The Praxis Core is made up of math, reading and writing tests. The Praxis Core Writing Test has two parts: the selected response questions and the two essays. For Praxis writing, I’ll cover the selected response questions first and then overview the essays.
The Selected Response Questions
The first 40 question on the Praxis Writing test are what ETS calls the “selected response” questions, questions in which select a response from given choices. The vast majority of these will be ordinary five-choice multiple choice, though some may be multiple-answer check-box questions, in which you select all responses that work. There are four types of selected response questions.
In these questions, a sentence is given, and four sections of the sentence (a single word, a short phrase, or a piece of punctuation) are underlined. If one of these is incorrect, you click on it to select it. The errors may be grammatical mistakes, use of the wrong word, a capitalization mistake, or a punctuation mistake. If all four are correct, then you click on the words “No error,” which always appear at the end of the sentence. Practice question #1 above is a Usage question.
Sentence Correction Questions
In these questions, a sentence is given, and part of the sentence is underlined. Below the sentence are five answer choices. The first always matches the underlined section, and the other four are variants on the underlines section. Your job is to pick the best version, the version that is grammatically correct and clearest in meaning. Practice question #2 above is a Sentence Correction question.
Revision in Context questions
These questions come in sets of a few in a row. They use a split-screen format. The left side of the split screen is a passage that is relevant to every question in the set. On the right side, the multiple-choice questions ask us about revising the passage. Each question cites a particular sentence or phrase in the passage and presents five options for the best revision. These questions typically accompany a whole passage. For practice purposes, I created practice question #3 above, which is like a Revision in Context question, but its target text is only two sentences long.
There are only a couple of these questions. These test the proper form for citations, the form required in formal academic research. These also test basic research questions, such as the difference between a primary source and a secondary source. Question #4 is a Research Skills question.
Here are four example selected response questions.
Select the underline part of the sentence that is incorrect. If all four are correct, select “No error”.
1) Had Napoleon not invaded Russia, he would have avoided the disastrous campaign that left him retreating from Russia with less than 30,000 men remaining. No error.
Choose the version of the underlined text that makes the best sentence overall.
2) Mendeleev’s discovery of periodic patterns among the elements allowing him for predicting the existence of new elements.
(A) allowing him for predicting
(B) allowing him to predict
(C) allowed him for predicting
(D) allowed him to predict
(E) allowed him by predicting
3) Which is the best way to combine the information in the following two sentences:
P.T. Barnum was always astute as a businessman. When Barnum merged with James Bailey, he was able to expand his business, and this expansion allowed him to produce a three-ring circus, which was the first in the world.
(A) P.T. Barnum, the astute businessman at all times, merged with James Bailey, and this merger allowing him to produce a three-ring circus, which was the first in the world.
(B) P.T. Barnum was always astute as a businessman, merged with James Bailey, expanded his business, produced the world’s first three-ring circus.
(C) Always an astute businessman, P.T. Barnum expanded his show after his merger with James Bailey to produce the world’s first three-ring circus.
(D) When P.T. Barnum merged with James Bailey, it always showed that he was an astute business man, and this expansion allowed him to produce a three-ring circus, which was the first in the world.
(E) The world’s first three-ring circus was produced by the astute businessman P.T. Barnum, who was allowed to do it by the merging with James Bailey.
4) Which of the following is a secondary source on Ludwig van Beethoven?
(A) A letter written by Beethoven to a patron.
(B) A critic’s eyewitness description of hearing Beethoven perform his music.
(C) An excerpt from Beethoven’s journals.
(D) The original score of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
(E) A modern pianist’s lecture on some of Beethoven’s piano sonatas.
Explanations to these questions will appear at the end of the article.
The Praxis Writing essay questions
There are two Praxis Writing essays, an Argumentative essay and an Informative/Explanatory essay. These come after the 40 selected response questions.
In the first essay, the Argumentative essay, the test present a prompt position, typically a juicy controversial position. These topics are listed in the five-year-old Praxis Official Guide, on pp. 132-136. Here are a couple of samples:
“Job satisfaction is more important in a career than a high salary and fringe benefits.”
“Our lives today are too complicated. We try to do too much and, as a result, do few things well.”
Obviously, many people have strong opinions on such issues. You may or may not, but your job on this Argumentative essay is to take a position, either agreeing or disagreeing, and support it. The question instructs you: “Discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with this point of view. Support your position with specific reasons and examples from your own experience, observation, or reading.” You have to present a cogent logical argument, either agreeing with the prompt or criticizing it. You can’t afford to be neutral or wishy-washy on this essay: you have to stake out a position and defend it vigorously.
The second essay, the Informative/Explanatory essay is a bit different. In this task, the prompt is considerably longer. You may be given a single passage, or a pair of passages about a topic, and you will be asked to describe and summarize the information. In this essay, you will have to present a descriptive and logical analysis of what the authors say, and you will be responsible for citing any quotes in the proper academic formats.
If you find this daunting, what resources might you use?
1) The current Praxis Official Guide – this five-year old book will give you some excellent practice questions in the first two formats, Usage and Sentence Correction, but this book was published before the other two formats were released.
2) The Praxis Study Companion for Core Writing – this brief online publication gives up-to-date information from ETS
3) Magoosh – look for the release of a Magoosh Praxis Writing product, complete with a video lesson library and with online practice questions with video explanations, by the spring of 2016!
4) Theoretically, sometime in 2016, ETS will publish a more up-to-date Praxis Official Guide
Of course, in some ways, the best way you could prepare for much of this test is by reading. Especially if you are a person who doesn’t do much recreational reading, it is probably important for you to push yourself to read some sophisticated, high-brow material every day.
Remember, the more well-spoken you can become, the better you will serve your future students! If you have thoughts about the Praxis Writing exam that you would like to share, let us know in the comments section below!
Explanations to Practice Questions
1) The structure at the beginning of the sentence, “had A not done X,” may sound funny, but this is perfectly acceptable as a way to talk about something hypothetical. Everything in the sentence is correct until the word “less.” Men are countable: we would ask “how many men?”, not “how much men?” For countable nouns, we need to use “fewer,” not “less.” The correct sentence would be:
Had Napoleon not invaded Russia, he would have avoided the disastrous campaign that left him retreating from Russia with fewer than 30,000 men remaining. Answer = less
2) The prompt sentence is not a complete sentence: it has no main verb. The “discovery” is the main subject, but this main subject has to have a main verb. Thus, we need “allowed”, not “allowing.”
The correct idiom is: “X allows him to do Y.” Thus, we need, “allowed him to predict.” Answer = (D)
3)(A) This version is wordy and awkward. After the word “and,” we have a noun and the participle “allowing” instead of a full verb. Before the “and” is an independent clause, but after the “and” is something that would stand alone as a complete sentence. This is incorrect.
(B) This version mechanically puts everything into parallel without regard to logic. There is no “and” before the last element, so this incorrect.
(C) This is direct and error-free. This is promising.
(D) This is very long and wordy and indirect. The logic is funky: the merger with James Bailey was a one-time event, so how did this one-time event “always [show] he was an astute business man.” Furthermore, the referent of “he” is somewhat unclear: if we didn’t have the other versions here, we might suspect that the “he” could be James Bailey, not P.T. Barnum. This is incorrect.
(E) This is passive structure, which is not ideal. The meaning is very different in the structure “who was allowed to do it” – this sounds as if someone gave him permission of some kind, which is not the intended meaning. Also, technically, the pronoun “it” is incorrect, because it can refer only to a previously mentioned noun, not to an action. This is incorrect.
Four of the answers are incorrect, so the only possible answer is (C).
4) A primary source is a source directly from the person or event being studied. For a person, it could be the words of this person (a book, letter, journal, etc.) or an interview with the person, or a film/video of the person. For an event, it could be the account of any eyewitness to the event, as well as any photo or film/video of the event.
A history book would be a secondary source. A secondary source talks about, summarizes, and interprets the information in the primary sources. Students in grade school and high school are exposed almost exclusively to secondary sources. In college, say for research in a history class, there may be an opportunity to work with some primary sources. Someone getting a Ph.D. in history in all likelihood would focus on getting as many primary sources as possible about a subject.
In this question, (A) & (C) & (D) are all things that came directly from Beethoven’s hand, so these are all primary, and (B) is an eyewitness account of the event of Beethoven performing, which gives us another kind of information about him. By contrast, (E) is a modern person’s interpretation of the work of this historically remote person: this is a secondary source. Answer = (E)