North Carolina Foundations of Reading Ultimate Guide2019-03-28T20:22:27+00:00

North Carolina Foundations of Reading

Preparing to take the North Carolina Foundations of Reading exam?


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North Carolina Foundations of Reading Overview

Quick Facts

Subarea I: Foundations of Reading Development

Subarea II: Development of Reading Comprehension

Subarea III: Reading Assessment and Instruction

Subarea IV: Integration of Knowledge and Understanding

North Carolina Foundations of Reading Quick Facts

This exam is designed to test your content knowledge in order to ensure that you are prepared to teach reading to students. The exam will test you on reading development, reading comprehension, and reading assessment and instruction. It will also determine whether you are able to integrate knowledge when working with texts.






Scores on the test take into account all subareas. This is good news for you because if you are weaker in one subarea, you can make it up by doing well in another subarea.

Exam scores range between 100 and 300. In order to pass, you’ll need to score at least a 229.

Study time:

The amount of time that you will need to study depends entirely upon your existing content knowledge and your ability to retain information. We suggest using our practice test to decide which areas you need the most help on.

Once you can identify the content that you need extra help with, focus on those areas. Also, keep in mind that it’s better to spend an hour or two studying each day than to cram for the test. By using this strategy, you are more likely to retain information.

It’s a great idea to use the practice test multiple times, as well. As you review your progress, you’ll be relieved to see that your hard work is paying off!

Remember, when it comes to studying for the Foundations of Reading exam, there’s no such thing as knowing the content too well. Since it’s better to be safe than sorry, spend plenty of time studying. Then, you’ll be ready to test like a rockstar!

What test takers wish they would’ve known:

  • It is essential to arrive on time. If you are 15 minutes or more late for your exam, you will not be admitted. Plan ahead and arrive a few minutes early.
  • Make sure to bring your government-issued ID. If you forget to bring your ID, you will be unable to take the test.
  • Be sure not to bring any prohibited materials when you go to take the test. Prohibited materials include cell phones and even scratch paper. It’s not a good experience to have your score voided over an error like that!
  • If you have difficulty with a question, flag it and move on to one that you can answer more easily. You can return to any question at any time.
  • It’s better to guess than to leave a question blank! You will not be penalized for an incorrect answer, so any guess is better than no response. Return to any difficult questions that you flagged before completing the test. Eliminate any obviously incorrect choices, and guess from the rest.
  • It’s not wise to try to save time by skimming over the instructions. If you read carefully, you’ll avoid the risk of missing important information which could impact your score.
  • During written assignments, make sure that you respond to all of the assignment and read back over what you’ve written. Many test-takers catch their own mistakes that way!
  • Relax. It is just an exam. We’re sure that we can get you to where you need to be.

Information and screenshots obtained from the National Evaluation Series website:

Subarea I: Foundations of Reading Development


Subarea I accounts for about 35% of the exam.

        This subarea has four objectives:

  • Phonological and Phonemic Awareness
  • Concepts of Print and the Alphabetic Principle
  • Phonics
  • Word Analysis


So, let’s start with Phonological and Phonemic Awareness.

Phonological and Phonemic Awareness

This section tests your ability to work with phonemes, which are the smallest unit of spoken words. In order to pass this portion of the exam, you’ll need to understand how phonemes are blended to make words, as well as how words can be segmented into individual phonemes. You will be tested on your ability to promote phonemic and phonological awareness in readers and to distinguish between different phonemes.

Let’s discuss some concepts that will more than likely appear on the test.

Phonological Awareness

Phonological awareness is the ability to recognize and work with spoken language. Keep in mind that phonological awareness refers to what students hear, not what they read. Long before children learn to read, they learn the meaning of spoken words. This auditory skill is actually the very beginning of learning to read!

There are a lot of activities that you can use to teach phonological awareness. Here are a few examples:

  • Teaching nursery rhymes
  • Reading stories with rhyming words aloud to students
  • Helping students count out the syllables in a word
  • Asking students to identify alliterative phrases
  • Asking students what new word is made when a new phoneme is put in front of an existing word

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is a sub-skill that falls under phonological awareness. Phonemic awareness refers to working specifically with phonemes. One example of promoting phonemic awareness is to provide students with a list of words and ask which word does not belong.

For example, if you ask students which word does not belong out of the words “cat,” “pen,” and “cup,” they should recognize that “pen” does not belong. Why? “Pen” does not belong, because it does not begin with the same phoneme as the other two words.

Another way to address phonemic awareness is to present students with a root, such as “-ell.” Ask students what words can be formed by adding a new sound to the beginning of the root. For example, adding the /t/ sound produces “tell.” Adding the /w/ sound produces “well.”


Phoneme blending is the skill of listening to individual sounds and putting the sounds together to make a word. Blending can be taught by asking students to sound out words as they read. For example, a beginning reader will sound out “cat” with the sounds of the letters: /k/ /a/ /t/. Readers should be encouraged to sound out letters, then put the sounds together to form and recognize a word.

Another way to teach students how to blend is to place pictures of objects in front of students. Very slowly sound out the names of the objects in the pictures (i.e. /ppppllllaaaannnntttt/). Then, ask students to guess which word you are saying. Because you will be speaking so slowly, students will have to think about the individual phonemes that make up the word.

Concepts of Print and the Alphabetic Principle

This section tests your knowledge of teaching students to read print words and to understand the relationship between print words and spoken words. In order to do well on this section of the exam, you must be able to identify ways to teach students to recognize letters and their corresponding sounds. You’ll also need to have an understanding of how readers learn to track print and which strategies help them learn this skill.

Here are some concepts that you may see on the test.

Environmental Print

So what’s environmental print and does it differ from standard print? Environmental print is the print of everyday life. It is the first type of print that students learn to “read.” This is for a couple of different reasons. For starters, children see environmental print frequently and before they begin looking at worksheets or the pages of a book. Furthermore, environmental print has a built-in “cheat sheet” of context clues.

The sign of a McDonald’s restaurant is an example of environmental print. Other logos and familiar street signs (such as a stop sign) are also examples of environmental print. The letters always appear in a familiar font, setting, and color.

How can you work with environmental print in your classroom? Here are a few example activities:

  • Create a bingo card using logos, such as the logos for Barbie and Lego, instead of using numbers. As you call out each word, students can place a marker on the corresponding logo.
  • Collect some empty cereal boxes. Ask students to read what they see – “Cheerios,” “Frosted Flakes,” etc.
  • Collect some labels from items that are made by popular brands, such as Campbell’s and Play-Doh. Ask students to sort the labels into categories.
  • Create an environmental print word wall. Ask students to bring in examples of environmental print (Starburst wrapper, Starbucks cup, etc.). Cut out the logos and place them under the corresponding letter on the word wall. Students can refer to the environmental word wall while they are reading and writing.

Alphabetic Principle

The alphabetic principle is the idea that there are reliable relationships between print letters and spoken sounds. This principle is important for emerging readers who need to be able to associate written words with spoken language. Making the connection between the letters on a page and the words that they speak allows children to read.

Single sounds/letters should be taught separately from combinations, such as /sh/ and /ch/. Beginning with single letters helps keep students from becoming confused. You should also be sure to help students differentiate between similar-sounding letters, such as “b” and “p.”

It is also best to avoid teaching students to read similar-looking letters at the same time, such as “m” and “n.” This practice will make it easier for your students to differentiate between letters.


The left-to-right and top-to-bottom arrangement of text is essential to the English language. Students should be familiar with this pattern and able to engage in directional tracking. Directional tracking is just what it sounds like – readers should be able to follow along with a text in the correct order.

You’re certainly familiar with the act of a young child using her finger to trace along the text as a story is read. This is an example of directional tracking. As readers become more proficient, they no longer need to rely on their fingers for directional tracking.

Directional tracking is an especially important concept to work on with English language learners. If students have been taught to read in another language, they may have been taught to track text differently.


This section tests your knowledge of common spelling patterns, sight words, blending sounds, and teaching students to interpret words in text form. It will also assess how well you are able to determine the literacy of individual students. During this section, you will also be asked questions about teaching fluency.

Let’s look at some concepts that are guaranteed to come up on the test.


Automaticity is the ability to recognize words immediately and without effort. Keep in mind that automaticity is not the same as fluency, a concept that we’ll take a look at soon. Fluency requires automaticity.

A reader who has achieved automaticity is able to automatically interpret a word. How do readers develop this skill? Automaticity is developed the same way that most skills are developed – practice, practice, practice! After achieving automaticity, a reader’s mind is free to think creatively about the text and to make connections and meaning.

Decoding versus Encoding

Decoding and encoding are total opposites, yet they’re just like two peas in a pod. Decoding refers to the process of reading – translating words into sounds and ideas. Encoding refers to building words with sounds.

Both skills are crucial for literacy; students who are proficient in English can both read and write. When you think of decoding, just think of breaking a code. After all, that’s what reading is – breaking the code of letters and their patterns. When you think of encoding, you know that it refers to the skill of writing.

Over time, readers will hone their skills of decoding and encoding. Repetitively reading the same text is a great way to have students sharpen their decoding skills. Directing students to write a word multiple times is a strategy to help them to build their encoding skills.


In order to be fluent in the English language, students must first develop automaticity. Only after we are about to automatically recognize words, instead of sounding them out, are we able to become fluent.

It’s important to remember that fluency is not a particular milestone. Fluency varies over time and depends upon the text. Even a proficient reader may read unfamiliar words slowly.

Once students reach fluency, they move beyond labored decoding and are able to think more deeply about the meaning of the text. It is after achieving fluency that students really begin to enjoy reading. At this point, reading is automatic and no longer a complicated chore.

There are multiple ways to boost and monitor fluency. Here are a few ideas:

  • Try “round-robin” style reading in your classroom
  • Partner students and have them listen to one another read
  • Give students periods of time in which to read silently, at their own paces
  • Ask students to record themselves while reading
  • Direct students to read the same text more than once

Common Word Patterns

Learning word patterns helps students to spell words, as well as decode unfamiliar words by sounding them out. As students begin to recognize word patterns, they begin to read more quickly and fluently. It is also easier for them to figure out the spelling and pronunciation of words based on the words that they already know.

The most basic word patterns are CV (consonant-vowel), CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant), and CVVC (consonant-vowel-vowel-consonant). Let’s take a look at some examples of each of these types of word patterns:

  1. CV: This group contains the words to, me, go, and no. This is the easiest word pattern for students to discover.
  2. CVC: This type of word pattern contains the words cat, bed, log, gas, and pig.
  3. CVVC: This particular pattern contains the words load, toad, road, heat, neat, seat, fear, near, and year.

Word Analysis

This section tests your ability to recognize prefixes and suffixes and to determine their meanings. You will also need to draw upon your knowledge of morphemes, homographs, and root words. It is also important that you are able to identify context clues so that you can direct students to infer the meanings of unfamiliar words.

Here are some specific concepts that will more than likely appear on the test.

Context Clues

All readers are unfamiliar with some words. When we read a new word, we use the words around it to determine what it means. The same idea goes for unfamiliar phrases, such as idioms, that are foreign to us.

Take a look at the following text:

“That dog is horrible! We all know what a bad dog he is.”

In this example, the synonym “bad” can help students determine the meaning of the word “horrible.” Let’s look at how different context clues can also help students to determine the meaning of the same word:

“That dog is horrible! He chews the rug, barks, and gets the house dirty.”

In this case, there is no synonym to help the reader determine the meaning of “horrible.” However, students can use the other information in the text to infer that the “horrible” dog is bad.

Beginning readers may also need to determine the meaning of entire phrases which are unfamiliar. Consider the following text:

“Henry was so tired. He couldn’t wait to hit the sack for the night. Going to bed sounded like a great idea.”

“Hit the sack” is an idiom, which obviously is not meant to be taken literally. A student who is unfamiliar with this phrase can use the clues in the text to determine that it actually means to go to bed.


Syllabication isn’t a complicated concept. It just means the process by

which words are broken into syllables. If a student can break a word into syllables, this can help her to sound the word out. Once she sounds out the word, she can recognize and interpret it.

Remember that the number of vowel sounds in a word determines the number of syllables it contains. Here are some examples:

1 Syllable, 1 Vowel Sound: “got,” “put,” and “home.” Notice that “home” has two vowels, but only one vowel sound. This distinction is important.

2 Syllables, 2 Vowel Sounds: “subject” and “relax.” These two words can be broken into two syllables – sub/ject and re/lax.

3 Syllables, 3 Vowel Sounds: “publishing” is an example of a three-syllable word which can be broken into pub/lish/ing.


Homographs are words that are spelled the same but have different meanings and may have different pronunciations. Here are a few examples:

  • Lead – to go in front of; a type of metal
  • Bow – a type of knot; to bend at the waist
  • Bat – a type of animal; an instrument used to hit a baseball
  • Wave – a gesture made with the hand; a swell of water

As students read homographs, they must rely on context clues to determine the meanings of the words. After all, homographs are spelled just alike!

So, let’s take a moment to dispel a little bit of confusion. How do homographs differ from homophones and homonyms?

Homophones are two words that are spelled differently, but sound alike. “Two” and “too” is one example of a pair of homophones. Another example is “pair” and “pear.”

Now that we’ve covered words with the same sound and the same spelling, you might be wondering what’s left for homonyms. Think of homonyms as a type of hybrid between homographs and homophones. Homonyms have the same spelling and the same pronunciation, but they differ in meaning:

  • Rose – type of flower; past tense of “rise”
  • Fluke – fins on a whale’s tale; an unusual or lucky event
  • Bark – the sound a dog makes; the outer layer of a tree trunk
  • Bear – an animal; to tolerate

And that’s some basic info about Subarea I: Foundations of Reading


Subarea II: Development of Reading Comprehension


Subarea II accounts for about 27% of the exam.

This subarea has three objectives:

  • Vocabulary
  • Comprehension and Imaginative/Literary Texts
  • Comprehension and Informational/Expository Texts


So, let’s start with Vocabulary.


This section tests your knowledge on vocabulary strategies, the oral and written comprehension of words, non-literal language, and foreign words and abbreviations commonly used in English. You should also be able to identify the difference between standard written English and commonly spoken English. You will also be tested on your ability to use grammatically correct language and to identify academic language from informal language.

Let’s discuss some concepts that will more than likely appear on the test.

Word Maps

A word map, like the one pictured below, is a visual vocabulary tool:

As students learn a new word, they can use word maps to relate the new word to terms with which they are already familiar. They can also use word maps to practice using a word in context. Word maps also allow students to prove that they have learned the new vocabulary term.

Word maps can include a variety of prompts. Here are a few examples of what might be included on a vocabulary word map:

  • Define the term in your own words.
  • Draw a picture to illustrate the word.
  • Give a synonym for the word.
  • Give an antonym for the word.
  • Use the word meaningfully in a sentence.
  • Copy the dictionary definition of the word.

Academic Vocabulary

A crucial foundational reading skill is to be able to choose words appropriately and to create and interpret both formal and informal text. Formal text in a classroom setting often includes academic vocabulary. This type of vocabulary is not commonly used in informal settings.

Academic vocabulary is usually specific to subject matter. Because academic vocabulary refers to words that are learned as students acquire new concepts, teaching academic vocabulary words is a great way to “teach across the curriculum.” The introduction of academic vocabulary words will allow students to understand concepts outside of the English language arts curriculum.

Examples of elementary-level academic vocabulary words:

  • Subtraction
  • Dissolve
  • Thermometer
  • Economy

Oral Language Development

Of course, we know that reading and writing are significant components of literacy. We need to also consider that the ability to speak and listen in order to communicate effectively are just as crucial. After all, children’s language skills don’t begin on a piece of paper! Instead, these skills initially develop via oral communication.

There are five main stages of language development:

  • Silent or Receptive

When learning a language, individuals initially listen and gradually begin to understand the meaning of words and phrases.

  • Early Production

During this stage, learners start to use new vocabulary terms in a meaningful manner while speaking.

  • Speech Emergence

At this stage, learners have a greater comprehension of words and how to orally relay meaningful phrases, sentences, and questions. They may still make errors, such as using the incorrect tense or awkwardly phrasing an idea.

  • Intermediate Fluency

Learners at this stage speak with a much broader vocabulary and are able to use appropriate grammar most of the time.

  • Advanced Fluency and Continued Development

During this stage, learners retain their fluency and recall the vocabulary terms that they acquired during the previous stages. They continue to hone their oral communication skills.

Here are some tips on how teachers can encourage oral language development

in the classroom:

  • Pose questions aloud and allow students to respond.
  • Set rules for discussions, such as asking students to wait their turn to speak instead of speaking over one another.
  • Give students positive feedback for speaking clearly and correctly.
  • Allow students to practice using different tones when speaking.
  • Ask students to incorporate new vocabulary words into conversations.
  • Remind students of the correct pronunciation of words with which they have difficulty.
  • Discuss the difference between formal and informal speech.
  • After giving oral instructions, check for understanding by asking students to paraphrase the directions.

Comprehension and Imaginative/Literary Texts

This section tests your knowledge of teaching literature to students. In order to perform well on this section, you should know how to check for reading comprehension and how to instruct students to create summaries and to use textual evidence to reach conclusions. Other topics addressed in this section include the identification of fiction genres, figurative language, and point of view.

Let’s take a look at these concepts.

Types of Comprehension

Reading comprehension is the ability to meaningfully interpret text. Readers must

be able to decode words, make connections between the text and prior knowledge, and contemplate what they read. There are three levels of reading comprehension:

  • Literal Comprehension

Literal comprehension is the ability to understand the author’s explicit meaning. Readers should be able to recognize and recall facts, to identify main ideas, to summarize a text, and to describe supporting details.

Example questions to check for literal comprehension:

  1. What is the main idea of the story?
  2. Can you summarize this story?
  3. How did this character respond to the event at the beginning of the story?
  4. What happened first in the story?
  5. Which detail from the story is the least important?
  • Inferential Comprehension

Readers must be able to think beyond what the author explicitly states.

They must be able to take what the story literally says and to draw conclusions, or inferences, from the material. Inferential comprehension also means looking for clues to determine an author’s point of view, determine the meaning of figurative language, and draw conclusions about outcomes.

Example questions to check for inferential comprehension:

  1. How would the story have ended if that character behaved differently?
  2. What value is most important to the author?
  3. What lesson does this story teach?
  4. Now that the story is over, what do you think the characters would do next?
  • Evaluative or Critical Comprehension

Readers who have achieved this level of comprehension respond emotionally and intellectually to the text. They express opinions about the text and compare what they read to their own experiences. Readers at this level are also able to show how authors use textual evidence to support ideas.

Example questions to check for evaluative/critical comprehension:

  1. Have you ever had an experience like the one in this story?
  2. Does this outcome make sense to you?
  3. Do you think the story should have ended differently?
  4. What advice would you give to the main character?
  5. Which character do you relate to the most? Why?

Story Elements

The main elements of a fiction story are the setting, characters, the problem/conflict, and the solution/resolution. Students should be able to identify each of these elements and to explain how they impact one another. In order to explore this concept a little more, we’ll explore the fairytale Little Red Riding Hood:

  • Setting:

When and where does the story occur?

In this case, the story occurs in a couple of different locations: the woods and Grandmother’s house. The “when” may vary depending on the version of the story you’re reading, but for our purposes, we’ll just say “long, long ago.”

  • Characters:

Who is in the story?

The characters in the story are Red Riding Hood, Grandmother, the Big Bad Wolf, and the Woodcutter.

  • Conflict:

What is the main problem in the story?

The Big Bad Wolf eats Grandmother.

  • Resolution:

How is the problem solved?

In modern tellings of the story, the Woodcutter usually comes and (perhaps a little ridiculously) forces the wolf to spit out Grandmother. In the classic tale, which is more gruesome, the Woodcutter cuts open the Big Bad Wolf and rescues Grandmother.

Literary Allusions

An allusion is a reference to another work or to pop culture. The other work may be another book, or it may be a poem, song, or even a movie. When an author makes an allusion, she assumes that the reader will understand the reference.

Authors use allusions for a variety of reasons. Allusions allow readers to connect with the text, and they make the text seem more vivid and realistic. An allusion can also be made to add humor or to elicit an emotional response from the reader.

Here are a couple of examples of literary allusions:

“Matt said he didn’t break the vase, but if he was Pinocchio, his nose would have grown!”

This is an allusion to The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. In this case, the writer assumes that the reader is familiar with the tale and can figure out that Matt is lying, even though this fact is not explicitly stated. The allusion makes the statement more engaging for the reader.

Let’s look at another allusion:

“Jaime dyed his hair for the costume party. Unfortunately for him, the dye wouldn’t wash out. To his dismay, he spent two weeks looking like Ronald McDonald’s long-lost brother.”

In this case, the writer makes an allusion to Ronald McDonald, a pop culture, fast food mascot. This particular allusion helps the reader visualize Jaime’s hair, and it also adds some humor to the text!

Comprehension and Informational/Expository Texts

This section tests your knowledge of informational text comprehension. As with reading literature, students should be coached to comprehend the text at all three levels: literal comprehension, inferential comprehension, and evaluative/critical comprehension. Readers proficient in this are able to differentiate fact from opinion, determine the author’s viewpoint, and interact with various textual features and structures.

Let’s discuss some concepts that may appear on the test.

Fact versus Opinion

Some of the texts you’ll encounter will be strictly factual, while others will feature opinions. An opinionated viewpoint cannot be proven true or false. When considering whether a passage is opinionated, ask yourself what reasoning and evidence a speaker uses to support ideas. Are they strictly factual, or are they biased?

Factual text:

“There are many varieties of peace lilies, a common houseplant with large green leaves. Peace lilies can grow up to three feet tall. Therefore, many people choose to keep peace lilies on their floors instead of on tabletops.”

Opinionated text:

“There are many varieties of peace lilies, a common houseplant with large green leaves. Peace lilies can grow up to three feet tall. Therefore, they are too large to really make good houseplants.”

Both texts include some factual information, but the second text uses the same evidence as the first text (plant height) to support an opinion. Although the writer of the second example backs up her point of view, she is making a judgement call. Many people would disagree with her opinion

The author of the first text, however, states only facts. How do you know? Research could be conducted to determine exactly how people use peace lilies to decorate their homes.

Text Features

Text features, such as indexes and glossaries, are used to enhance the main body of a text. You are probably familiar with more text features than you might have thought. Readers should know how to use text features to enhance their understanding of a text.

Here’s a list of a few common text features:

  • Appendix

This is a section at the end of the main text that gives additional information. An appendix can help enhance the reader’s understanding of the main text.

  • Captions

These are the words that correspond with and describe pictures and graphs. They are usually located underneath the visuals they refer to.

  • Diagram

A diagram is a visual created to show the parts of something or to explain how something works. It usually includes labels.

  • Footnote

A footnote provides information in addition to the main text. It is found at the bottom of the page and is usually numbered.

  • Glossary

A glossary is found at the back of a book. It is a list of terms and appears very similar to a dictionary.

  • Index

An index is also located at the back of the book. Indexes list important topics and tell the reader which pages to navigate to in order to learn more about each topic.

  • Table of Contents

The table of contents shows the chapters and/or other major sections of the book or document and provides page numbers. It is located before the main text.

Text Structures

The structure of a text is the pattern or order in which information is presented. For example, think about how different reading a list is from reading a narrative. It is important that students can identify textual structures because the text structure affects the way in which ideas are presented to and understood by readers.

Let’s review some common text structures:

  • Chronological

This is the type of text structure most commonly found in literature, but it appears in non-fiction materials, as well. A chronological text shows a sequence of events in the order in which they occur.

  • Compare and Contrast

A compare/contrast structured text explores the similarities and/or differences between two ideas. Students should know that comparing and contrasting are not the same. A comparison shows how two ideas are alike. Contrasting, on the other hand, shows how two ideas are different.

  • Cause and Effect

A cause is the reason that an effect occurs. It is important that a reader understands this concept because it greatly impacts her understanding of the text. For example, if an article explains how air pollution causes global warming, the reader should understand the relationship between these two ideas. If the reader thinks that the ideas are unrelated or that global warming causes air pollution, she is not interpreting the text correctly.

And that’s some basic info about Subarea II: Development of Reading Comprehension.

Subarea III: Reading Assessment and Instruction


Subarea III accounts for about 18% of the exam.

This subarea has two objectives:

  • Assessment Methods
  • Reading Instruction


So, let’s start with Assessment Methods.

Assessment Methods

This section tests your knowledge on the ability to assess students’ reading proficiency. It will include information about formal and informal assessments and text leveling. As a teacher, you will need to instruct and support both struggling and proficient readers and provide them with data-driven goals and strategies.

Here are some concepts that may appear on the test.

Norm-Referenced versus Criterion-Referenced Assessments

Norm-referenced tests are designed to compare readers to one another. Scores from norm-referenced tests are usually reported as percentiles which show an individual’s rank in comparison to the performance of previous test-takers.

Criterion-referenced tests do not compare students to one another. Instead, they take into account the number of correct answers submitted by an individual and produce a score based on that information.

Some educators advocate for norm-referenced tests because they are developed by testing professionals at the national level. Other individuals argue that norm-referenced tests promote rote learning, but not complex and creative cognitive skills.

So, which type of assessment should you choose? The “best” type of assessment should be decided upon within the context of the situation. Norm-referenced tests are not recommended to assess the learning achievement of an entire group of individuals, but only the relative performance of each student. Therefore, criterion-referenced tests are preferred over norm-referenced tests when it comes to determining the performance of an entire class.

Running Record

Running records assess a student’s reading progress through the evaluation of the individual’s oral reading and the identification of error patterns. A running record can help you track a student’s weaknesses. This type of graphic organizer can also help you to track a student’s growth over time.

Running records are a two-step process which should be completed at intervals depending upon the ability of the reader:

  • Early emergent readers (levels aa through C)–every 2 to 4 weeks
  • Emergent readers (levels D through J)–every 4 to 6 weeks
  • Early fluent readers (levels K through P)–every 6 to 8 weeks
  • Fluent readers (levels Q through Z)–every 8 to 10 weeks

Step 1:

To take a running record, you should sit beside an individual student in a quiet and relaxed area as he reads aloud from a benchmark text. During this time, pay attention to all of your student’s reading behaviors, not just what your student says. You will record the student’s behavior on his running record sheet.

Step 2:

After recording the student’s errors, you will fill out the column to the right of the notes you have taken. See the running record example below:

Student errors are recorded in the “E” column, and if students self-correct, this behavior is recorded in the “SC” column. “MSV” stands for meaning, structure, and visual cueing. You can use the two “MSV” columns to pinpoint why and how the student has made errors and self-corrections.

Reading Levels

There are three different reading levels described below. Remember that while a student may read one text at a certain level, he may read a different text at a higher or lower level.

At the independent reading level, the reader has adequate background knowledge for the topic and can interpret the text very quickly, while making few errors. This is the highest reading level. As the name implies, this is the highest level a child can read independently.

The instructional level is the highest level at which the student has adequate background knowledge, yet cannot read independently. This is the level at which you should aim to instruct your students. Most of the materials presented to students should be at this level.

The frustration level is the level at which the student does not have adequate background knowledge and/or cannot read the text at greater than 90% word accuracy. Basically, this is the level at which a material is too difficult for a student. You’ll want to avoid teaching at this level because frustrated readers become discouraged and may give up or lose interest.

Reading Instruction

This section tests your knowledge of planning, implementing, and differentiating reading instruction. You will be asked questions about reading strategies, such as grouping students. You’ll also show your knowledge of text complexity and the promotion of reading for enjoyment and learning.

Let’s discuss some concepts that may appear on the test.

Flexible Grouping

Flexible grouping refers to the practice of placing students in various types of groups in order to maximize learners’ performance and enrich their experiences. Students can be grouped and re-grouped as specific goals are developed and different activities present themselves. Flexible grouping can be used to support both struggling and proficient readers and to encourage healthy socialization skills.

Here are a few examples of forms of flexible grouping :

  • Whole-class instruction:

This arrangement is often used when new concepts are introduced. When a teacher leads the entire class, this means that students are “on the same page” in terms of expectations and that they receive the same academic guidance. The drawback to this model is that it does not allow for much differentiation.

  • Small-group instruction:

This strategy refers to grouping students into small groups based on their common needs and addressing those needs. For example, you might choose to group some very proficient readers together in order to enrich their reading experiences and to challenge them.

  • Pairing students:

Sometimes, the best instructional strategy is to match students with partners. Stronger readers can model for those in need of help. This strategy also allows students to give each other immediate feedback.

  • Collaborative groups:

Placing students into small groups encourages teamwork and peer support. As with partnering students, strong readers can help those who are struggling. Students benefit from learning new skills from one another and sharing experiences and ideas.

Text Complexity

Text complexity refers to the difficulty of a text and it is usually either measured in quantitative or qualitative terms:


Quantitative complexity refers to readability measures. Different schools often promote different systems of readability measures. These measures usually assign a number or letter to a text in order to reflect its complexity. The quantitative measure is typically measured by software systems. Quantitative measures address word frequency, text cohesion, and the length of words and sentences.


The qualitative evaluation of text refers to the meaning, structure, clarity, and language complexity of a text. Unlike quantitative complexity, this measure typically involves more human interaction. This measure permeates the surface knowledge involved in interpreting the meaning of words and sentences. Qualitative measurement involves making connections and “reading beyond” the text to analyze and compare outside ideas and experiences.

A drawback to qualitative measures of text complexity is that they are more subjective and difficult to assess. Quantitative measures of text comprehension are easy to gage with software systems, yet they do not reflect deeper interpretations of texts. You may choose to use both quantitative and qualitative measures to assess both straightforward understanding of materials, as well as the ability to draw creative conclusions and formulate new ideas.


Grouping students can be a strategy used to differentiate instruction for learners at different levels. Teachers can use the assessment measures described earlier to determine student needs before deciding upon a plan to differentiate instruction.

In order to differentiate instruction, teachers can divide students into small groups. That way, the teacher has time to work closely with students who do not understand a concept or skill. The teacher can re-teach the concept or skill and provide additional practice.

Teachers may also work with other small groups in a similar way to provide differentiation. For example, students who are not being challenged adequately in a whole-group setting would benefit from small group instruction on more advanced concepts. English language learners may benefit from working together with an ELL teacher in a small group or having an ELL teacher in the classroom as a guide during whole class instruction.

Teachers can also differentiate by appealing to different learning styles, as well as different ability and comprehension levels. Here are a few strategies to differentiate for students with varying learning styles:

  • Interview students to find out their favorite types of classroom activities
  • Use videos, infographics, and audiobooks
  • Offer different types of hands-on activities which appeal to kids who love art, technology, socializing, etc.
  • Give both spoken and written directions
  • Allow students to move in class by providing stations for rotation
  • Provide a designated quiet space
  • Allow students to create an array of products to demonstrate understanding
  • Group students who have similar learning styles

And that’s some basic info about Subarea III: Reading Assessment and Instruction.

Subarea IV: Integration of Knowledge and Understanding


Subarea IV accounts for about 20% of the exam.

This subarea of the test contains two open-response items. You will be asked to give a written response of 150–300 words for each of the two assignments. Use your time to brainstorm, write, review, and edit your essay for each of the two items.

Each of the two items will correspond to one of the other three sections of the test: Reading Development, Reading Comprehension or Reading Assessment and Instruction. For example, you may be asked to write about the relationship between vocabulary development and reading comprehension. You may also be asked to create an essay on the topic of differentiation.

Each essay will be given a score of 1 – 4, with 4 being the highest score. Your essay will be judged on the following criteria:

  • Purpose: the extent to which the response achieves the purpose of the assignment
  • Subject knowledge: appropriateness and accuracy in the application of subject knowledge
  • Support: quality and relevance of supporting evidence
  • Rationale: soundness of argument and degree of understanding of the subject area

Be sure to review each essay to ensure that you have met the criteria. Write clearly and for an audience of educators. Use correct and formal grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Make sure that you fully address the main point of the assignment and that you provide sufficient reasoning and evidence to support your ideas. Thinking back to the material which you just brushed up on while completing other sections of the test can help you to write detailed and logical essays which show your knowledge of the subject area.

Subarea I: Foundations of Reading Development Practice Questions and Answers

Question 1

An early childhood teacher would offer which scenario to assess a student’s phonological awareness understanding?   

I. “Count the Words” where a teacher says a short sentence aloud and, after repeating it a few times, the student places a number one, two, three, etc. on his/her desk depending on the number of words in the sentence   

II. “Stepping Sentences” where a teacher calls on a group of students to stand when their assigned word is called aloud

III. “Syllable Segmentation” where a teacher has a student clap on every syllable of a word that is called aloud

IV. Assigning phonetic principles and symbols to portions of words

  1. I and II
  2. I and III
  3. I, II, and III
  4. II, III, and IV

Correct answer: 3. These are activities that are good to use in assessing students’ phonological awareness abilities.

Question 2

Which of the following activities would best help a teacher assess a student’s understanding of the alphabetic principle?

  1. Have the student participate in a readers’ theater
  2. Have the student use letter tiles to create words
  3. Have the student use context clues to decode unknown vocabulary words
  4. Have the student blend the phonemes of a word

Correct answer: 2. This is the best activity to demonstrate the alphabetic principle. The alphabetic principle is the understanding that words are made up of individual letters that represent sounds. Using letter tiles to create words demonstrates students’ understanding that letters combine to form words.

Question 3

Most students in Mr. Powers’ kindergarten class can identify two or more words that rhyme. Which of the following phonemic skills is most appropriate for the teacher to address next?

  1. Pronouncing all the sounds in words that contain two or three phonemes
  2. Blending the final consonant sounds in words
  3. Naming the beginning sounds in words
  4. Blending the initial consonant sounds in words

Correct answer: 3. This is the appropriate next step in phonemic awareness.

Question 4

A first-grade teacher notices several students are having difficulty understanding and mastering phonological and phonemic awareness skills. Which of the following assignments would best provide opportunities for students to work on these skills at home?

  1. Writing the alphabet on notebook paper
  2. Playing word games and sound games with family members
  3. Pointing out vowels and consonants when reading words aloud
  4. Listening to stories on tape or at a home computer

Correct answer: 2. Word games and sound games allow students to hear individual sounds in words. This is the best answer.

Question 5

For their morning work, a fifth-grade teacher has students dissect the word “disconnected”. The students are required to break the word into a prefix, root word, and suffix. Students then hypothesize the meaning of the word. Which of the following skills will this help develop?

  1. Decoding
  2. Phonemic awareness
  3. Blending phonemes
  4. Blending onsets and rimes

Correct answer: 1. Using structural and morphemic clues to find a meaning of the word will promote students’ decoding skills.

Question 6

A teacher wants to develop reading fluency in his first-grade class. Which of the following would be the most effective activity to enhance the students’ reading fluency?

  1. Rereading stories that were used during a guided reading activity
  2. Engaging in a literacy discussion group in the library
  3. Reading a book or essay on a level above the students’ independent reading levels
  4. Creating a graphic organizer after reading a student-chosen book

Correct answer: 1. Students acquire reading fluency and comprehension from books read during guided reading lessons with the teacher. Repeated readings from familiar books improve reading fluency.

Question 7

A kindergarten teacher begins each class by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. The teacher has a poster with the words to the Pledge of Allegiance and taps each word as the class recites the Pledge. By tapping the word on the poster in correlation with reciting the word, the teacher is best demonstrating which of the following?

  1. Concept of print
  2. Decoding
  3. Phonological awareness
  4. Alphabetic principle

Correct answer: 1. The concept of print is the awareness of print in the everyday environment with an emerging understanding of how printed language works. In this example, the teacher points to the words as she says them, allowing the students to understand the correlation between the spoken and written words.

Question 8

A kindergarten teacher is creating a unit on the alphabet. She assigns each student a letter and asks them to bring an item from home that begins with the letter they are assigned. The students then recreate the alphabet using the items from the students’ homes. This activity promotes the development of alphabetic principle through:

  1. collaboration with families.
  2. students creating a Word Wall.
  3. students working in groups to cooperate in learning.
  4. anchor activities.

Correct answer: 1. The teacher is collaborating with families to promote the alphabetic principle.

Question 9

How many phonemes are in the word “thought”?

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4

Correct answer: 3. A phoneme is the smallest unit of speech that can be used to make one word different from another word. When two or more letters combine to create a sound, that sound is a single phoneme. The word “thought” has three phonemes because the word is composed of three distinct sounds: /th/-/ough/-/t/.

Question 10

Which of the following statements is best supported by research?

  1. Guessing at words is a strategy that helps students develop decoding skills
  2. Decoding skills should be taught in relation to a student’s reading ability
  3. Students must first learn decoding skills, then learn phonemic awareness skills
  4. Students should be taught how to analyze words prior to writing words

Correct answer: 1. Using structural and morphemic clues to find a meaning of the word will promote students’ decoding skills.

Subarea II: Development of Reading Comprehension Practice Questions and Answers

Question 1

A sixth-grade teacher is presenting a unit about propaganda to her students. The teacher shows various propaganda advertisements and asks the students to detect faulty reasoning among the advertisements. Which of the following levels of reading comprehension is primarily being targeted in the lesson?

  1. Literal
  2. Inferential
  3. Evaluative
  4. Appreciative

Correct answer: 3. Literal comprehension requires students to understand plot elements and details about the text. Inferential comprehension requires students to read between the lines of the text to make inferences about cause and effect, moral lessons, or themes to predict what may happen next. Appreciative comprehension requires students to develop their own opinions and feelings about a piece of text. Evaluative comprehension includes the skill of detecting faulty reasoning. Students must apply the information they receive with previous understanding, experience, and knowledge to make judgments about the text.

Question 2

Mrs. Jones is a fourth-grade reading specialist and has been asked by a number of teachers how to enhance the comprehension skills of students, especially with expository text. She explained that it can enhance students’ comprehension of this kind of text by having them focus on certain elements of expository text.

Which one of the below elements is NOT a part of expository text?

  1. Headings and subheadings
  2. Graphs, charts, and pictures
  3. Plot, setting, and characters
  4. Words in bold and/or with definitions

Correct answer: 3. These are some of the elements of narrative text.

Question 3

Which of the following best describes the primary purpose of having a student retell a story?

  1. Measuring the student’s level of comprehension
  2. Measuring the student’s vocabulary development
  3. Determining the student’s fluency rate
  4. Determining the student’s oral reading progress

Correct answer: 1. Having a student retell a story allows the teacher to assess how well the student understood the story.

Question 4

While previewing a text, a fifth-grade student identifies the words “because”, “then”, and “therefore.” Which of the following comprehension skills is the student primarily using?

  1. Determining text structures
  2. Identifying perspective and bias
  3. Identifying text features
  4. Recognizing the genre of the text

Correct answer: 1. The words “because”, “then”, and “therefore” are used to separate and transition between texts and help establish a structure to the text.

Question 5

Which of the following activities would most help Mr. Hanson’s students understand inferential comprehension?

  1. Mr. Hanson asks how the antagonist could tell other characters that the protagonist had evil intentions
  2. Mr. Hanson has various students verbally summarize the narrative based on the different characters’ perspectives supported by statements in the book
  3. Mr. Hanson asks each student to write down what they think is the main theme of the narrative
  4. Mr. Hanson has various students explain the effects of different events in the narrative

Correct answer: 4. Inferential analysis is identifying what the author means in a writing. Inferential analysis includes interpreting figurative language, drawing conclusions, predicting outcomes, and determining the mood. Determining the effects of events in a narrative is an inferential exercise.

Question 6

Mrs. Mathers is reading aloud with her class. As she reads she periodically stops and asks students questions about the text to clarify important plot developments and to explain the main ideas in the text. Which of the following is Mrs. Mathers most likely trying to accomplish?

  1. Scaffolding reading instructions with previously read texts
  2. Engaging students’ interest in reading
  3. Monitoring students’ comprehension of the text
  4. Encouraging students to imagine themselves in the story

Correct answer: 3. Mrs. Mathers’ questions are gauging the students’ comprehension of the text. Her questions directly relate to and assess how well students comprehend the concepts of the text.

Question 7

Which of the following words should a teacher use to demonstrate structural analysis for vocabulary development?

  1. Dog
  2. Maintain
  3. Unknown
  4. Develop

Correct answer: 3. Unknown is the best option for structural analysis because it contains a prefix and root word that can be deconstructed.

Question 8

For a warm-up activity each morning, a teacher will post a word in front of the class. In response to the word, the students must write a synonym and an antonym, provide a student-created definition, and use the word in a sentence. Which of the following skills is the teacher most likely trying to promote using this warm-up activity?

  1. Contextual analysis
  2. Vocabulary
  3. Decoding
  4. Phoneme breakdown

Correct answer: 2. Students must connect various words through thinking of synonyms, antonyms, and a student-created definition. This all promotes students’ vocabulary skills.

Question 9

Since very young children learn oral language through family and friends, teachers should first establish a common language among all the students. This can be achieved through:  

I. labeling items throughout the room.

II. pointing to words while reading picture books.

III. creating a Word Wall comprised of words the students supply from prior experience.

IV. prioritizing state curriculum words.

  1. I and II
  2. II and III
  3. III and IV
  4. I and IV

Correct answer: 1. I. This is one of the correct answers. It is an excellent strategy to use with students in order to help establish a common language among all students. Labeling items allows all students to refer to all items with the same language. II. This is also a correct answer. This gives all students the same context clues for language.

Question 10

Which of the following statements best reflects the relationship between oral language development and reading comprehension?

  1. Reading comprehension must be developed prior to fluency in oral language being achieved
  2. Reading comprehension is positively affected by promoting oral language
  3. Development of phonological awareness does not impact reading comprehension
  4. A large oral vocabulary has no impact on reading comprehension

Correct answer: 2. This is correct. The better individuals understand oral language skills, the better they understand reading comprehension skills.

Subarea III: Reading Assessment and Instruction Practice Questions and Answers

Question 1

Which of the following is a similarity between a norm-referenced assessment and a criterion-referenced assessment?

  1. They both formally assess a test-taker’s knowledge in a specific area
  2. They both provide assessment scores in reference to a larger demographic
  3. They provide assessment scores by percentile ranks
  4. They are graded only by judging if the student’s answer is correct or incorrect

Correct answer: 1. A criterion-referenced assessment is an assessment used to tell if a student has learned the material, but it is not necessarily designed to adjust current or future instruction. A norm-referenced assessment ranks a student’s performance with the student’s peers; norm-referenced assessments are designed to rank students based on test performance. Both assessments will assess a student’s knowledge in a specific area, but the purpose of the exams are very different.

Question 2

Which of the following is the best definition of qualitative evaluation of text complexity?

  1. Qualitative evaluation analyzes the level of meaning, structure, language conventionality, clarity, and knowledge demands of a text
  2. Qualitative evaluation analyzes the readability measures and other scores of text complexity
  3. Qualitative evaluation analyzes the reader variables, such as motivation, knowledge, and experience of a reader
  4. Qualitative evaluation should not be used in analyzing text complexity

Correct answer: 1. Text complexity is simply how challenging text material is for the students at their specific grade level. Determining text complexity is important in proper assessment of students because the level will help the teacher understand how best to interpret students’ assessment scores. Qualitative evaluation of text complexity measures the qualitative dimensions of a text, such as the level of meaning, structure, language conventionality, and knowledge demands. Qualitative evaluation of text complexity seeks to understand how difficult a text is for the reader.

Question 3

Which of the following is the best way to assess the fluency skills and reading levels of sixth-grade students?

  1. Having students read aloud to determine how fast they can read a text
  2. Having students read silently and write down unfamiliar words
  3. Having students read aloud for one minute and counting the number of words read correctly
  4. Having students read silently and answer questions that follow the reading

Correct answer: 3. The students must read aloud for a teacher to assess their reading fluency. How fast the students read does not, by itself, determine the students’ fluency and reading levels. The teacher needs to identify the number of words read correctly while the students read aloud, not silently.

Question 4

A first-grade teacher reads a story aloud while the students echo the words the teacher has read. Which of the following approaches to reading instruction is the teacher using?

  1. Readers’ workshop
  2. Shared reading
  3. Round-robin
  4. Guided reading

Correct answer: 2. Shared reading is an activity where students participate in the reading of the text while being guided or supported by the teacher. This question is a great example of a shared reading activity.

Question 5

Mr. Harper wants to assess his students’ reading fluency by listening to each student orally read a section from a selected text. Which of the following would NOT be a good indicator for Mr. Harper to use in assessing the students’ reading fluency?

  1. How clear students are able to pronounce words
  2. Consistency of the students’ reading rate
  3. Students’ accuracy of word identification
  4. The variation in students’ reading intonation

Correct answer: 1. This is the least appropriate assessment indicator because how clearly students can pronounce words can depend on a variety of factors that are not related to reading fluency.

Question 6

A third-grade teacher assigns students into groups of three and instructs them to read a literary excerpt with each member of the group taking turns to read different parts of the section. As the students read to each other, the teacher walks around the room and stops by each group to ask questions to the students. Which type of assessment is the teacher using?

  1. Diagnostic
  2. Informal
  3. Formal
  4. Standardized

Correct answer: 2. Informal assessments are not data driven, but rather content and performance driven. The results from the tests do not have statistical significance to justify conclusions from them.

Question 7

Mrs. Taff, an upper elementary reading specialist, wants to promote instructional reading strategies with general classroom teachers. Therefore, Mrs. Taff begins several weeks of after school in-service by teaching the staff how to guide their students in what to do before, during, and after reading.

The next step that Mrs. Taff teaches is what should be done by the students during the time they are reading. One of the most important steps is to:

  1. visualize what the text is about and then begin to form questions.
  2. ask a partner or someone in a small group how to pronounce unknown words.
  3. have the teacher hold a book discussion about what is being read.
  4. build their schema about the topic with the aid of the teacher.

Correct answer: 1. Visualization enables students to be more likely to understand the text. Also, if a student can form intelligent questions about the text, it shows their basic understanding of what they have read.

Question 8

Which of the following would be most important in classroom assessment?

  1. Every stage of higher level thinking on each assessment
  2. Personal reflective journals
  3. Formative and summative
  4. Personal opinion

Correct answer: 3. Every stage of higher level thinking on each assessment is incorrect. The kinds of questions on the test depend on what is being tested. Personal opinion is incorrect. Even though teachers use their education and expertise along with their opinion in developing assessments, it is important to use a variety of types of questions based on the obvious strengths and needs of the students. Journals can sometimes be used for informal assessment purposes. However, if a journal is called a personal one, that is what it should be so students don’t have to worry about everything they write in them.

Question 9

Having students orally read a book while keeping track of how many words they cannot pronounce is an effective way to assess which of the following?

  1. Formative assessment
  2. Criterion-referenced state test
  3. Independent reading level
  4. Summative assessment

Correct answer: 3. This is the correct answer. Students in grades 1-6 should have difficulty with no more than 1 word out of every 20 words. Older students can assess their own independent reading level.

Question 10

During a decoding exercise of rhyming words, a first-grade teacher noticed Billy could not decode new words when particular suffixes were added to the word. Billy would benefit most from which of the following instruction?

  1. Isolating the initial sounds of the words
  2. Increasing understanding of vowel digraphs
  3. Sounding out the words
  4. Counting the syllables in the words

Correct answer: 3. Sounding out the word, otherwise known as blending phonemes, will help Billy sound out the root word and then identify the suffix. This will help Billy separate the root word and the suffix to help Billy decode the word.

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