How to pass the Virginia Communication and Literacy Writing Assessment (VCLA)

Learning Strategies / Testing

How to pass the Virginia Communication and Literacy Writing Assessment (VCLA)

The Virginia Communication and Literacy Writing Assessment

The VCLA was adopted by the Virginia Board of Education in 2010 as a test for those seeking to enter a Virginia teacher preparation program.  The exam consists of two parts, a reading and a writing subtest.  The subtests are scored separately, and both parts must be passed. 

The subtests are scored on a scale of 100-300, and 235 is the passing score.  However, it is possible to pass the VCLA with a scaled score on one of the subtests with a score of less than a 235 provided that the total score on both the reading and writing is 470 or higher.  So failing one section is ok if you score high enough on the other section to compensate.  If the total sum of the scores on both subtests is at least 470, you pass both. 

Generally speaking, there are two halves of the writing subtest, each worth 50% of the total score.  The first part consists of three different sections which focus on grammar, usage, and the mechanics of writing.  There are 40 or so multiple-choice questions and three short-answer questions.  The second half of the exam consists of a summary (worth 20% of the total score) and an essay (30%). 

The Grammar Sections

The multiple-choice questions come in two different forms.  The Grammar and Usage questions (usually 35) consist of short passages followed by several questions based on grammar, usage, punctuation, spelling, capitalization, and paragraph development and organization.  The Mechanics questions (usually 6) focus on mechanics, in particular—spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.

The Grammar and Usage Multiple-Choice questions look like this:

1The years between 1820 and 1860 were a stage of our national development that might most fittingly be called “Middle American,” because at this time the young nation had gained its feet and was striding forward with conscious vigor and confidence. 2The population, increasing rapidly, pressed relentlessly to the West, converting successive frontiers into settled territories. 3The phrase “Go West, young man” was coined by Horace Greeley. 4Economic expansion was proceeding at a fabulous rate, the seemingly limitless natural resources were being developed (and also exploited), and the industrial power which later carried the nation to greatness was being established. 5Because the activities in production was caused by activity in transportation. 6Wagons, railroads, steamboats, and clipper ships traversed the land and the seas, mostly travelling West.

Which part of the passage contains a run-on sentence?

A. Part 2

B. Part 4

C. Part 6

D. Part 8

Which part of the passage is a sentence fragment?

A. Part 2

B. Part 3

C. Part 5

D. Part 9

Which part of the passage draws attention away from the main idea of the first paragraph?

A. Part 2

B. Part 3

C. Part 4

D. Part 5

Which part of the passage should be revised to correct an error in subject-verb agreement?

A. Part 1

B. Part 2

C. Part 5

D. Part 7

7The widespread enterprise brought a degree of leisure and material well-being which fostered the desire for intellectual advantages, resulting in a remarkable development in education and the arts. 8There was a conscious separation from Europe and a fierce will to be American and less European. 9There was a spirit of confidence, which, if over-youthful, was nonetheless inspiring. 10The people had embarked upon a great experiment in government and had made it work. 11They had conquered a continent and were beginning to profit from the fruits of their labors. 12America had become a society whose way of life required unique and adequate forms of cultural expression.

The Mechanics questions are like this:

If one of the underlined segments of the sentence below contains an error in spelling, capitalization, or punctuation, select the type of error. If there is no error, select D, “sentence correct.”

Borowy was pulled after giving up singles, to the first three hitters he faced, and Detroit won.
A. Spelling error
B. Punctuation error
C. Capitalization error
D. Sentence correct

The Short Answer questions require you to re-write 3 sentences which contain grammatical, spelling, punctuation, etc., errors.  Many people really struggle with this section:

The following sentence contains two errors (e.g., in construction, grammar, usage, spelling, capitalization, punctuation).  Rewrite the text so that the errors are addressed and the original meaning is maintained. 

Even though they both knew the bike was your’s, neither Andrew nor Anthony thought to ask themselves if it was proper to use it without first obtaining permission.

(For the answers, send me an email, chuck@joinETI.com)

The Writing Sections

The second half of your score comes from the writing sections of the VCLA, the Summary and the Essay. 

Performing well on the summary section requires many skills such as reading comprehension, finding the main idea, basic writing and grammar skills, and paraphrasing.  Given a lengthy passage, candidates are required to trim the content down to 150-200 words without losing the main ideas of the original.  Of course, the summary must be in your own words.   

The essay is a standard, five-paragraph persuasive work based on an educational topic.  You are given two short passages which give both sides of the argument.  The key is making a clear, logical argument. 

To see examples of summary passages or essay topics, click here.

VCLA Strategy

What’s the best test preparation strategy?

One recommendation we always make—that is very easy to implement—is the order in which the test is taken.  The exam is presented in the same order as presented above. First are the 46 multiple-choice questions. The 3 “Sentence Corrections” are next. Then come the Summary and the Essay.”  Do not take the test in the order it is presented.  

Take the test in the reverse order—do the writing first.  Then do the grammar sections. 

Why is that? More energy and focus are needed to write an essay than for any other part of the exam. Write it before three other sections sap your energy and focus. Writing an essay after three hours of grammar and punctuation is a template for failure.

In terms of grammar and usage, you need to know concepts beyond the superficial. You need to be able to identify errors in sentences and in paragraphs. Just being able to name or define any of these terms is not enough. You need to be able to confidently identify and correct errors with the items and concepts in the table below. Reading comprehension, paraphrasing, and basic essay writing are other important skills.

To do well on the first half of the exam, be well versed on the following topics:

Parts of speechSubjects and predicatesTypes of sentencesand their construction
Independent/dependent clausesPrepositional and modifying phrasesComma rules(only 3 are necessary)
SemicolonsApostrophesSentence fragments
Run-on sentencesSubject-verb agreementPronoun agreement,reference, and case
Verb forms and tensesMisplaced modifiersCapitalization
Paragraph structureParagraph developmentSpelling

Should I Enroll in a VCLA Test Prep Class?

You likely do not need a VCLA-prep class to prepare for sections on grammar and usage.  Each of the above terms can be Googled. There are hundreds of websites that have definitions, explanations, and even practice questions. 

If you are capable of independent learning and dedicated to your studies, you can be successful on your own. If you think you need a text to guide you, our MTEL Magic Communication and Literacy Skills Test Writing Subtest, 2nd Edition is available here.  The MTEL and VCLA are almost identical exams.  While we work on a VCLA version of the text, this will provide everything you need, including very realistic examples, practice tests, and essay prompts.

The second half of the exam, however, is more difficult to prepare for.

Writing and reading skills are not as easy to improve. The only way to get better at writing is to write and have someone give you constructive criticism and suggestions. Many people have great difficulty with reading comprehension, which is a crucial skill for success with the Summary; you can’t summarize what you don’t understand. 

ETI starts preparing its students for these difficult sections from the beginning.  Many of our students have weak grammatical, writing, and reading basic skills, so we start building them from the first session. In order to write well or understand what you read, you need to understand basic grammar and sentence structure.

Although my book is called “MTEL Magic,” there are no magical shortcuts to success. There is a ton of information to know in order to pass this exam, and you’ll need to put in the work — in and out of class (yes, there is plenty of homework) — in order to pass it.  The “magic” is in the curriculum’s design and delivery.  We know what you need to know, and we know how to teach it to you.

Our Prep Course

Our VCLA on demand, self-paced video program starts with the basics: parts of speech and basic sentence structure.  Then we roll into punctuation and grammar.  We only review the essential punctuation and grammatical concepts that are on the actual exam. No time or effort is wasted—we only cover the topics mentioned above.

Having a foundation of understanding of how sentences are constructed, we move into studying paragraphs. Understanding the structure and development of paragraphs are critical for doing well on over half of the exam: “establishing and maintaining a main idea” section of the Paragraph Improvements the Summary Exercise, and the Essay. 

Essay and Summary Section

Once we understand paragraphs, we start writing them. But first, we learn about a specific structure, taking into account the nature of paragraphs and how the Essay and Summary are scored.

Next comes the Essay, the Composition Exercise. There are two essentials we focus on — the structure and a clear, logical argument. 

We look at the basics of a 5-paragraph essay. How do I pick my thesis? What goes into the introduction? How do I construct a logical argument and form the body paragraphs? What goes in the conclusion?

We have over 20 years’ worth of stored knowledge about how the Composition Exercise is scored and popular assigned topics.

The Summary has been the most challenging part of the Writing exam for most students. There are more skills necessary to perform well than in any other section of the exam. All of the previous topics are important—from the punctuation and grammar to the paragraphs and writing.  

In addition, strong reading comprehension and paraphrasing skills are necessary to perform well on this section. People who struggle most with the Summary are often non-native English speakers (deep reading and paraphrasing are difficult) or have reading comprehension issues (you can’t summarize what you don’t understand). Do you possess all the necessary knowledge and skill? Fortunately, this section only accounts for 20% of the score.

VCLA Grammar and Punctuation Strategies

After spending a couple sessions on the writing sections of the exam, we return to grammar and punctuation. Concepts are reviewed while we study specific strategies for the Sentence Corrections and Paragraph Improvements. 

These last sessions are usually when the grammar begins to crystalize for students. Particularly helpful strategies are a checklist for finding the specific grammar/punctuation/usage issues on the Sentence Corrections and the approach for the “reverse the order of these sentences” of the Paragraph Improvement section.

In Conclusion

Our two decades of stored knowledge certainly helps with these sections when taking the exam.  You will not be surprised by anything you see. You will have been taught the concepts and practiced VCLA-like questions.

Our 160-page curriculum contains all the in-class and homework exercises to practice necessary skills and strategies (including timing strategies) to perfection.

We have been guaranteeing results on teacher certification exams since 1999. JoinETI.com and find out why.

Make an investment in yourself and get certified today.

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