NBCT: Component 1: The three hour test

Stock Photo: Not from the testing center. 
In the summer of 2016 I began the process of National Board Certification. I stumbled upon a program from our county office that supports teachers through the process over two years. I just finished Component 1 and 2. For more on Component 2 see my previous post.

While Component 2 is a year long process of collecting student work and writing about it, Component 1 is a test I took last weekend. This test counts for 40% of my overall NBCT score, and that's more than any other component. Of course it is a three hour test, and yes, every time I say that I hear the theme song to Gilligan's Island in my head.

So just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful test...

Actually, I can't tell you anything about the test. I agreed to a confidentiality statement when I sat down to take it. I can tell you about my experience, and how I prepared, and what the day was like.

The testing center is a 20 minute drive from my house. I left early, got there in plenty of time and spent a few minutes in the parking lot breathing deeply. The parking lot itself was mostly empty on a Saturday morning and I double checked my confirmation email to be sure I didn't have the date wrong. Then I strolled over to the building and pulled on the door handle. It was locked. Flashback to every nightmare you've ever had about being late for a test and not being able to get into the building. I experienced a moment of overwhelming dread. Was I in the right place? Was there another entrance?

Then I tried the other door, the one right next to the locked one. It swung open and my panic subsided. I found the stairs, found the suite I needed, and entered to find the most cheerful and helpful staff I have ever experienced in a place like that. The woman who checked me in was smiling, joking, kind, and supportive. Though this is a high security operation where they take your picture, check your id, scan your palm, and have you turn out your pockets, the folks on the staff were all really calm and practical about it. Most importantly, there were lockers. There are lots of lists of what you can't bring into the testing room, but no where did it actually say that there would be a locker for my belongings.

There is another layer of security to enter the testing room, another palm scan, another id check, but the room itself is really quiet. Lots of people were taking computerized tests. I got the last seat in the room. (I had an appointment, so I would have been displeased if they had bumped me.) My seat was comfortable and adjustable. The monitor was a good height and the print was large enough to read easily.

First the computer took me through the test tutorial. That was supposed to take 10-15 minutes, but I had already done the same tutorial on my computer at home, so I went faster. (You can download it from the NBCT testing site.)

The YA ELA test is in two parts. The first part is multiple choice. I had 75 minutes for that and I believe there were 45 questions. I found I had plenty of time for this part of the test and finished a bit early.  Most of the questions just seemed like common sense to me. Sometimes the answer choices were long and I had to read them carefully, but they were similar to the practice questions in the directions for Component 1. Definitely read the directions for Component 1. There is a ten minute break after this part of the test.

The second part is (as the directions state) three 30 minute application questions where I had to read something and then respond in writing. I needed every second of those 30 minutes every time. Again the question types are similar to what you will find on the practice prompts in the Component 1 directions. I recommend writing in response to those practice prompts. Time yourself when you do it. This part of the test was much more intense for me. I was reading carefully and trying to write quickly. I tried to save myself a few minutes to proofread. Catching a bad typo in the last 19 seconds of a prompt is nerve wracking.

Other than carefully reading through the directions for Component 1, I didn't do any special studying for this test. Maybe I should have, but it also didn't feel like the kind of thing you can study for. I was able to answer the practical prompts because I have a lot of experience teaching reading and writing to students in grades 7-9. I think that experience working directly with students was better preparation than any book or study guide could be. But if you want some PD book suggestions that might help you in the classroom and perhaps on the test, I would take a look at the work of Kylene Beers and Nancie Atwell.

I hope this first hand account of my test day experience is helpful to you. I'll update this post in November when I get my scores.

I also wrote about my experience working on Component 2.