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Action Research: Passing the CSET Math III

Wendy Flores
Azusa Pacific University, Azusa
EDUC 526 Capstone Experience in Digital Teaching and Learning
Dr. Courduff
June 2, 2014

In order to prepare for the CSET Mathematics III subtest, I implemented a three-week
intervention in order to learn and develop skills in calculus. I used the CSET Mathematics book
previously used to prepare for Mathematics I and II subtests. I divided the content over three
weeks and tested myself on a weekly basis. The goal of the intervention was to successfully
close the gap between my baseline data and a final score od 25 correct answers out of 30. After
completing the intervention I was not successful in meeting my goal. The result is most likely
due to time constrictions. By trying to cover a large amount of content over a short period of
time I was not able to develop sufficient conceptual understanding of calculus.

Action Research: Passing the CSET Math III
Section One: Introduction
By far the most difficult and stressful aspect of completing my credential has been
passing the California Subject Examination for Teachers or CSET. It has also been the most
rewarding of test taking experiences. Studying for the CSET plays to my learning styles. It is
logical, visual and best of all, focused on problem solving. I enjoy math because it is a complex
system that allows re-visitation and exploration from many different angles. Because of the
positive experiences I had in studying for the previous tests I wanted to focus on passing the
third CSET subtest, Calculus and History of Math, for my action research.
I had very different experiences when preparing for the first two subtests. Geometry,
which is my strongest subject, was the first exam that I took and passed. To prepare for the exam
I worked through all of the practice problems provided by CTC exams. For about ten days I
focused on attempting problems and then thoroughly researching every question I did not answer
For the Algebra and Number Theory subtest I had to modify my approach. The Algebra
and number theory subtest contained many concepts that were new to me. For example, I had
never classified numbers as groups, rings and fields before. In order to properly prepare I used a
combination of textbooks, study guides, practice questions and educational videos from websites
such as Khan Academy. I used CSET Mathematics as a guide to complete all necessary
requirements and Cliff Notes Algebra 2 to practice certain skills in order to develop speed. I also
searched for information and tutorials on the Internet whenever the information from the books,
videos or practice questions was insufficient.
My goal is to attempt thirty practice problems and answer twenty-five problems
correctly. These scores do not necessarily reflect a passing score on the actual test. The actual
test requires a passing score of 220, however test makers take into account different test versions
and weigh difficult questions more than easier ones. This means that on an easier test a higher
amount of questions answered correctly will be needed to achieve a passing score. From
experience, I know that there is not a simple formula to determine how many questions one must
answer correctly to pass the test. The best method to prepare for the test is to become very
comfortable with all sorts of strategies and concepts.
Section Two: Implementation
For the Calculus subtest I knew that I would have to take an approach similar to the
Algebra 1 subtest. The largest source of helpful information came from the CTC Exams website.
The website provided information on test structure and sample questions. Subtest III contains 30
multiple-choice questions and four constructed response questions. Calculus comprises 26 of the
multiple-choice and three of the constructed response. (CTC exams, 2014) The test makers also
provided a list of the content domains that teachers must prove competency in. (CTC exams,
2014) In order to streamline the studying process I will focus on Calculus since it comprises the
majority of tests questions.
I began by working through the sample questions provided by the CSET website to
gather base line data. (CSET exams, 2014) At this time I am not worried about time constraints,
only mastery of content, so I did not time myself while working through the practice exam. Out
of 30 practice questions I attempted eight problems and correctly answered four.
I used the following schedule to complete the CSET Mathematics section on Calculus.
My goal was to study an hour a day and complete the pages for that week. I also decided that it
would be best to not deviate to other study material at this time in order to get through all
Calculus subject matter in three weeks.
Week 1: Trigonometry, Polar Coordinates, Limits and Continuity (pages 289-341)
Week 2: The Intermediate Value Theorem, Derivatives, Differential Equations (pages
Week 3: Integrals and Applications, Sequences, Series and Convergence (pages 388-434)
Section Three: Results
Base Line Test Practice Test 1 Practice Test 2 Final Test
#of MC 27 30 30 27
# of CR 3 4 4 3
Total # 30 34 34 30
# of MC Correct 4 11 16 14
# of CR Correct 0 0 1 1
Total Correct 4 11 17 15

Table 1: MC is the abbreviation for multiple-choice and CR is the abbreviation for constructed

After completing Week 1 and Week 2, I worked through the practice test 1 and 2
respectively from the CSET Mathematics book. These practice tests are longer than the practice
questions from the website which accounted for some of the discrepancies in the numbers. After
Week 3 I retook the sample test questions from the CSET website.
When analyzing my results I accounted for multiple choice and constructed response
questions separately. Multiple-choice questions account for about 70% of the overall score and
constructed response accounts for 30%. Therefore it became important for me to show
improvement with both types of questions. (CTC exams, 2014)
Despite the results being low, the numbers did not surprise me. The CSET is notoriously
difficult and has about a 15-20% passing rate. (Ramaswamy, 2014) After three weeks of study I
knew that I was not ready to take the exam. Also, in attempting to get through the material in a
time crunch, I was not able to spend as much time as I usually did researching specific concepts
and strategies.
The positive aspect about these numbers is that they provided feedback as to which
problems have given me the most difficulty. It showed that I have improved in my overall basic
knowledge of the subject, and can now take my time with in depth analysis of content.
The results highlighted that I still lack conceptual understanding of calculus. The study
guide provided me with straightforward information that was beneficial for its questions but not
enough information that I could handle the totality of calculus language and information.
Section Four: Conclusions
When studying for the Mathematics CSET it is important to distinguish between
acquiring content and mastering the subject. (Ramaswamy, 2014) After going through the study
guide once, I could easily recognize types of problems on the test. However, in many instances I
incorrectly applied information or did not fully comprehend the question. The questions are
written in a way that requires careful analysis and planning in order to get the correct answer.
After completing a basic overview of the Calculus section I will focus on developing
strategies for specific questions. I will also continue to watch videos that provide a better
summary of concepts and processes, as well as consulting textbooks that provide superior
explanations of fundamental theorems.
The biggest drawback to my intervention plan was the time constriction. When studying
for the Algebra subtest I did not place the same time restrictions on myself, which allowed me to
spend many hours on a single concept or problem type. During this intervention, in order to get
through all material I felt as though I was writing notes and not working through problems as
thoroughly as I had in the past. By trying to keep to a schedule I diminished the quality of the
time spent studying.
Section Five: Comments
Despite the fact that the intervention was not successful it provided me with a path and a
clear idea of how to study for the exam. Prior to instituting the intervention I was sporadic in
learning and studying in preparation for the test. Once I implemented the intervention I had more
motivation to continue to work. Now that I have baseline data and a better understanding of good
study methods for the test I will be more prepared to institute them on a regular basis.
My goal is to spend an entire week on each subsection from the study guide and practice
important skills consistently. By taking my time on each concept I can build better conceptual
understanding and speed. I will also incorporate the final section, history of math, into the study



CSET exams. (2014). CSET MAthematics III Sample Questions and Responses . (Pearson,
Producer) Retrieved May 2014, from Cset exams:

CTC exams. (2014). Mathematics III Subtest Description. (Pearson, Producer) Retrieved May
2014, from CTC exams:

CTC exams. (2014). Test Structure for CSET Mathematics. (Pearson, Producer) Retrieved May
2014, from

Porter, K. (2013). CSET Mathematics (4th ed.). Piscataway, New Jersey, USA: Research and
Education Association, Inc. .

Ramaswamy, J. (2014). CSET III A Checklist of Basic skills. Retrieved May 2014, from CSET
Math Guru: