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MTEL Comm & Lit – Finding the Purpose and Meaning of Text

March 7th, 2019 | Comments Off on MTEL Comm & Lit – Finding the Purpose and Meaning of Text | Certification Prep, Literacy Certification, Reading Certification, Teacher's Lounge Blog, Teaching Licenses, Writing Certification

You will need to be highly capable in navigating complexities in written text to pass the MTEL Communications and Literacy Skills Test. At the heart of every piece of writing is a message, either stated or unstated. Readers who can identify the author’s purpose, point of view, and audience (Objective 3) are best equipped to get at the “real” meaning. On licensure tests, time is also a factor. So now you need to be both speedy and highly competent with textual nuances.

Try these strategies:
• Connect every test question to a test objective.
The MTEL does not set out to disguise the intent of the questions. Look in the question for the specific, targeted vocabulary from one of the stated test objectives. Questions for Objective 3 will likely ask, “the purpose,” “the main purpose,” “the audience of,” or “the point of view.” Be wise to questions that substitute a synonym or derivative such as, “main reason” or “is intended to.”

• Dissect for purpose.
You can safely assume that every word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph of the texts is included by design. When a question states, “Information in paragraph 2 is intended to __,” you’ll need to be able to size up quickly what would be missing if that paragraph were omitted. General classification of text “to entertain,” “to persuade,” or “to inform” will be insufficient.

• Think DOK wheel.
Whatever your personal feelings about the usefulness of the DOK (depth of knowledge) wheel, it is a tidy list of verbs that state intent and purpose. It contains words such as classify, illustrate, dispute, and assess. As you read an exam text the first time, make some side notes about the different paragraphs. Be so thoroughly familiar with DOK verbs that the specific intent of a word, statement, or paragraph rolls off your tongue.

• Look for strong feelings.
Point of view on the exam deals almost exclusively with informational text. You’re looking for the writer’s belief system, not identifying a character’s point of view as first person or third person limited. You can find the point of view by analyzing word choice, obvious statements of belief, and omissions. (What is the author not stating?) Background information on the author can be useful in identifying the author’s point of view. Recognizing the text as biased or unbiased also falls under author’s point of view.

• Get beyond the words.
To find the author’s intended meaning, you’ll need to get beyond the stated words on the page and find the “real” meaning. Particularly in satire, words may state the opposite view of the author. (Is Jonathan Swift really suggesting that children be sold and eaten when he states, “no gentleman would repine to give ten shillings for the carcass of a good fat child, which, as I have said, will make four dishes of excellent nutritive meat”? A Modest Proposal, 1729)

• Know the audience.
Each text on the CLST test is written with an audience in mind. The audience could be that catch-all, “general audience” or it could be an audience that brings specific background knowledge to the text. Everything from the textual appearance to the genre to the sentence structure can give away the author’s intended audience. Why is the audience significant? It plays into the author’s purpose. Know the audience and you have another tool to get at the subtleties of the author’s purpose and meaning.

Your analytical skills will need to be sharp. The exam texts will be difficult. Breathe deep. Know what you’re looking for. Succeed.

Passing the Composition Exercise: Mechanics

July 31st, 2018 | Comments Off on Passing the Composition Exercise: Mechanics | Certification Prep, Literacy Certification, Teacher's Lounge Blog, Writing Certification

PrepForward provides online preparation courses to candidates practicing compositions for state teacher tests, including the MTEL Communication and Literacy Skills exam in MA. In this series, I’ll share the most common errors I see and tips for making a solid score on each performance characteristic.
Other articles in series: Passing the Composition Exercise: Usage

Spelling, punctuation, capitalization — these three areas are evaluated under the Mechanics trait on the MTEL Communications and Literacy Skills composition exercise. Let’s look at some strategies for earning a top rating in Mechanics.

First, save time to proofread your composition. I believe that many mechanics errors are keyboarding errors. A purposeful proofreading with an eye for errors in mechanics could make a measurable difference on weak compositions. If your problem lies in keyboarding, sharpen your skills with a few hours of practice.

Remember, you’ll be working without a grammar or spell check. As you write practice compositions, turn off any automatic computer proofreading helps. Write your paper. Turn the checkers back on, and see what gets flagged. Analyze your errors to find your weaknesses.

Below, you can find a quick list of spelling, punctuation, and capitalization reminders. The list is not meant to be exhaustive. It’s intended to remind you of trouble spots so that you can research, practice, and perfect your Mechanics score on test day.


Double the final consonant, drop the final e, change y to i—rules, rules, rules! Yes, multiple rules must be applied when adding suffixes to root words. The good news is that, with a few exceptions, the rules normally apply. Learn the rules; learn the exceptions; learn to apply the rules consistently.

  • Double the final consonant for a one-syllable word ending in a single consonant, preceded by a single vowel (run, running; fat, fatter; shop, shopping). Double the final consonant for a multi-syllabic word that ends in a single consonant preceded by a single vowel when the last syllable is accented: control/controlled, but exit/ exited.
  • Drop the final e when adding a suffix that begins with a vowel (drive/driving, use/usable).
  • Keep the final e for words ending in ce or ge (courage/courageous, notice/noticeable) Keep the final e when adding a suffix that begins with a consonant (use/useful, rare/rarely).
  • Change y to i when a word ends with a y preceded by a consonant (beauty/beautiful, happy/ happiness, but monkey/monkeys, chimney/chimneys). Keep the y before suffixes beginning with i (copy/copying).

i before e
This spelling rule still works. So, you’ll write believe and achieve with i before e, and receive and neighbor with e before i.

Homophones sound the same but may be spelled differently. Their is possessive of they; there introduces sentences or clauses (There is/ There are); they’re is a contraction for they are. Weather is the condition in the atmosphere; whether is a conjunction introducing choices.


The #1 trouble spot I observe in Mechanics is with the use of apostrophes. Rule recap:

  • Apostrophes for possessives. Apostrophes are used to change a noun to the possessive form. For example, the truck of the man is the man’s truck, the home of the Smiths is the Smiths’ home, and the coats of the children are the children’s coats.
  • No apostrophes for regular plurals. Unless following the normal plural rule will lead to misreading, do not use an apostrophe to form a plural. A’s (on a report card) could easily be misread as As, so an apostrophe is needed. Otherwise, avoid apostrophes to form plurals.
  • Apostrophes in contractions. The original use of an apostrophe was to indicate when letters had been left out. You will almost certainly write your composition in standard, formal English which will eliminate the use of contractions. Should you need to write speech in dialect, you can use an apostrophe.

Do you feel like it’s impossible to keep up with hyphen rules? You might read three different sources and find three different spellings. So how do you know if it’s homeschool, home-school, or home school? Hyphen rules have some degree of flexibility. Here are a few general reminders.

  • Compound adjective before a noun: the long-term prospects
  • Select prefixes: ex-President, pre-treat
  • Age as a noun or before a noun: a six-year-old student
  • Numbers 21-99: twenty-one, ninety-nine


  • Introductory elements. Following the assessment, students…
  • Nonessential elements. Commas can change the meaning of a sentence. Consider the difference between these two sentences. 1. The sixth graders, who tested late due to inclement weather, received their results in the summer. 2. The sixth graders who tested late due to inclement weather received their results in the summer.
  • Compound parts. A compound subject or verb does not require a verb. (Students loaded buses and traveled across town.) A compound sentence requires both a comma and conjunction between the compound parts. (The teachers led an assembly, and they orchestrated team activities.)


Of all aspects of the composition exercise, I would say that capitalization has the fewest distracting errors. Proofread for keyboarding errors, watch for proper adjectives (pre-Columbian discovery, Vietnamese food), and capitalize the full title of specific locations (Yellowstone National Park). Don’t be careless, but you should be okay on capitalization.

You’ve probably been studying spelling, punctuation, and capitalization rules since your early elementary days. Now, you’re taking what could be the biggest test of your life, and they’re still haunting you. I suggest you review the most troublesome rules and give yourself time to proofread on test day. Be encouraged. Mechanics is the one characteristic where every candidate can achieve perfection.