Essential Skills Materials

Our Essential Skills product encompasses a comprehensive approach to bolstering fundamental competencies crucial for academic and career success. Through a range of instructional materials and practice exercises, available in both traditional print and digital formats, students are equipped with the tools to strengthen their abilities across various core subjects such as English, Writing, Reading, Math, and Science.

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These materials are available in print or as an online course called Essential Skills Lab (accessible below). The course contains core skills review, lessons, and exercises that enable students to review material that they may have forgotten, learn new material that they may not yet have learned, and master the skills required to answer more difficult multiple-choice items on standardized tests.  The course addresses four groups of skills: English and Writing, Reading, Math, and Science, and each group of skills is addressed at three levels: Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced.

Each skill is introduced with a brief lesson and examples. Then the skill is tested through an exercise. Students can read the lesson and examples and then test their understanding with the exercise.  Students can work through the course either by starting at the beginning of a specific group of skills (or a specific level) and work through it to the end, or by focusing on specific skills they need to review the most, as guided by their teachers.

The Essential Skills teacher’s guide allows teachers to spend more practice and time on basic skills review and practice exercises. Built on three score ranges (high-medium-low) of the College Readiness Standards™, teachers will find it easy to differentiate instruction in the classroom based on student needs as they provide the needed practice to fill skill gaps, master tested skills, and increase scores.

Cambridge’s Essential Skills Lab is a comprehensive online course that provides up to 60 hours of rigorous curricula in an interactive and self-guided format. This course is available on all devices, including computers, tablets, and smartphones so students have access wherever the internet is available. The Essential Skills Lab contains lessons and exercises at three levels designed to help students master content they will need for college entrance exams and in their first-year college classes. Student progress is tracked and all exercises are graded. Although no teacher involvement is necessary, teachers can track student progress, time on task, individual results, and scoring.

Based on three different score ranges for differentiated instruction and review, Essential Skills bell ringers are generally organized by category, moving within each category from easier skills to more difficult ones. The bell ringers are provided in 60 slideshow files, and each daily bell ringer includes 2 to 5 problems for the students to work through on their own. The problems are then repeated on a second slide with a solution for you to use in discussing the item with the class.

Depending on the number of days you are planning to use the bell ringers, you can implement them in a couple of different ways.

  • Option 1: 12 Weeks of Bell Ringers
    Teach through the bell ringers for 60 days, using one bell ringer file each day. Each file includes 2 to 5 problems, plus the explanations for those problems.
  • Option 2: Selective Bell Ringer Coverage
    Select bell ringers based on specific skills you want to focus on or a specific level of difficulty. For example, if you are only using the bell ringers on Fridays for a semester, you will need 12–14 bell ringers.

Teacher Professional Development

Cambridge’s Test DeMystifier Professional Development gives teachers a thorough understanding of standardized tests. Teachers learn about test mechanics including the test structure and format; timing of each subject test – Reading, Writing and Language, English, Math, and Science; tested content and skills within each subject and in what proportion; and analysis of the new Essay, including the passage, prompt, and expectations. With practice problems in Reading, Writing and Language, English, Math, and Science teachers learn high-value test-taking strategies for items most frequently encountered on the test; how different forms of “data” are integrated throughout the tests; how to address student-produced response questions, and about evidence-based questions. Teachers also gain insight into the scoring of the tests and the aligned scale scores for any suite of exams.

Cambridge’s Introduction to Testing Readiness provides teachers with a thorough understanding of how to effectively prepare students using any one of Cambridge’s test preparation materials including Essential Skills texts. Led by a Cambridge Master teacher and customized for your implementation model your teachers will analyze the Cambridge Course Concept Outline, understand the instructional layout and progression of the Cambridge materials, consider different course structures and timings, learn how to target instruction based on ability levels while incorporating building basic skills into your program, review applicable Item Indexes and Crosswalks to Standards, explore the mechanics of the applicable test in terms of test structure, timing, content, frequency and skills for each section of the test (e.g. Writing, Language, Reading, Math, and Science), learn best practices for implementing and differentiating instruction, and gain insight into question types, concepts tested, common distractors, and assigning homework.  This professional development assumes use of Cambridge materials for a skill building or test preparation program.

Teachers will take a dive into their own students’ data to understand how to effectively use the Cambridge data reports (reports may include Student Summary and Item Analysis, Instructor Summary, Error Analysis, Content Distribution, Formative Connection, Lesson Plans, and others) to more effectively address skill gaps and target instruction. Topics include the pre-assessment process and the importance of timely and accurate feedback, linking assessment items to instructional objectives and differentiating among learners to drive score increases across the spectrum of achievement. Teachers will also learn powerful  test-taking strategies to incorporate in the classroom.

Student and Family Workshops

The ScoreCelerator Workshop offers an intensive review of solid test taking techniques, high-value targets that offer the best return on preparation time, and powerful test-taking strategies. Students will learn how to avoid common errors and use the test structure to maximum advantage.  Topics include:

  • The mechanics of the test:
    • How the test is written and scored
    • How just a few more correct questions can dramatically increase scores – every problem matters,
    • Common distractors
  • A systematic analysis of each section of the test:
    • Mapping of item types
    • Timing and pacing of the test
    • Proportion of problems
  • The need to be a wise test-taker:
    • In-depth strategies
    • How to get the best return on preparation and practice
  • Workshop practice problems are used illustrate test mechanics and strategies

The Student Motivation Workshop encourages students to set high expectations for educational and personal goals, and to start planning for the future now.  Emphasizing the importance of good test scores and conscientious preparation to build a competitive application, students learn the impact education has on career choices and earnings, today’s top jobs and in-demand college degrees, how to maximize opportunities for admission and financial aid, and the importance of solid practice and preparation for the challenges of the ACT® or SAT® test.

The College Is for Me/Family Admissions Workshop (usually presented in the evenings) helps students and parents focus on practical tactics for gaining admission to college. Participants learn the most effective steps families must take in the college transition process. The workshop includes topics such as the correlation between high test scores, GPA and earnings; designing and crafting a winning application; strategies for choosing schools; tips on securing financial aid; the roles of parents; an overview of the design and mechanics of the ACT® or SAT®; and a demonstration of problem-solving strategies.