All third through eighth grade students in New York City have to take annual math and English Language Arts (ELA) exams in order to fulfill New York State’s test requirements. This rule applies to students in public, private, independent, and charter schools, as well as students who are homeschooled. For some students, these exams are also the first step toward applying for a selective middle school, while other students just need to do well in order to achieve a good grade in that year's math and ELA classes. Sometimes these tests can be confusing, especially because strong scores can be required by middle schools or junior high schools during the admissions process.
Parents may wonder:
• What are the math and ELA exams? • What does the math exam cover? • What does the ELA exam cover? • How are the exams scored? • Why is it important for students to perform well? • How can students prepare for the exams? This article was written to answer these questions and provide some helpful information on the math and ELA exams for New York City students.
NYC ELA and Math Exams | What Are The Math and ELA Exams?
The third through eighth grade math and ELA exams are required for students in New York State, and now that New York has started implementing the Common Core standards, these exams test the appropriate Common Core learning objectives for each grade. The exams take place in the spring of each year over the course of several consecutive days, which is good for students because it splits up the work and lets them concentrate on smaller parts of the exams at once. In grades three and four, students usually work on the tests for around fifty minutes a day over three days. In the upper grades, students spend closer to an hour or more on the exams each day for three days. These exams usually include multiple-choice and written responses, but the questions are divided so that one day is mainly multiple choice, one day has multiple choice and written responses, and the third day is either more multiple choice or a combination of the two question types.
To learn more about the exams, check out the Engage New York and NY Board of Education websites for general information and FAQs. Test guides for each grade can also be found on the Engage NYC website.
NYC ELA and Math Exams | What Does the Math Exam Cover?
Each grade has slightly different math requirements for students, and these learning goals increase in difficulty as students reach higher grades. The exams for each grade have somewhere from 45-70 questions, and each exam is split up over three days. The major learning standards for the math exams are below.
In third grade, the standards focus on developing multiplication and division skills with two and three digit numbers, working with fractions, and understanding basic geometry. Analyzing shapes such as squares and rectangles is a crucial skill for students to learn, as well as knowing how to measure these shapes. The test includes primarily multiple-choice questions and a handful of written response questions.
The fourth grade math exam builds on all of the learning standards from third grade. Instead of just applying multiplication and division principles to two- and low three-digit numbers, students should be able to apply the concepts to larger numbers, including division problems with remainders. In fourth grade students enhance their understanding of fractions by learning that different fractions can be equal (like 1/2 and 2/4, for example), and they practice multiplying fractions by other numbers.The geometry ideas from third grade now extend to problems including symmetry, so students need to understand the properties of two-dimensional shapes. There are still many multiple-choice questions on these exams, but there are a larger number of written response questions.
The fifth grade exam adds an extra level of complexity by requiring students to apply multiplication and division concept to fractions, particularly fractions with unlike denominators. Geometry now extends to three dimensions, which adds volume calculations to the list of necessary skills. At this point students will start doing real-world problems with geometric principles. The number and type of questions is unchanged from fourth grade.
Sixth grade brings with it a conceptual leap, because students begin to use variables in mathematical equations. While building on all the previous mathematical principles, students also learn how to write equations for specific situations and relationships, and they start solving these equations. Increased emphasis on analyzing numbers and data becoming important, because these principles build the foundation for middle and high school math. There are more multiple-choice and written questions on the exam.
Seventh grade involves learning more about ratios and proportions, which students apply by understanding the slopes of lines. They are expected to work with fractions and decimals easily, as well as apply multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction to any of these forms of numbers. The basic algebra principles from sixth grade are more fleshed out, and new ways of analyzing geometric shapes develop. The number of questions remains the same as sixth grade.
The last required exam is in eighth grade, because students past this point generally have to take the Regents Exams instead during their high school careers. By eighth grade, students are expected to understand equations of lines and to solve equations with one or two variables. Even more crucially, students must understand how to form equations for different types of word problems and know when one type of formula might apply, or when it might be better to use a different approach. Geometric concepts like rotating shapes, reflecting lines, and dilating figures will also be important, as well as understanding how shapes can be broken down into squares, rectangles, and triangles. The test has the same number of questions as seventh grade.
NYC ELA and Math Exams | What Does the ELA Exam Cover?
The components of the ELA exams are a little more tricky to list, because the Common Core standards break up the skills into different groups. The Common Core standards push students to be prepared for high school and college, which means showing proficiency in reading, writing, language, and speaking and listening.
These skills all have different goals. The reading skill requires students to read many challenging texts of different formats and topics, which helps students build a knowledge base in different fields and prepare for further education. The writing requirement expects students to use writing to convey their opinions and demonstrate understanding of a topic. Language refers to learning standard English grammar, appropriate vocabulary, and understanding how words fit together and create meaning. Speaking and listening, the last set of skills, expects students to be able to share ideas with a partner, in front of the class and in small groups. This skill set also expects students to make comparisons, analyze ideas, and respond to each other. Just like the math exams, these tests are taken over three days and usually consist of anywhere from 50-70 questions.
None of the exams explicitly test students on the speaking and listening skills, because it is expected that students will develop these skills during their classes in school. This means that all questions on the exams will fall into the reading, writing, and language skill sets.
The third and fourth grade ELA exams introduce students to analyzing texts and drawing conclusions about those tests. Both exams consist of passages of up to 500 words with corresponding multiple-choice and short answer questions. These passages can come from editorials or reviews, narratives, textbooks, or descriptions of products—nearly any grade-appropriate work is fair game.
The fifth grade exams include short- and extended-response questions in addition to multiple choice questions, and the passages can reach up to 800 words. The short-response questions are targeted on testing reading skills, while the longer responses require students to analyze a passage or compare two passages.
ELA exams in sixth grade have an increased number of short-response questions, and the passages students can expect to see reach 850 words. Emphasis on close reading and conveying opinions about texts are important during this year, because a larger portion of the test requires students to write out their ideas instead of selecting answer choices.
The seventh grade exams have similar question format, but the tests actually have shorter passages than the sixth grade tests. However, these passages are also tougher to read, so students should expect to spend as much time or even more time trying to unpack the information so they can properly analyze the passages.
Eighth grade exams include slightly longer passages and the same type of question format, and at this point students should be able to demonstrate that they are ready to write and analyze texts at a high school level. This means clearly communicating ideas and opinions about what they read, providing evidence to support these claims, and drawing conclusions about the texts.
NYC ELA and Math Exams | How Are The Exams Scored?
Each exam is scored on a four-point scale, ranging from Level 1 to Level 4. These levels reflect the student's preparedness in the given material, and both Level 3 and Level 4 represent passing grades. Level 1 means that the student's exam showed very little proficiency in that grade's learning standards, while Level 2 represents limited proficiency. Students who achieve a Level 3 are proficient in that grade's standards, and Level 4 students excel at their grade's learning standards.
NYC ELA and Math Exams | Why Are They Important?
There are many reasons why students should want to do well on their annual exams. Most importantly, students will not be able to move up to the next grade unless they pass their exams at the end of the year, although some schools will allow students to attend summer school sessions and demonstrate their improvement at the end of the summer.
Children in lower grades will need to show strong test scores if they want to apply to a selective middle school. Other students in grades six through eight will want to have high scores in order to apply for junior high schools and possibly sit for the Hunter test, which only allows students who score in the 90th percentile in the exams to attempt the entrance exam. Since many selective schools, such Hunter, the Anderson School, NEST+M, and the Salk School will only consider students who score at least a Level Three, careful preparation can be necessary for students who want to be accepted at these top schools.
NYC ELA and Math Exams | How Can Students Prepare for these Exams?
Students should cover all the necessary coursework for their exams in school, because the exams test mastery of the required Common Core standards for that grade level. However, teachers may not have time to thoroughly review important concepts, so students who find sample exam questions to be difficult might want to do some extra practice outside of school. Additionally, students who are in key grades for applying to selective schools—4th and 5th graders who want to attend a middle/junior high school and 6th graders who want to transfer into a selective junior high school or sit for the Hunter test—may want to put in more studying time.
There are many old exams available online through the NY Board of Education, although the new exams, which have been tweaked to reflect New York's implementation of the Common Core exams, cover the material in a slightly different way. Each student's first priority should be to achieve a Level Three on all sections of the exams, because a Level Three is the lowest passing grade for demonstrating proficiency in their grade's learning standards. Once students reach this goal, they can continue studying to boost their scores to a Level Four if time allows.
Some students who want extra prep time might want to consider a few tutoring sessions so they're ready to do their best on test day, or perhaps there are a few concepts they're struggling with and want to improve with expert help. The Common Core standards were designed to build on each other from year to year, which means that if a student falls behind in one grade, he or she might have to play catch-up when it's time to take the math and ELA exams.
Should You Hire a Private Tutor to Help Your Child Prep for the Exams?
Standardised tests are high-stakes in NYC, and you probably have questions about how to best help your child prepare for the ELA and math exams. You may have asked yourself whether your child would benefit from a private test prep tutor. Origins Tutoring, a NYC test prep and tutoring company specializing in customized, one-to-one test prep tutoring, can help address these concerns, and guide and support your family through the sometimes stressful test preparation process. Our approach is simple: each student will receive the undivided attention and the expertise of a dedicated, experienced tutor who places a premium on delivering the highest quality test preparation tutoring in the most effective and time-efficient manner possible.
If you think we could help your child achieve his or her personal best on the ELA and math exams, please call 917.287.7927for a complimentary consultation now.