MCAS Resources

IMPORTANT UPDATE: 2019-20

In the spring of 2019, the MCAS changed its format pretty significantly, moving to a computer-based model rather than the paper-and-pencil exam that it has been since its inception. Since this new test is only one year old, we are still learning about what to expect on the new MCAS.

In the spring of 2018, Mr. Lally’s sophomores took a sample version of the new exam and provided us with some valuable feedback on what looked different, what was easier, and what was more challenging. There are some sample questions that you can examine on THIS website. Also, the 2019 ELA exam can be found on THIS page – please note, some of the reading passages cannot be published online, so some of this webpage will only serve as an indication of what the new exam will look like, and will not provide the opportunity to practice the exam.

Since we are not yet entirely sure what aspects of the test will remain, and what will change, we will leave our research from the older MCAS exams on this page, as they will likely still be of some value. We will remove those elements if and when it becomes clear that they no longer apply. Also added to the top of our page is a summary of the students’ feedback about the exam – special thanks to the students who responded to our survey to provide this valuable feedback.

KEY CHANGES TO THE MCAS EXAM – BEGINNING in 2019

* Test will be entirely computer-based. Students receive scrap paper, but they do not have to turn in any bubble sheet answers like in previous years
* The types of writing that students will be expected to produce will become more varied, including creative writing responses, personal responses, or persuasive essays.
* In some of the questions responding to the reading passages, students will receive a follow-up question asking them to show how the text supports their answer.
* The ELA Grade 10 test will change as follows:

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THERE IS NO LONGER ANY LONG COMPOSITION ESSAY

THE TEST IS STILL UNTIMED – You can take as much time as you need

THE ESSAYS HAVE A 5000-CHARACTER MAXIMUM . – That is roughly equivalent to two hand-written pages. Our recommendation, of course, is to get as close to that maximum as you can on every essay. Student feedback from 2019 told us that 5000 characters felt really short to a lot of students.

ANY STUDENT IS, OR EVER HAS BEEN AN ELL STUDENT IS ALLOWED TO USE A WORD-TO-WORD DICTIONARY ON THE EXAM

STUDENT FEEDBACK FROM PILOT TEST

Helpful facets of the Online Version (most common responses, in order)
* The reading passage and the questions were side by side, which made it easier to navigate from the passage to the question at hand
* Typing the essay was faster/easier than handwriting it (plus, no writing fatigue)
* The online version had a helpful highlighting feature that you could use on the text
* You can “Bookmark” questions that you don’t answer, and the test will remind you to complete any unfinished bookmarked questions – so no more accidentally leaving questions unanswered

Unhelpful facets
* You are unable to cut and paste text from the reading passage into your written response
* Scrolling through the reading passage is awkward/clunky
* Staring at a screen for hours is taxing
* The highlighting feature is clunky (students were split on how good the highlighting feature was…)
* There is no spellcheck during the essay
* You cannot mark up the exam (e.g. crossing off wrong answers, marginal notes, annotations)
* Students were asked to wear headphones throughout the exam, but the pilot test never once required the headphones

New types of questions previously impossible on the paper-and-pencil exam
* Dragging & Dropping quotes from different stories (sorting quotes into categories)
* Highlighting quotes
* Underlining within a sentence as a part of a response
* Filling in a chart

New types of questions that felt unfamiliar
* Comparing 2 or 3 different texts in one response (this type of question was common)
* Writing a letter to a specific audience
* Writing a narrative from a character’s perspective

FOR HELP ON WRITING A NARRATIVE, CLICK HERE

Sample MCAS ELA Question (new format)

Click HERE for the .pdf

Click HERE for sample responses to the creative writing prompt

Literary Terms that have appeared on the MCAS since 2006
Irony / Ironic (This shows up pretty commonly)
Metaphor
Theme
Hyperbole
Conflict
Synonym
Myth
Imagery
Mood
Folktale
Stanza
Symbolism / Symbolize (you can expect a question about symbolism most years)
Satire
Figurative Language
Point of View
Contrast
Tone (Beyond this particular wording, the tests almost always ask about the “main attitude” or the “overall feel” of a passage – these questions commonly require you to consider the tone)
Ellipsis
Stanza
Personification
Line Break (in poetry – i.e. what does the line break suggest?)
Sonnet

TEST HINT: Many MCAS questions simply rely on deciphering context, but some, like the tone question, or the poetry line break analysis, require you to interpret something deeper. For questions like these, it’s usually a good idea to guess the answer BEFORE looking at the choices, because some of the wrong answers will be ones that you might be able to make a (faulty) case for. But if you have a pretty decent guess, only one of the four answers will be a close match to it.

TEST HINT – TWO-PART QUESTIONS: A lot of students are initially thrown by the two-part questions, where the second part follows up on the first part. The bad news is that you are unable to get the second part correct if you get the first part wrong. But there is good news! You can use the second set of answers as a hint to help you get BOTH parts right. Think of it this way – the test is asking you to get a PAIR of answers right, so if a question in part A has no corresponding support in part B, then you can throw out the first answer, no matter how appealing it is. Similarly, if you are completely thrown by a question, you can still look into the answers for pairings, to help you eliminate wrong choices. Here is one example:

Question A: Which of these is a food?
(A) Strawberry
(B) Sock
(C) Banana
(D) Sand

Wait… this question has two right answers! That’s impossible! Thanks, MCAS. You’re the worst. BUT WAIT!! Check out the next question…

Question B: Based on your answer to question A, what color do you most associate with that food?
(A) Blue
(B) Black
(C) Red
(D) Orange

OK, look at how much you can trim down the answer sets… first, there is nothing blue or orange in Question A – those answers cannot be correct, even if you weren’t sure if socks and sand could be considered food.  Furthermore, if you can eliminate “socks” and “sand” as possible foods, then try to pair both remaining answers from Question A up with the answer set for question B. The only PAIRING that works is STRAWBERRY with RED. 

And another sample…

Question A: [imagine that this question is completely confusing, and you don’t really understand what is being asked…]

(A) Deception
(B) Panic
(C) Confidence
(D) Annoyance

Question B: Based on your answer to question A, which quote best supports that idea?

(A) “My love is like a red, red rose” (line 18)
(B) “And could not hope for help. And no help came.” (line 25)
(C) “I wake to sleep and take my waking slow” (line 3)
(D) “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” (line 40)

At this point, I’m stuck without any possible answer to part A, but I can look for logical pairings to trim down the pack. This strategy will NOT magically provide the answer, but it will help you make a better guess. If I am not trying to force a connection too hard, I notice in the pairs above that answers B and B in the two parts work pretty well together, as do answers C and D. There isn’t as strong of a pairing for A (Deception) and C (Confidence), so without understanding the question at all, and a question with 16 different possible answer pairings at that, I’ve now given myself a 50/50 chance of getting it right. 

New MCAS Writing Rubric

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