasive five paragraph essays, you can organize your writing even before you take the test. Here is a sample organizer to help you write your essay.
Paragraph 1: Start with a hook. Include general information on the subject matter. State your thesis clearly.
Paragraph 2: Defend your thesis or what is my reason. Then provide three examples.
Paragraph 3: Defend your thesis or what is another reason. Then provide three examples.
Paragraph 4: Defend your thesis or what is another reason. Then provide three examples.
Conclusion: Restate your thesis and provide a closing statement
Brainstorm ideas when creating your Open Response. Choose the point of view you can write the most about. Read through exemplary open responses. First read the passage and then open response. Exemplary Open responses https://www.mtel.nesinc.com/content/Docs/MA_CommLit_SuppORIs.pdf
Practice writing at least two open responses. When writing the open response use words you know how to spell and grammar you know how to use properly. Rubrics can be found at ttps://www.mtel.nesinc.com/Content/Docs/MA_FLD201_Writing_PRACTICE_TEST.pdf. When you are done, have a friend read the passage and your response. Ask them the following questions: Did you stay on topic? Were there grammatical errors? Was the writing logical? Did the writing flow and were there transitions between paragraphs?
The best way to study for a test is to practice taking the test in test like conditions. This is why there is a PSAT and a billion dollar industry around test taking. Using this simple and free method takes less time and though I cannot guarantee your success, I can guarantee that you will become a better test taker.
The best way to study for a test is to practice taking the test in test like conditions. This is why there is a PSAT and a billion dollar industry around test taking. Although you have to put in the time and effort to prepare for the MTEL, the method I outlined is completely free and you are taking charge of your own learning outcome!