FCAT Test Breakdown

Various means are employed by education institutions to measure students’ achievement. For judging how a student is imbibing and applying the education being provided to him, varied tools of assessment are employed from time to time. Besides knowledge of text, students are judged for development of different skills that they are expected to have gained through education. FCAT is one such assessment tool that helps to measure the achievement level in students in Florida.

Basics of FCAT

Sunshine State Standards (SSS) are broad outlines that standardize what a student should be capable of at every stage of learning in school. They are defined for seven content areas and measures accomplishment in four: Reading, Writing, Mathematics and Science. The Sunshine State Standards are defined as per the grades of students. ‘Benchmarks’ are the most elaborate descriptions of expectations from students.

Public school students in Grades 3 to 11 are required to take the exam. Home tutored students can take the same as well, if their parents and guardians do not mind. Private school students who receive opportunity scholarships should take the FCAT.

Testing Items in FCAT

There are three types of testing items for Reading, Mathematics and Science tests. These are multiple choice, gridded response and performance tasks. The Writing test contains an essay prompt only.

    • Multiple-choice: There are three or four answer options and the student is required to choose the best one. Each item is to be answered in approximately one minute. One point raw score is granted to each correct response. The responses are filled in a bubble on an answer booklet.
    • Gridded Response: The answers are mostly of numerical type and they have to be filled in a grid. Only the answers entered correctly are marked. Each item is for one raw score and it takes one and a half minutes to answer an item.
    • Performance Tasks: These are of two types: short and extended response items. Students are required to give their own responses to questions. Short response items require approximately 5 minutes to solve and extended response items require 15 minutes.
  • Prompted Essay: The Writing prompt contains two parts, one describing the situation called the ‘writing situation’ and the other describing the directions for writing the response, called the ‘directions for writing’.

There are three types of testing items based on utility in the FCAT: operational items, field-test items and anchor items.

Operational items are those that the students answer and these contribute towards their scores. All the students of a particular grade are administered the same operational items. Field-test items are those that are put to test for future administrations of the exam. They do not contribute towards the scores of students. Anchor items are those that have been previously administered in the test. They are used to ensure that the scores can be compared over years.

The Different FCAT Tests

There are four tests administered in this examination and these are Reading, Mathematics, Science and Writing. The Writing test is conducted in February and the Reading, Mathematics and Science tests are conducted in March.

Reading Test: There are 6-8 reading passages in this section, with 6-11 questions based on each passage. The two types of passages are informational and literary. Informational passages are picked up from magazines, newspapers, editorials etc. They present facts on a subject. Literary passages are picked up from short stories, poems and novels. They are meant for light reading and entertainment. As the grade level goes higher, the percentage of informational passages increases and that of literary passages decreases.

  • Words and phrases based on the passage
  • Main idea
  • Comparison and cause and effect
  • Reference and research

There are multiple-choice items administered in this section for all grade levels. In Grades 4, 8 and 10, short and extended response performance tasks are also administered.

Mathematics Test: The testing items in this section are based on one or more benchmarks of the Sunshine State Standards. The five main categories of the content are

  • Number Sense, Concepts and Operations
  • Measurement
  • Geometry and Spatial Sense
  • Algebraic Thinking
  • Data Analysis and Probability

Each of these, content categories are given a different level of importance depending on the grade level.
Multiple-choice items are administered to all grades from 3 – 10. Grades 5 – 10 are administered gridded response items and short and extended response performance tasks are administered in grades 5, 8 and 10. The performance tasks require you to read the question and think about a way to arrive at a solution; short response tasks require a short response whereas extended response tasks require detailed responses.

Science Test: The Sunshine State Standards determines the content of the Science tests, administered in Grades 5, 8 and 11 only. The four content areas tested in this section are

  • Physical and Chemical Sciences
  • Earth and Space Sciences
  • Life and Environmental Sciences
  • Scientific Thinking

The items based on scientific thinking require scientific thinking skills in addition to content knowledge.
The Science test items are multiple-choice and short and extended response performance tasks for all grades in which the Science test is administered. In Grades 8 and 11, gridded response items are also administered. Performance tasks ask students to provide explanations and write the answers in their own words. Where a short response item might require you to explain a scientific concept, an extended response item shall require a detailed response.

Writing Test: An essay is to be written within 45 minutes on a given topic. Four main aspects of effective writing are considered for scoring the essay. These are

  • focus
  • organization
  • support
  • conventions

The essay needs to be descriptive, persuasive or explanatory, depending on the grade level. Where Grade 4 students are required to write either a descriptive or an explanatory essay, Grade 8 and 10 students are required to write a persuasive or an explanatory essay. Multiple-choice items are no longer administered in the Writing test.

Scoring the FCAT

The multiple-choice items and gridded-response items are scored electronically. The short and extended response items of performance tasks and the prompted essays are handscored. The short-response performance task items are scored as 0, 1 or 2 for the Reading, Mathematics and Science tests. The extended-response performance tasks are scored as 0, 1, 2, 3 or 4. The short and extended response performance tasks are scored by two scorers and a third scorer is called if there exists a difference in the opinions of the two scorers. The Writing task is scored on a scale ranging from 0 to 6. 0 is considered as ‘Unscorable’.

The following scores are reported for the different sections of FCAT.

    • Scale Score: This ranges from 100 to 500 for a grade level. This score is reported for all subjects.
    • Developmental Scale Score: This ranges from 0 to 3000 for all grades. This score is reported for only the reading and mathematics sections.
  • Achievement Level: This is based on ranges of scores recognized as cut-off scores. There are five achievement levels, from 1 through 5. This score is not reported for the Writing test.

Subscores for the different content areas for each subject are also reported.


The breakdown of FCAT is such that in every grade you are assessed according to the skill level you are expected to possess. In early stages of education, multiple-choice items are administered and it is in later stages that performance tasks are introduced. Besides, the Science test is administered in Grade 5 for the first time. These points emphasize the fact that this exam is administered very systematically, keeping in mind the requirements of education. Understanding the breakdown of the test helps you to prepare for the same. It is only when you can comprehend the types of questions asked; you will understand what is expected of you in different grades. This understanding shall prove to be instrumental in your preparation.