Preparing to take the Basic Skills Assessments

Preparing to take the Basic Skills Assessments

Preparation is a key component to successfully passing the PAPA and Praxis Core modules. It is important to spend quality time on their respective websites looking at the objectives that may be included on each exam and how the exams are structured.  The website offers practice exams, which should only be used after thorough study of the test objectives and question types. The main value of the practice exam is to provide you with a version of the test to sample and get a feel for the time it may take to complete.  DO not waste time memorizing answers to the practice exams, for none of those test items will be on the actual test.

The reading passages on the PAPA test appear to be longer than those on the Praxis Core. If longer passages slow you down, choose the Praxis Core.  Even more importantly, make time to study the Subareas for Reading on-line, and make sure you are comfortable with each term and skill they list, even when it involves college level text.  For example, in PAPA Reading Subarea 003, can you evaluate an author’s objectivity versus subjectivity1?  This is one area that often isn’t familiar to students due to its light coverage in high school.  Or, as another example, in Praxis Core Reading’s listing of Topics Covered, do you know how to assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text (Item II. C.)?   It’s easy to copy and paste parts of these subarea statements in an Internet search for tutorial videos. 

For math, review all of the formulas on the math formula sheet provided by the testing website.  Remember every math problem can be solved two ways.  You can either use the problem, create your answer, and check your answer against the multiple choices provided.  Or, you can go directly to the answers provided, solve the answers by solving for X, and look to see which one gives you the question.  Here’s the catch: the test makers provide answer items that will be found if you miscalculate or leave out one important step.  The best way to avoid choosing such answers is a thorough knowledge of the process or competency being tested. Again, it is critical that you examine the free Study Companion or Study Guide.  Many students are telling us that the Praxis Core items are straightforward compared to the PAPA.

For the writing exam, you will be tested on knowledge about writing, as well as construction of a sample writing to a prompt.  The test requires both.  It is important to know what the test items might contain, so study the free Study Guide or Study Companion. Give special attention to the types of questions. The Praxis Core uses a few different types of questions, some which allow more than one correct answer.

When it is time to write your response to the prompt, it is important to keep your writing very straightforward. You are less likely to become distracted if you use the basic 5 paragraph structure:

  • introduction of your position on a topic and your three supporting ideas,
  • 3 paragraphs with each paragraph devoted to one of the supporting ideas,
  • final paragraph to sum up what your three supporting ideas just explained and a recap of your topic.

This standard essay structure allows you to focus on your sentence formation, spelling, and grammar.

What if I don't pass the first time?

If you do not pass the Basic Skills Assessments the first time, evaluate what didn't work for you.  Were you prepared to take the test?  Were you tired or hungry during the test and felt distracted?  Did you worry about the timer and lose focus on the test itself?  Did you feel like you didn't know some of the material that was being asked?  Did you feel angry that you had to complete this test?
For additional PAPA test preparation assistance, the PAPA website has an information page for PAPA reference materials.  At the bottom of the page, Pearson offers a one month on-line for fee service for PAPA practice tests that includes diagnostics for practice test errors.

You may consider checking out a company who worked with the designers of the PAPA. The website is and costs $22.50 per module for 6 months of access to each subject prep area, including a diagnostic test, explanations, and practice problems.  The modules that align to the PAPA are Essential Academic Skills (EAS), Subtests I, II, and III ONLY. 

Likewise, Praxis offers a fee-based service to assist test-takers. If you decide to look into this service, make sure you select products that begin with the words “Core Academic Skills for Educators”, followed by the subject, e.g., Mathematics.

For students who are seeking more practice just taking the tests, there is a company called Exam Edge that produces practice tests for many different products. Their goal is "practice makes perfect."  They provide full length timed tests for students to take, then give immediate feedback on what was missed, and more importantly, why it was missed and what the correct answer should contain. The site for reading is They have a live chat available to answer any questions. They also have for tests in math.

If you have access to the campus Learning Center, live tutors are happy to schedule times to work with you and help you discover which skills practice you might need.

From time to time, the Teacher Education faculty and Mr. Michael Cote offer a Test Prep Seminar, specifically targeting the Basic Skills Math test. Watch for signs or notices for such events.

Call, email, or visit Mr. Joel Geary, Certification Officer, for information about test waivers if you can’t afford a re-test.

Where can I take the Basic Skills Assessment?

All tests must be taken at a secure testing center, which has specially designed testing areas that meet state-of-the-art testing security procedures. One of these centers is located in the northern part of Harrisburg, about 12 miles from campus. Another center is at HACC, about 14 miles from campus, and another is on the campus of Millersville University, about 30 miles from campus.  Many other centers are available near your hometown, even if you live in another state. The nearest locations and available dates are available online when you register for a test.  Please be advised to schedule only one or two tests per day to prevent a frustrating experience.  You have the greatest chance to succeed when you begin with fresh energy and don’t have to sit too long.