Tuesday, June 10, 2008

writing test items and passages

As a teacher I gave oodles of tests to my students every year. Some of the tests helped me teach what my students needed to know, and others seemed to have no obvious purpose except to satisfy the legislature. Once I began working as a freelance writer it occured to me that someone was paid to write these tests.

After looking around and paying attention to posts about writing test passages and items on the yahoo group NF for Kids: writing non-fiction for kids, I realized this was a job market for teachers and former teachers who like to write, and decided to find out more.

Test items and passages are written for test-preparation materials as well as actual tests. Continental Press , like many other publishers, creates materials based on state standards. Since each state has unique standards, they need fifty versions of their test-prep workbooks for each grade level. That's a lot of work for freelance writers.

Here are some companies that I have heard hire teachers and writers for test-prep and test-item work:

Measured Progress


Educational Testing Service

Data Recognition Corporation




Sometimes editors provide passages, asking writers to simply create test items to go with them. Most editors provide clear guidelines about how many of each type of test question to write. Some editors provide a template of sorts for the test items, and others give samples of the style they use. Sometimes writers are asked to write original passages and test-items to match. My experience has been varied.

Let us know if you've been hired recently to write test passages, test items, or test-prep materials. I'd love to send in a resume, and let others know where to find work.

Good luck with your writing!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

looking for ideas

Where do you get your ideas?

I go through periods where ideas come forth like Old Faithful, so quickly and forcefully that I walk around with a pencil tucked behind my ear and packs of sticky notes in my pockets. At other times, I have to depend on the creativity of others to spark an idea; skimming educational publishers cataloges, looking at websites, or spending time with a stack of workbooks, hoping an idea will spring forth. Certain places are more conducive to idea-sprouting - driving my car on the interstate, walking the dog, standing in the shower, and other places where writing down fleeting ideas is nearly impossible.

Marjorie Holmes wonderful book, Writing Articles from the Heart, has many practical things to say about the "magic of getting ideas." For one thing, Marjorie Holmes is a big believer in sitting down every day and writing. Make daily writing a habit, she says often. Not a new idea, I know.

But, I think she's right. I worry and worry sometimes about not having something to write about beforehand, but once I sit down, focus, and clear my mind of the worry, ideas usually come.

I think getting ideas is much like deadheading flowers. Every summer my large perennial flower garden reminds me how important it is to tend a garden. When I snip off dead blossoms with regularity, I get to wake up each day to a front yard in bloom.

Same with writing. If I sit down, put old ideas that aren't blooming into folders, leave the queries already sent alone, pay attention to new jobs and ideas, and look though old work for the seeds of new ideas, maybe my freelance career will stay in bloom, too.

I think I lose confidence as a freelancer when I stop deadheading. I might get caught up in a good-paying job and put idea-gathering and query-sending on hold. Or, if I don't hear from any publishers for a long stretch, I can become so discouraged that I feel unable to come up with any new ideas. Sometimes I sit for a long time, waiting to hear about a possible job, forgetting the daily writing habit.

Where do you get ideas? Your family, television, books, work, the web? Are you the kind of creative person who has ideas bubbling up with regularity? Or, do you go through periods, like me, where ideas just don't seem to come? What do you do when you need an idea and it doesn't seem to come?

Happy writing -