MCAS Resources

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. This test is now fairly standard, but it’s worth a reminder of what to expect.

A digital version of the 2019 ELA exam can be found on THIS page – if you wish to practice the online version, you will need the one reading passage which is not included on this site, which can be found HERE.
Another digital test is located HERE – Click on “Grade 10 Practice Test” and select “Computer Based Practice Test”

* Test is 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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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.


STUDENT FEEDBACK FROM PILOT TEST (special thanks to Mr. Lally’s 2017-18 students)

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

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


Sample MCAS ELA Question (new format – creative response)

Click HERE for a sample question that asks students to examine a painting and write a creative response. Sample answers are included as well. 

* While the rules for powerful writing are roughly the same here as they are in an analytical essay, one key difference is that you are allowed, encouraged even, to use first-person pronouns. Don’t overdo it, but it’s acceptable.
* Pay attention to the writing prompt – it might tell you exactly who your audience is, and you will want to adjust your response accordingly. If the prompt asks you to write a letter to a U.S. Senator asking for a change, that will sound different than a prompt that asks you to give a speech in from of an auditorium full of excited students.
* Your job is to persuade the reader to your side of the argument. Use a variety of persuasive techniques: Logos (fact-driven), Pathos (emotion-driven) and Ethos (expert source). You do not need to handle these one at a time – in fact, moving among these three techniques can give your argument momentum.
* If you have a good grasp of Logos/Ethos/Pathos, it is often a good idea to go light on the pathos – it can feel artificial or easy to disagree with. It is, however, often powerful to either begin or end with pathos.
* Argument essays will be a response to articles that you read. If you know the prompt ahead of time (like our first TEST HINT below suggests), you can compile your best factual support as you go through the article the first time.

Literary/Grammar Terms that have appeared on the MCAS since 2006
Irony / Ironic (This shows up pretty commonly)
Symbolism / Symbolize (you can expect a question about symbolism most years)
Figurative Language
Point of View
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)
Line Break (in poetry – i.e. what does the line break suggest?)

TEST HINT: PREPARE YOUR READING FOCUS IN ADVANCE: A good amount of MCAS questions ask you to focus on a specific paragraph or line of a passage, or perhaps to compare two specific aspects of two different passages. If only you knew this before you started reading. WELL, YOU CAN! A great test strategy is to scan through and read the questions before you read the first line of the first passage. As you go, take notes on one of your scrap papers to tell you which parts of each passage you will need to respond to. Our suggestion: The first thing you’ll see on the test is a reading passage. Write the title on the top of your scrap page. When you click ahead to the next part, you’ll either start getting questions about that passage, or you will get a second reading passage. If it’s a reading passage, write the title on the same line of your page, like you are starting a second column. Then, once you do get to the questions, make CLEAR notes about what the test will ask you. If Question one asks about the main purpose of paragraph 6 of The Glass Castle, I’d add the note “Purpose of Paragraph 6” under where I wrote “The Glass Castle.” If there’s something that asks you about two or more prompts, write that note in a circle in BOTH columns. Proceed through the entire reading section, INCLUDING ANY WRITING PROMPTS CONNECTED TO THAT PASSAGE and then backtrack to the first page and begin reading, but with a plan.

TEST HINT: TEXT INTERPRETATION QUESTIONS: 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 from part 1 and D from part 2. There isn’t as strong of a pairing for A (Deception) and D (Annoyance) in the second half of the question, 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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