The Praxis Demystified: How to Prepare and Pass
Reviewed by Jon Konen, District Superintendent
What is the Praxis?
The Praxis is a set of tests created for aspiring teachers. They are required in more than 40 states to meet licensing and certification requirements. The tests are designed to measure your knowledge and skillset in core academic areas you want to teach. Praxis testing, test development, and oversight are managed by the Educational Testing Service, most commonly called ETS, a nonprofit research organization also overseeing the TOEFL, GRE, and other educational assessments.
There are three types of tests you may need to take to qualify for certification in your state:
- Content Knowledge for Teaching Tests: Created for aspiring elementary teachers, this test measures both your understanding of core curriculum and subjects taught in the elementary classroom and the tasks you need to perform to teach this knowledge effectively.
- Core Academic Skills Tests: These tests measure your knowledge of core academic skills. You may be asked to take this test as a prerequisite for entry into a teacher preparation program or as a graduation requirement for licensing.
- Subject Assessments Tests: Will you be teaching a particular subject? If so, you may be asked to take an assessment that confirms your understanding of the topic and your ability to teach it in a K–12 classroom.
What Does the Praxis Core Cover?
The Praxis Core tests cover core academic skills in the areas of reading, writing, and math broken into single- or multiple-selection selected-response questions, numeric-entry questions, and two essay sections. Educators and specialists design the questions, and each test is reviewed and approved by ETS.
Check with your advisor or professors for more information regarding differences in the structure for any subject-specific tests you’ll need to take.
What Other Praxis Exams are There?
There are over 90 Praxis exams, with each state requiring a different set of testing depending on the subject and grade you want to teach.
Subject exams run the gamut in topics from health and physical education to school counseling, to world languages like Spanish. You may have to take a test that covers your preferred subject (or subjects) as well as the grade you want to teach. Typically, elementary education is broken out from middle school and secondary or high school exams, for example.
If you plan to teach more than one subject–say literature and history at the middle school level–you will usually undergo two different subject assessments. It’s a good idea to check your state requirements to make sure you understand what’s required before you sign up for a test.
We’ll primarily cover the core test in this resource, but much of the information regarding the Praxis is universal. If you have concerns about testing requirements or subject scoring and test breakdown, it’s a good idea to talk with a school advisor or instructor before registering for a test.
Why Do I Have to Take the Praxis?
The Praxis exam evolves as the laws change. In 2001, for instance, laws were designed to ensure educators were ‘highly qualified,’ as laid out as part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. When the Every Student Succeeds Act removed this requirement and passed more powers to the states, the tests adjusted accordingly, and they continue to do so to ensure that every teacher is the best they can be—as much as can be measured by test scores, anyway.
The Praxis is also helpful in measuring academic achievement. While the tests aren’t required in every state, they are used by many state departments of education and colleges granting admission to a teacher preparation program.
How Does Praxis Scoring Work?
Upon completing your test, some testing centers will show you an unofficial score. You’ll receive your official score within 21 calendar days for reading and math and 20 business days for writing. Along with your scores, you’ll receive additional information to help you interpret your score:
The way your test is scored varies by the specific subject and question format. Generally, selected-response questions are assigned one point per question, while essays and other constructed-response questions are scored by comparing the scores of at least two different assessors. Tests that combine question types, like the Writing Test, are either assigned a weighted score or the sum of your score from each kind of question.
You’ll also be asked some pre-test questions that won’t be included in your final score. You may not be aware of which questions are considered pre-test and which are part of your test.
If you realize partway through taking the exam that you may not be successful, you may elect to cancel your test before you’ve completed it. If you don’t pass or are dissatisfied with your score, you can retake your test every 21 days.
Do Praxis Scores Matter?
Unlike other exams like the SAT or GRE, when it comes to using your Praxis scores for college admissions and job applications, your concern is to demonstrate passing rather than having the highest score. As long as you’ve met the passing threshold in your state, you should be eligible to apply it toward your teaching license and beyond. Most employers are looking for people who passed, plain and simple.
What Can I Expect on Test Day?
The Praxis Core tests are administered at ETS testing sites on scheduled days. You’ll need to register beforehand and arrive with a printed admissions ticket for entry. You’ll also need a valid photo ID, and you may be able to bring a calculator for some subject assessments, although it’s not allowed for the Praxis Core.
Personal items are best left at home, if possible. Wearable items like hats and scarves will likely be inspected, and all jewelry except wedding rings and electronics except medical devices (which must be reported to the test center ahead of time) are strictly prohibited. Additionally, food and drinks are not allowed in the testing room, so prepare accordingly (exceptions may be made for medical needs).
ETS suggests arriving 30 minutes early to allow for time you to check in and sign a confidentiality agreement. Once testing begins, you’re allowed one unscheduled break between sections, which does not count against your testing time. Otherwise, you’ll need to remain in your testing room until you’ve completed the test—again, medical accommodations may be possible.
Praxis tests are taken on a computer and may be broken out into three separate tests or taken at once.
As mentioned, though the testing rules are strict, ETS does understand the need for accommodations. If you have a disability or other medical issue requiring rule exceptions, you can register in advance for additional accommodations—though you should do this as early as possible to avoid any bumps in the road. Accommodations can include but are not limited to:
Additionally, while the Praxis is only given in English, you may be allowed to arrange for extra testing time if this is not your primary language.
How Do I Register for the Praxis?
When you’re ready to register for your Praxis test, here are the steps to take:
How Do I Study for the Praxis?
ETS provides several study guides to help you prepare for the Praxis Core, including companion guides, study plans, and free webinars. Use these to help you understand the skills assessed and the sections covered. By understanding the weight of each section, you can better structure your time and choose where to focus.
For example, here is the breakout used on the Reading Test:
ETS also partners with Khan Academy to offer free practice tests and recommendations for improving your score.
Magoosh, another online service, provides test prep services as well. They genuinely believe that you will pass your exams with their assistance, so they offer a money-back guarantee if you complete all their coursework and don’t end up with a passing score.
If you want to help out a fellow teacher, some educators sell Praxis preparation materials on Teachers Pay Teachers. These will give you information from someone who has lived through the exam. However, be sure the documents were updated recently—the Praxis changes relatively frequently, so you want to make sure that your preparation is relevant.
If you prefer to study with a book in your hand, hard copies of study guides are available for some Praxis exams. However, it is essential to note that while they may be excellent companions, ETS does not write these guides. Look at reviews and compare the contents to the officially endorsed study materials from ETS. You can find these books on Amazon or at your local bookstore. If you choose to buy second-hand, double-check that the book is the most recent version and be sure you’re comfortable using books that may already have writing and highlighting in them.
In addition to materials prepared by ETS and Khan Academy, your school district may offer courses for current teachers who want to add certifications in areas of high need for their schools, such as English as a second language or special education. Districts may even provide these for free, with the expectation that teachers will commit to remaining in the district for a certain number of years after the coursework is completed.
How Can I Find Free Praxis Preparation Materials?
Beyond the ETS website, free test prep materials available online may include practice questions, study guides, and skill development. An online search for your specific exam or general help may yield positive results. While some resources are updated more and provide guarantees, they often only include some free resources, with most requiring payment, or require a paid membership after a trial. A couple of these options include:
Your best free resources, though, are those you can access through your educational institution or peer group. If you are a current student, your school should have professors who can answer questions you have and may even offer formal study sessions. If you are taking a subject-specific exam for which study resources are limited, like those for elective courses, your peer group could also be beneficial. If you are a current teacher hoping to add a certification that requires a Praxis score, don’t be afraid to ask teachers of that subject for advice.
What Are the Best Ways to Study for the Praxis?
When you’re preparing for the Praxis, approach your studying as you would any other test. Start by giving yourself plenty of time to prepare and developing a schedule for yourself. Try taking a practice test at the beginning of your preparation to gauge which skills you already know and which you want to develop further. Finally, research and gather any study materials you plan to use.
Here are some additional tips for making the most of your study time: