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up-to-date information on the CBEST and CSET exams


Whether you are applying to a teaching credential or other education graduate program in the state of California, two tests are often required for admission: the CBEST (California Basic Educational Skills Test) and CSET (California Subject Examinations for Teachers). What are these tests? What do they cover, and what are the differences?

This helpful guide tells you what you need to know about the CBEST and CSET exams.

What is the CBEST?

The California Basic Educational Skills Test, or CBEST, is the exam you take in order to demonstrate you have the basic skills required for a teaching credential. This test can be taken on a computer or on paper. Visit the California Commission on Teacher Credential (CTC) website to learn more. You can also register for the CBEST online.

What is the CBEST exam format, and how is it scored?

The CBEST has three subtests: reading, writing, and mathematics. You do not have to pass all three in the same testing session or even take all three in the same sitting. The writing portion consists of two essays, while the reading and math portions consist of 50 multiple choice questions each.

To pass this test, you must have a combined score of 123. If you take the CBEST on the computer, you will get your reading and math results immediately after the test and be able to access them for two weeks. If you take the paper version, you will receive your results within three weeks of testing.

Note that if you have taken the CBEST alongside the CSET, you are not required to take the CSET Writing Skills examination. Check with your program to see which tests are preferred.

What is the CSET?

The California Subject Examinations for Teachers, or CSET, is used to verify a prospective K-12 teacher’s mastery of essential subject matter and content. These tests are taken on a computer and are offered at countless facilities all over California. To learn more or sign up for an exam, visit the CTC website.

What are the CSET test types, and what is the difference between multiple and single subject exams?

There are 40 different CSET exams. The exams you need to take depend on the subject matter you wish to teach. If your goal is to teach elementary education, you will most likely want to take the CSET Multiple Subjects examination, which consists of three subtests.

To teach a specialized subject in most public middle schools and high schools, you will need to take a single subject CSET exam in that subject area. The mathematics, physical education, social sciences, and English language development exams all consist of three subtests, whereas other subjects like English, science, and art vary in the number of subtests required. Visit the CTC website to learn more about specific single subject exams.

What is the CSET exam format, and how is it scored?

CSET subtests are composed of multiple choice questions and essay questions. There are typically between 30 and 50 multiple choice questions, but some tests can have up to 100.

In order to pass a subtest, you must score a 70% or better. Unlike other tests, it is better to guess than to leave the answer blank, so use the process of elimination. If you fail one or more of the subtests, you have the ability to retake the specific subtest on its own. Keep in mind there is a 45-day waiting period between retesting though, so plan accordingly.

Does Chapman offer practice CBEST and CSET exams?

The Attallah College peer advisors administer practice tests throughout the year. The next CBEST and CSET practice exams will take place in late February 2019. Stay on the lookout for information regarding this valuable resource.

Do I need to pass the CBEST and CSET exams before applying to a graduate program?

Every graduate program is different, so be sure to learn about each program’s requirements far in advance of the application deadline. Some schools ask that you pass your CSET and CBEST exams before applying to the program, and others only need you to provide proof that you plan to take the test in the near future. Still other schools will walk you through test-taking once you have been enrolled.

If you have any further questions, please contact Attallah College’s Credential Specialist Robin Blauvelt at


Jane Gore is a senior Integrated Educational Studies major (Teaching and Learning in the Community Emphasis) and a Language & Literacy minor at Chapman University.  

Gillian Coan is a sophomore Integrated Educational Studies major (Teaching and Learning in Schools Emphasis) and a Language & Literacy minor at Chapman University.  

This article is an excerpt from the Attallah College Undergraduate Student Newsletter. 


Visit Attallah College’s webpage for more information about Chapman University’s teaching credential, MAT (Master of Arts in Teaching), MA in Special Education, and accelerated 4+1 MACI (MA in Curriculum and Instruction) programs.