Definitive Guide to the New General Curriculum MTEL # 78 Exams

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Learning Strategies / MTEL

Definitive Guide to the New General Curriculum MTEL # 78 Exams

The General Curriculum MTEL is required for educators seeking an Elementary Education (K-6) certification and a popular option for prospective Special Educators.  The General Curriculum MTEL has two separate halves, just like the Communication and Literacy MTEL with its Reading and Writing sections; you need to pass both parts.  However, once you pass one part, you never have to take it again. 

The exam was revised recently for the first time since 2009, and Massachusetts education students have been anxious to learn about the new exams.  How similar they are to the old versions? And, most importantly, are they harder or easier than the old tests?

The Retired General Curriculum Field #03

The previous revision of the exam (Field #03) way back in 2009 did not change the content as much as the format, especially on the open response questions.  Prior to 2009 when the Field #03 was released, the General Curriculum as one exam with 100 multiple-choice questions and two open response questions—one in math and one which required identifying a reading passage’s theme.  The content ranged from ELA, history, science, and math to special education and child development.  

This recently retired General Curriculum MTEL (Field #03) was in existence from March 2009-August 2023 and consisted of two exams, the Multi-Subject and the Math.  The Multi-Subject consisted of science, English, and history questions, and the open response question was on either science or history.  It had 55 multiple-choice questions and the one open response question.  The Math exam focused on basic numbers and operations concepts as well as algebra and functions, geometry, statistics, and probability.  The open response could come from almost any of those mathematical categories.  It consisted of 45 multiple-choice questions and one open response.  In total, the exams had 100 multiple-choice questions and 2 open response questions, just like the other MTEL subject exams.   The multiple-choice questions comprised 90% of the score on each half and the open response 10%.

The New General Curriculum MTEL Field # 78 (#s 178 and 278)

The new versions, Field #s 178 and 278, were given for the first time on August 21, 2023.  The #178 is the new version of the Multi-Subject and is called “General Curriculum Subtest 1: Language Arts and History/Social Science.”  As you would expect from the title of the exam, it covers ELA and History/Social Studies content.  The replacement for the General Curriculum Math MTEL is called “MTEL Field #278, “General Curriculum Subtest 2: Mathematics, Science, and Technology/Engineering.”   

How similar are they to the #03?

The structure of the exams has changed. The new exams are longer; each now have 60 multiple-choice questions along with the one open-response question.  The scoring has not changed.  The open-response questions are worth 10% and the multiple-choice 90% of the score. 

From student reports and what little content has been released by Pearson, the exams are not entirely dissimilar to the old version.  Our programs will be reorganized but will not have to be totally rewritten as far as the content goes.  Similar ELA, history, science, and math topics are covered.  The focus of the ELA questions has changed; there is less punctuation and grammar and more interpretation of text.  Math questions are very similar in content and form.  Science questions are based on similar concepts, but they are sometimes more of practical nature.

Here are sample multiple-choice questions for the ELA/History: [https://www.mtel.nesinc.com/Content/StudyGuide/MA_SG_SRI_78_subtest1.htm]
and Math/Science:

The nature of the open-response questions, however, are very different. 

On the ELA/History, instead of having to discuss causes for the Civil War or the rise of fascism, test-takers are faced with reading two passages—which may be primary sources—to determine/compare the main ideas and analyze/compare the purpose and point of view of each.  Click here to see a sample question. 

On the Math/Science, instead of describing the classes of levers or analyzing a student’s math work, test-takers are called to analyze a scenario integrating “science/engineering and mathematics content and practices.”  Click here for an example. 

Are they Easier or Harder?

Whether or not an exam has been made easier is not always easy to answer. I can say that over the decades, every MTEL revision has been generally easier than the one that preceded it. This holds true for the Communication and Literacy, General Curriculum, and Early Childhood MTELs, at least. Not everyone taking the exams will find this to be true as individual abilities vary greatly.

On the new ELA/History exam, people who have strong reading comprehension, comparative literature, and writing skills will find this exam easier than the #03. However, those who struggle with the example open-response question above and do better with rote memorization (which was required on the #03) than comparative analysis will most likely find this exam more difficult.

There are a few issues with the Math/Science exam that will make it more difficult for many people. The first is the structure of the exam itself. We have conservatively prepared 2000 people over the last 20 years to take this exam. A majority of those had a fear of math or science—or both. This fear arose from a weakness in either subject. On the previous versions of the exam, a weakness in science could be mitigated by strengths in English and history as all three of these subjects were on the Multi-Subject exam, so if you were lousy in science, your strength in English and history could make up for the weakness. On this test, the two most difficult subjects are combined—math and science; there’s no escape from either.

Another issue is the open response. The Math/Science OR requires analytical skills just like the ELA/History does. Science concepts need to be explained with math. That is a nightmare for many. If math and/or science isn’t your thing and you struggle with analysis, this exam will be a nightmare.

Should I take the new General Curriculum or a different MTEL?

Given what we know, which MTEL should you take? The other options for the General Curriculum are subject exams like the Middle School Humanities or a high school content exam for a special education license. If you are an elementary educator, you can substitute the Elementary Math MTEL for the Math/Science, but you’d have to take a science content MTEL as well. Read this blog for more info on what other MTELs you can take or if you have already passed one half of the General Curriculum.

In short, the General Curriculum exams are much easier to pass than other subject matter exams—unless you are very strong in a particular subject. The content on middle school or high school content exams is much more in depth and difficult. Check the materials on these tests to see how you would do before you decide.

As for the Elementary Math MTEL, its content is significantly more difficult than that on the General Curriculum Math/Science. If you are comfortable with algebra 2 concepts like logs, etc., you would be ok, but if not, the General Curriculum is better. This blog explains the differences between the General Curriculum and Elementary Math MTELs.

If you need help

joinETI.com has been guiding educators through the MTELs and toward their certifications since 1999 and has guaranteed the success of thousands of new educators. Our General Curriculum programs are currently being redesigned for the new MTELs. We will teach you the skills, strategies, and content you need to pass.

Click here to put the MTELs behind you and join the ranks of certified educators!

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