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What is CBEST?

The acronym CBEST stands for the California Basic Educational Skills Test. Designed to measure a candidate's abilities in the areas of reading, writing, and mathematics, the CBEST is one way for prospective California teachers to meet the basic skills requirement established by the State of California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

The CBEST is produced by Pearson. There are numerous options for candidates needing a CBEST test date. Computer-based testing is available year-round at Pearson testing centers. Paper-based testing is available on several specific dates each year, and information on these dates and registration deadlines can be found on the Pearson website.

The CBEST consists of three distinct sections, and the sections may be taken individually or in a single testing session.

On the test you will find:

Section Question type Number of questions
Reading Multiple choice 50
Mathematics Multiple choice 50
Writing Essay 2

What kind of math is on the CBEST?

The CBEST mathematics section addresses three categories of math, referred to as skill factors. The skill factors on the test are:

  • Estimation, measurement, and statistical principles
  • Computation and problem solving
  • Numerical and graphic relationships

Most of the questions on the CBEST math section are word problems, and the answer format is multiple-choice. While calculators are not permitted on this test, you can prepare for your CBEST mathematics section by using a CBEST math practice test.

What is on the CBEST reading test?

The reading section of the CBEST is designed to test a candidate's skill in interpreting a variety of information formats, such as passages, tables, and graphs. There are two skill factors on the test: 1) critical analysis and evaluation and 2) comprehension and research skills. The questions on the reading test are multiple-choice and answering the questions does not require outside knowledge of the topics in the reading passages. To practice the skills you will need for the CBEST reading test, take a CBEST reading practice test.

What is on CBEST writing?

The writing portion of the CBEST consists of two essay questions. One essay asks about a personal experience for the purpose of demonstrating expressive writing, while the other essay asks for an opinion or analysis of a given situation or statement to demonstrate expository writing. The essay responses are scored on clarity, focus, development of idea, and grammatical conventions.

When preparing for the writing section, consider these CBEST writing tips. First, make sure you understand the goals of the test. Practice responding to a writing prompt in a timed setting, then evaluate your writing for clarity, focus, and grammar. Make sure your essay logically addresses the given prompt. It may help to study with a partner and to access a study guide.

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CBEST scores

How hard is it to pass the CBEST?

As you prepare for your exam, it is important to know what score you need to pass the CBEST. To pass the CBEST, you must earn a total scaled score of 123 or higher. 41 is considered a passing score for an individual section of the exam. If you receive a scaled score below 37 for any individual section, you cannot pass the CBEST. You are permitted to retake any section of the CBEST as many times as you choose, and your highest score on each section will be used to calculate your total scaled score.

Between 2013 and 2018, the overall pass rate for the CBEST exam was 83.8%, with a first-time pass rate of 67.6%. This information suggests that adequate preparation is key when taking the CBEST.

How do I read my CBEST scores?

When you receive your CBEST score, you will see a CBEST total score. A CBEST passing score is a total score of 123 or higher. The CBEST total score is determined by adding the scaled score for each of the three sections. Keep in mind that if you have taken a section more than once, your highest score is used to determine your total score.

Each section of the CBEST can receive a scaled score between 20 and 80. A passing scaled score for a single section is 41. You may be permitted to pass with a single section scaled score of 37 if your total score is still 123 or higher.

For the reading and mathematics test sections, your scaled score is derived from your number of correct multiple-choice questions. For the writing section, each essay is scored by two individuals based on criteria available from the testing website. These scores are then combined. The combined scores for both essays are added together and converted to the writing section's scaled score.

CBEST practice tests and study guide

If you choose the CBEST to fulfill your basic skills requirement for California educators, you will want to be well-prepared for the exam. Once you have determined that you will take the CBEST, consider these steps to successful test preparation.

Register. Decide between the paper-based or computer-based exam, then choose a testing date and location. Determine if you will take all three sections in one sitting or if you will take them separately.

Schedule regular study time. Look at your calendar. Note how much time you have before the exam and select and commit to regular study sessions.

Learn the test's format and content. Review an outline of testing topics and material, including question format.

Take a practice test. After taking a free CBEST practice test, note your areas of strength and weakness.

Gather study materials. Find a reputable study guide to review the topics on the CBEST. Using the results of your practice test, focus your time on areas where you have more questions.

Practice good study habits. Study with a partner, create memory aids to cement your learning (such as mnemonics, visuals, flashcards, songs, and rhymes) and study in a distraction-free environment.

Prepare for the practical aspects of test day. Locate your testing center and know how long it takes to get there. Know what to bring on the day of the test and what to leave home. Get a good night's sleep the night before the exam.

CBEST registration

Once you have decided to take the CBEST, follow these steps to register for your test:

  1. Create an online account with the CTC—California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
  2. Log in to your CTC account. Complete the registration process, which includes:
    1. selecting your test and the sections you will take,
    2. choosing between the computer-based and paper-based test,
    3. requesting alternative testing accommodations if applicable,
    4. designating institutions to receive your scores,
    5. indicating if you want your scores emailed to you,
    6. answering background questions,
    7. agreeing to the testing rules, and
    8. submitting the testing fees.
  3. When you are ready to schedule your exam, log in to your CTC account and go to the current registrations page. Select and schedule your testing appointment.
  4. Look for a confirmation email from Pearson including your test date, time, and location with all testing center information.

CBEST test dates

CBEST test dates are available in two formats—computer-based and paper-based.

Format Test dates Registration dates Location
Paper-based Offered three to five times each year, check testing site for dates Offered year-round, Monday through Saturday Select a general testing area at registration and receive a specific location assignment with your confirmation
Computer-based Offered year-round, Monday through Saturday Deadline usually four to five weeks prior to exam; late fees apply to late registration Select a general testing area at registration and receive a specific location assignment with your confirmation

CBEST cost

Your cost to take the CBEST will vary depending on if you take the computer-based or paper-based version of the exam. Please note that while you may retake any or all sections of the CBEST as many times as you wish, you will be required to pay the registration fee each time.

The cost of the CBEST is $41. Additional fees can include:

  • $61 service fee for all computer-based tests
  • $18 late registration fee if you miss the registration deadline for the paper-based test
  • $35 emergency registration fee for last-minute paper-based registrations

Computer vs. paper-based CBEST testing

The CBEST is offered in two formats—computer-based and paper-based—and candidates are free to choose their preferred format. Note that testing dates differ across these two offerings.

Fee $41, plus $61 service fee
Date Available year-round, Monday through Saturday
Location Choose your testing center
Content Identical content
Fee $41
Date Three to five specified testing dates available each year
Location Choose your testing region and test at an assigned center
Content Identical content


Can you use a calculator on the CBEST?

No, calculators are not permitted on the CBEST exam.

How long is the CBEST?

Whether you are taking individual sections of the exam or all three sections, you are given four hours to take the CBEST. Any breaks taken will be part of the four hours. For the computer-based test, 15 minutes are provided at the start for a non-disclosure agreement and computer-based tutorial.

How long do you have to wait to take the CBEST again?

The CBEST may be retaken as many times as you wish. For computer-based tests, you must wait 45 calendar days in between testing sessions.

How long is the CBEST good for?

Results for the CBEST do not expire. The CBEST is used to satisfy the basic skills requirement of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and does not need to be retaken at any point once a passing score is achieved.

Are testing accommodations offered for the CBEST?

Testing accommodations are available for the CBEST for test-takers with disabilities or for nursing mothers. A limited number of accommodations are available without the test-taker making a special request, such as wheelchair-accessible facilities, breaks to take medication, and print enhancement (for the computer-based test). To access other testing accommodations, you must fill out the Alternative Testing Arrangements Request Form during the registration process. You are also required to provide documentation that explains the necessary accommodations and your need for these accommodations. It is important that you do not schedule your test date until after the accommodations have been approved. Once you have received approval for an accommodation, that approval can be extended to other CBEST testing sessions taken within one year.

What is the CSET?

The CSET, or California Subject Examinations for Teachers, is developed by the California Commission for Teacher Credentialing (CTC) and administered by Pearson. Both the CBEST and the CSET are tests for prospective California educators. While the CBEST is a single exam that fulfills the basic skills requirement for any prospective educator, the CSET is a series of exams designed to verify subject-matter competence for those seeking a specific teaching credential.

Registration for the CSET is computer-based. While some of the core subjects are offered year-round, others are offered within specified four-week testing windows. Be sure to verify the dates of your CSET with the test provider when preparing to register for the CSET.

What is on the CSET?

Because the CSET tests are designed to prove a candidate's knowledge in a specific subject area, the content of each individual CSET exam is different. The following chart gives you some idea of what to expect from a CSET test. For more specific information, see the CTC's information for your CSET test.

Exam Subtests Multiple-choice questions Constructed-response questions
Multiple Subjects 3
  • Subest I: 52
  • Subtest II: 52
  • Subtest III: 39
  • Subtest I: 4
  • Subtest II: 4
  • Subtest III: 3
Writing Skills None None 2
Preliminary Educational Technology 2
  • Subtest I: 70
  • Subtest II: 40
  • Subtest I: 2
  • Subtest II: 3
Subject-Specific Exams Varies Varies Varies

Who needs to take the CSET?

CSET exams are recommended for candidates with the following goals:

  • Meeting the CTC's basic skills requirement: One option for meeting the basic skills requirement is earning a passing score on all three subtests of the CSET Multiple Subject as well as a passing score on the CSET Writing Skills.
  • Proving subject matter competence for a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential: The CSET Multiple Subject can be used to prove this qualification.
  • Proving subject matter competence for Single Subject Teaching Credentials: The applicable subject-specific CSET can be used to prove competence.
  • Meeting the educational technology requirement: Out-of-state candidates can use the CSET Preliminary Educational Technology to meet this requirement, which is crucial to transferring their out-of-state teaching licenses.
  • Obtaining bilingual authorization: The CSET World Languages can be part of the process of gaining bilingual authorization.

CSET Multiple Subject

The CSET Multiple Subject is an exam for candidates seeking a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential, which is for teaching at the elementary level. As the name suggests, the tests covers the various subjects taught by an elementary school teacher. The subjects are divided into three subtests. A candidate must pass all three subtests to be certified, so subtests may be retaken if necessary.

What can you expect if you are taking the CSET Multiple Subject? The format of the exam includes:

*Note: If all subtests are taken in a single session, the allotted time is 5 hours.
Subtest Topics Questions Time
Subtest I
  • Reading, Language, and Literature
  • History and Social Science
  • 52 multiple choice
  • 4 constructed response
3 hours
Subtest II
  • Science
  • Mathematics
  • 52 multiple choice
  • 4 constructed response
3 hours
Subtest III
  • Physical Education
  • Human Development
  • Visual and Performing Arts
  • 39 multiple choice
  • 3 constructed response
2 hours, 15 minutes

How difficult is the exam? Between 2014 and 2017, the cumulative pass rate for the CSET Multiple Subjects was 88.7%, while in 2017-2018, the cumulative pass rate was 61.2%.

Pass the CSET Multiple Subjects Exam by making an intentional study plan. Remember to:

CSET Single Subject

Prospective California educators who wish to earn a Single Subject Teaching Credential are expected to pass the appropriate CSET Single Subject to prove their competence in their chosen subject matter. Single Subject CSETs have between one and five subtests, depending on the subject, and a candidate must pass all subtests before certification. Subtests may be retaken to achieve a passing score.

Following is a sample of the subtests required for different Single Subject Teacher Credentials. Information on other credentials can be found on the testing website.

Credential Required subtests
  • Mathematics Subtest I (211)
  • Mathematics Subtest II (212)
  • Mathematics Subtest III (213)
  • English Subtest I (105)
  • English Subtest II (106)
  • English Subtest III (107)
  • English Subtest IV (108)
Science: Biological Science
  • Science Subtest I: General Science (215)
  • Science Subtest II: Life Sciences (217)
Science: Chemistry
  • Science Subtest I: General Science (215)
  • Science Subtest II: Chemistry (218)
Science: Geosciences
  • Science Subtest I: General Science (215)
  • Science Subtest II: Earth and Space Sciences (219)
Science: Physics
  • Science Subtest I: General Science (215)
  • Science Subtest II: Physics (220)
Social Science
  • Social Science Subtest I (114)
  • Social Science Subtest II (115)
  • Social Science Subtest III (116)
Physical Education
  • Physical Education Subtest I (129)
  • Physical Education Subtest II (130)
  • Physical Education Subtest III (131)
  • Art Subtest I (140)
  • Art Subtest II (141)
  • Business Subtest I (175)
  • Business Subtest II (176)
  • Business Subtest IIII (177)

How is the CSET scored?

If you are taking a computer-based CSET, you may see your raw score immediately. Scores are then converted into scaled scores between 100 and 300 for each subtest, and you will receive your official scores in the mail.

How long does it take to get CSET results?

CSET results are generally available from 5 to 7 weeks after the exam. In order to pass an exam, you need a scaled score of 220 on each subtest.

How to pass the CSET

While the material on each single-subject CSET is different, passing the CSET requires a scaled score of 220 (out of a range of 100-300) on every subtest. Passing the CSET requires careful preparation and study. As of 2018, pass rates vary greatly between subjects, with some subjects having pass rates as low as 51% and others as high as 92%.

How to study for the CSET

While you can take a CSET subtest as many times as necessary for you to pass, time and financial considerations dictate that it is prudent to be as prepared as possible. Consider the following steps as you get ready.

Register early for your exam. Once your test date is set, you can focus on using your time to prepare.

Note the material covered by your exam. Decide which topics you need to spend the most time on and prioritize those topics in your study sessions.

Map out a study plan, choosing consistent study times and assigning a study topic to each study session.

Take a practice test to familiarize yourself with the format and timing of the test.

Gather study resources such as study guides. Consider finding multiple resources for topics where you need the most work.

Study with a partner to provide accountability, share ideas, and pool resources.

Prepare for details such as where your test center is, what you need to bring, and what to expect on the day of the test.

CSET registration

Registration for the CSET is completed online. These steps are part of the registration process:

  1. Sign into your CTC account (or create one if you are a first-time user).
  2. Choose your testing program (CSET) and the tests/subtests you want to take.
  3. Note your intent to request accommodations, if applicable.
  4. Designate test score recipients, including your personal email and institutions of your choice.
  5. Answer background questions.
  6. Indicate acceptance of testing rules.
  7. Submit electronic payment.
  8. Choose a date and location and schedule your testing appointment.
  9. Wait for a confirmation email from Pearson with your test details.

*Note: Once you have completed steps 1-7, your registration is good for one year. It is recommended that you select your test date as soon as you can to ensure the best selection, as seating for testing is on a first-come, first-serve basis. You may be able to register for the test up to four days prior to the exam, but early registration also gives you more time to study.

CSET test dates

Some CSETs are available year-round, and testers can make an appointment Monday through Saturday, with the exclusion of some holidays. Examples of tests with year-round availability are CSET English, CSET Foundational-Level Mathematics, and CSET Multiple Subjects.

Other CSETs are limited to two to four specific four-week testing windows each year. Examples include CSET Agriculture, CSET Music, and CSET Spanish. Check the CTC website for test date availability.

How much does it cost to take the CSET?

The registration fee varies for different CSET exams. In addition, some CSETs offer a single fee for those taking all the subtests in a single sitting or a separate fee for each subtest. The following chart gives several examples of CSET costs. Note that each time you retake an exam you must pay the fee again.

Exam Number of subtests Cost for individual subtest Cost to take all subtests together
Multiple Subjects 3 $99 $247
Writing Skills 1 $63 N/A
Science 2
  • Subtest I: $133
  • Subtest II: $134
Mathematics 3 $99 $297
Social Science 3 $99 $297
English 4
  • Subtest I: $72
  • Subtests II, III, and IV: $75 per subtest
Art 2
  • Subtest I: $133
  • Subtest II: $134
Music 3 $99 N/A
Business 3 $99 $297
Physical Education 3 $99 $297's Keys to the Classroom Initiative

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To take advantage of this teacher test preparation program, you must be a part of one of our partner organizations. Please let us know if you would like to bring Keys to the Classroom to your community as well.


How long do you have to wait to take the CSET again?

You are permitted to retake the CSET as many times as you wish. You must wait 45 calendar days before retaking a test or subtest. For CSETs with specific testing windows, this will usually mean you can test during the next available testing window.

How long are CSET scores good for?

CSET scores are valid for 10 years.

Are testing accommodations offered for the CSET?

Testing accommodations are available for the CSET for those with disabilities and for nursing mothers. Accommodations that do not require special request include wheelchair accessibility, visual enhancement features on the computer, and permission to take breaks to take medication or use an inhaler. Other accommodations require special request and are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

During the registration process, you must indicate your intent to request accommodations. Then, fill out the Alternative Testing Arrangements Request Form, which must be submitted along with documentation of your requested accommodation and your need for the accommodation. This may include a letter from a professional such as a doctor or psychologist. See the tester's site for more details. It is important to wait for approval for your accommodation before scheduling your testing date.

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