If you’re planning to apply to a teaching credential 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 do these tests cover? What’s the difference? Do you need to take both?

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. In the past, this test could be taken at a testing center on a computer or on paper. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, many in-person paper-based testing dates have been canceled. Visit the California Commission on Teacher Credential (CTC) website to learn more and find available testing dates and locations. 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 have the option to take the paper version, you will receive your results within three weeks of testing.

Note the exam is delivered in English, and all responses must be in English. The use of calculators is prohibited during the exam.

What is the CSET?

Rather than a single exam, the California Subject Examinations for Teachers, or CSET, is a series of tests used to verify a prospective K-12 teacher’s mastery of subject matter and content. Although teaching credential programs help you learn how to become a teacher, you are expected to already have an understanding of the subject(s) that you plan to teach. CSET exams let you verify this.

CSET exams are taken on a computer and are offered at testing facilities throughout California by appointment year-round. 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.

Note if you want to teach a single subject at the secondary level (middle school or high school), then you need to earn a Single Subject Teaching Credential and pass at least one CSET in that subject.

READ MORE: 6 Steps to Becoming a High School Teacher

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

CSET subtests are composed of multiple choice questions and constructed-response (or short answer essay) questions. There are typically between 30 and 50 multiple choice questions, but some tests can have up to 100.

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.

Where can I find practice CBEST and CSET exams?

The CTC offers a variety of free CBEST practice materials, such as practice exams and tutorials. For CSET practice materials, visit each subtest’s webpage, and click “View the preparation materials available for this test” at the bottom of the page.

For additional graduate entrance exam study tips and resources, check out the Test Prep Guide created by Attallah Career Advisor Dr. John Bacolores. This guide includes links to free and paid test prep resources, study schedules, and other relevant resources.

READ MORE: Graduate Admission Test Prep Guide

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 check 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’ve been enrolled.

For information about applying to Chapman University teaching credential programs, contact credentials@chapman.edu.


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.