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CBEST Exam Study Guide & Test Info

Earning your teacher certificate will be easier with practice tests and resources to help you prepare for your exam.

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What Is the CBEST?

The CBEST exam is used to gauge the aptitude of those looking to teach in California. It was developed by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) along with input from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and an advisory board made up of California educators. CBEST stands for California Basic Educational Skills Test, and is generally taken to fulfill the basic skills requirement for teaching credentials and permits in the state. The exam focuses on three key areas, Reading, Mathematics, and Writing, and has a section corresponding to each subject.

Should I Take the CBEST?

The CBEST exam is intended for those seeking a teaching or service credential in California or those who wish to obtain or renew a non-vocational Substitute Teaching Permit, a Provisional Internship Permit, or a Short-Term Staff Permit. The basic skills requirement only has to be satisfied for the first credential or permit, so if one goes on to pursue another credential or renew their permit they do not need to take the CBEST exam again. Out-of-state teachers who are otherwise equipped to teach in another state may be required to pass the CBEST exam to secure a credential in California. Additionally, those applying to CTC-accredited teacher preparation programs or service credential programs must also satisfy the basic skills requirement whether through the CBEST exam or via other means.

Content wise, the exam has three major parts. The first section covers Reading and has 50 multiple choice questions. The second section looks at Mathematics and has 50 multiple choice questions as well. The third and final section deals with Writing and gives test takers two prompts which they must respond to in essay-form.

CBEST Requirements

The CBEST exam has few requirements. One is that CBEST test takers must have either a high school diploma, a GED, or another high school equivalency. The other is that CBEST exams are only given in English and that essay responses must also be written in English.

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How Do I Prepare for the CBEST?

Teaching credential candidates take their CBEST exam after graduating high school or demonstrating an equivalent education. Most would-be educators register for the exam prior to or while earning their teaching degree. Taking the CBEST exam earlier can help free up one's schedule for later, though waiting until one is closer to their college graduation does give the benefit of knowledge gained from teaching courses.

Those interested in registering for the CBEST exam should familiarize themselves with its contents. Following this, educators-in-training might want to pick up one or more study guides and practice tests.

CBEST Study Guides

CBEST study guides give those preparing for the exam the tools they need to maximize their efforts. These might be tips on how to form efficient studying habits or useful strategies like flashcards and mnemonics. Many study guides that are specific to one test or another will also have practice test questions. One can get an impression of how their studying is going by working through practice questions, but to get a fuller picture, one should turn to practice tests.

CBEST Practice Tests

CBEST practice tests are premade exams whose content either resembles current CBEST exams or is taken directly from older exams. Practice tests can be used to drill on concepts and topics likely to appear on the actual test or to see where one is at with their studying. Practice tests always come with answers, and by evaluating one's performance on a practice test they can see if there are areas they need to put more time into or if they are ready to take the exam.

How Is the CBEST Scored?

The CBEST exam has three sections, and each is scored on a point scale from 20-80. The Reading and Mathematics sections are scored based on the number of multiple-choice questions test takers answer correctly, while the Writing section is based on a review of test takers' two essays. Scores from each section are scaled and then added up to a total score. To pass the CBEST exam, one must receive a total score of at least 123 out of a possible 160, and each individual section score must be 37 or higher. Passing scores on individual tests carry over between attempts, thus results from different sections on separate attempts can be put toward one's total score. Sections that one has passed do not need to be taken again when test takers fail one or two other sections and later take them again. Passing CBEST test results last indefinitely. CBEST results typically arrive a week and a half to two weeks after the testing date.

How Is the CBEST Structured?

The CBEST exam is broken up into three sections: Reading, Mathematics, and Writing. The first two sections, Reading and Mathematics, each consist of 50 multiple-choice questions. The Writing section has two prompts that require test takers to respond with essays. While all three sections of the CBEST exam can be taken on the same day, each section is taken in its own testing session and must be registered for separately. Test takers are allotted an hour and a half for the Reading section and for the Writing section. Two hours are given to complete the Mathematics section. Every section of the exam is weighted equally in terms of how scores from each count toward the final total.

CBEST Reading Section

The Reading section has two Skill Factors:

  • Critical Analysis and Evaluation
  • Comprehension and Research

To test these skills, the section asks test takers to examine, assess, and draw conclusions from short snippets of text from various genres. These readings can be literary or non-fiction in nature and may ask test takers to identify the author's intent, distinguish the intended audience, or weigh the facts and opinions presented against multiple-choice selections. Being able to understand how different texts can support or refute statements and arguments is critical to both learning and teaching. Research skills also come into play, and beyond the ability to think critically and use reference materials, there are also a number of questions about semantics and syntax.

CBEST Mathematics Section

The Mathematics section has three Skill Factors:

  • Estimation, Measurement, & Statistical Principles
  • Computation & Problem Solving
  • Numerical & Graphic Relationships

These abilities are tested through basic arithmetic and algebraic equations and questions that involve imperial weights, units, and measures. The statistical portion of this section deals with averages, ratios, proportions, percentile scores, and probabilities. Test takers will also be asked to compare and interpret numbers, formulas, and mathematical expressions to graphs, charts, and other graphical representations of data. Calculators are not allowed for this or any other section of the CBEST exam.

CBEST Writing Section

Rather than having Skill Factors, the Writing portion is limited to two essay questions. One asks test takers to write about a personal experience, and the other prompts test takers to analyze something through their writing. Both essay questions are reviewed by qualified California educators who look for clarity, evidence or support, focus, and competency with written English.

CBEST Exam Registration Information

Those looking to take the CBEST exam have to register in advance. Registration is done online through one's CTC account. Test takers can register for an in-person computer-based exam or an online proctored exam.

Can I Take the CBEST Online?

All three sections of the CBEST exam can be taken remotely via online proctoring. To take an online proctored CBEST exam, one must use either a laptop or desktop computer with a steady internet connection. CTC advises prospective test takers to perform a system test to ensure that their hardware is capable of running the exam software come test day. Following this, one may register to take the CBEST exam. The registration process is largely the same whether one intends to take an in-person or remote test up until one schedules their exam. Rather than selecting a testing center, those interested in online proctoring will opt for a remote exam instead.

How Do I Sign Up For the CBEST?

To register for a CBEST exam, one has to log into their CTC account. Would-be educators can sign up for any combination of the three CBEST sections, though each must be registered for separately. If one is going to apply for testing accommodations, then they do so at this stage. Next prospective test takers choose what institution(s) they want their test results sent to for certification purposes and whether they want their results emailed to themselves. After this comes a series of background questions followed by a list of the testing rules. Payments are then processed for each section using a credit, debit, or check card. The last step involves scheduling the date(s) and time(s) for one's CBEST exam(s), and if one is registered for in-person testing, they also select their testing center.

How Many Times Can I Take the CBEST?

CBEST exams can be retaken as many times as a person needs to pass. Once a section is passed it does not need to be taken again, though one might retake a section in an attempt to improve their score so that their overall score increases. Whether one passes or fails a section, they must wait 45 days before they can register for that section again.

Can I Request Testing Accommodations for the CBEST?

During the registration process, one can apply for testing accommodations. Those with one or more disabilities and those who are nursing are eligible to apply for accommodations. To receive accommodations, one has to fill out the applicable Alternative Testing Arrangement Request Form prior to scheduling their test. Accommodations include braille testing materials for the visually impaired and the allowance of a medical device in the testing room. If one's accommodations are approved, and they are registering for a computer-based exam, they will be directed to one or more specific testing centers that can provide their alternative testing arrangement.

What Exams Do I Need to Pass to Become a Certified Teacher in California?

Teachers in California have to obtain a Preliminary Credential, which comes in Multiple Subject, Single Subject, Education Specialist, and other varieties. There are six steps that must be completed before one can earn their Preliminary Credential. Some of these steps can be satisfied in more than one way. Included among these is the basic skills requirement, which can be fulfilled by passing the CBEST exam. To get a better sense of this step and the other five here is a rundown of the certification process.

California Teacher Certification Process

Teaching and service credentials and permits in California both come with a basic skills requirement. This is the second step in the certification process and can be satisfied by passing the CBEST exam or by passing the CSET Multiple Subjects exam and the CSET Writing Skills test. The first step, at least for credential candidates, is earning an applicable baccalaureate degree or higher. After one has verified their basic skills, they then have to demonstrate competency in whatever subject matter areas they wish to teach. This is accomplished through passing the relevant CSET Single Subject subtests. Next, candidates must complete a college or university course on the US Constitution or pass an exam on the subject given out by an accredited college or university. Then candidates have to complete a CTC-approved teacher preparation program. The final step involves getting a formal recommendation for a credential from the teaching program's supervisor.

Once earned, Preliminary Credentials last for five years. They have to be upgraded to Clear Credentials within this timeframe for a credentialed educator to continue teaching. Two options are available for upgrading a credential: go through a Teacher Induction Program or gain certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Clear Credentials normally remain valid for five years and are renewed online.

What is the Difference Between the CSET and the CBEST?

CSET and CBEST are both tests developed by the CTC. CSET stands for California Subject Examinations for Teachers. CSET has Single Subject tests that cover subject matter areas like English, Art, and Science, and the previously mentioned Multiple Subjects test. CSET and CBEST differ mostly in their scope and versatility. CBEST only deals with Reading, Mathematics, and Writing, while CSET tests cover a wide range of K-12 subjects. As for versatility, depending on the subject one wishes to teach, they can use the Multiple Subjects test and the Single Subject Writing Skills test to satisfy the basic skills requirement and the subject matter competency requirement of their credentials. Many California educators take the CBEST and one or more Single Subject tests in the course of earning their credential. Test takers can choose which exams to take based on their subject matter strengths and their educational goals.

Expert Contributor

Lindsey Seril

Lindsey Seril, M.Ed. has worked as a teacher for 8 years. She passed the CSET and CBEST exams while obtaining her license. Lindsey also holds Montessori teacher certifications for early childhood and elementary school. She earned her M.Ed. from St. Catherine's University and her Bachelor's degree in Liberal Studies from Sonoma State University.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much does it cost to take the CBEST?

    There are different fees per service for the CBEST. Computer-based test registration is $30 per subtest, online-proctored test registration is $30 per subtest, and paper-based test registration is $41.

  • Is the CBEST difficult?

    The chances of passing the CBEST are pretty high with the first-time passing rate at around 71%. With all exams, difficulty will vary from test taker to test taker, but the majority of those who take CBEST pass.

CBEST Practice Tests

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