CSET and CBEST Prep: Tips for Success

by Ana Felce

If you’re thinking about becoming a teacher, one of the first steps in getting certified to teach at public schools in the state of California is meeting the California Basic Skills Requirement and California Subject Matter Requirement. Both requirements are set by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, and historically most individuals met them by passing the California Basic Skills Test (CBEST) and the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET). The Basic Skills Requirement ensures an individual has general knowledge of mathematics, reading, and writing. The Subject Matter Requirement ensures an individual is proficient in the subject matter of their intended credential.

In 2021, new legislation was passed that allowed a number of new pathways for the demonstration of the Basic Skills Requirement and the Subject Matter Requirement. During the 2021-22 academic year, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and educator preparation programs collaborated to implement these new pathways.

Information on new pathways to meet the Basic Skills Requirement and the Subject Matter Requirement is available on the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing website. If you are an APU student or alum, the Office of Credentials has details on the new pathways and APU’s processes for review available on their website.

Even with the new pathways available, many future educators will be taking subtests of the CBEST and/or CSET to meet state requirements to become a credentialed teacher. When it comes to CSET and CBEST prep, it is important that students understand what to expect—so when the exam date rolls around, they can be confident in their ability to succeed. If you’re working toward your credential, here’s what you need to know.

Preparing for the CBEST and CSET

If you’re considering enrolling in any university educator-preparation program, be aware that some schools require students to have demonstrated the Basic Skills Requirement and the Subject Matter Requirement before admission. Angela Guta, PhD, program director of special education credential programs at Azusa Pacific University’s School of Education, reminds potential students that those who apply for admission to a graduate-level credential program—or credential and master’s degree combination program—are required to demonstrate the Basic Skills Requirement prior to admittance.

When mapping out your CBEST prep, be sure to keep in mind that the exam isn’t designed to test your teaching skills, but rather assess your ability and knowledge in reading, writing, and math. After proving your capability in these general areas, you can move on to specialize in teaching specific subjects. Depending on the subject and grade level you wish to teach, you will demonstrate the Subject Matter Requirement in the corresponding subject area.

Guta and the team at Azusa Pacific strongly encourage students to demonstrate the Subject Matter Requirement before starting any teaching credential program. From Guta’s experience, it can be difficult to juggle “the demands of full-time graduate-level coursework, attend two evening classes per week, balance additional outside family and work responsibilities, while at the same time studying for and passing the CSET.”

Although APU’s only admission requirement for master’s programs with the teaching credential embedded is proof of registration for at least one of the upcoming CSET exams, proceeding to your student teaching experience is dependent on showing subject-matter competency, and passing the CSETs is one way to accomplish that. By being proactive about your testing, you can ensure steady progress in your program and on-time completion of your credential.

Understanding the Structure of Each Test

Of course, one of the best ways to prepare for these exams is to know the structure beforehand, so you’re not met with any surprises on testing day. For the CBEST, the reading and mathematics sections each consist of 50 multiple-choice questions and the writing section consists of two essays. The CSET you take will vary depending on the subject, but it typically consists of three subtests made up of multiple-choice and constructed-response questions.

For students (or potential students) who want to practice and prepare for the exams beforehand, APU has partnered with Teachers Test Prep and 240 Tutoring to offer a discount on study materials. Even if you feel confident about the exam, consider taking a free diagnostic test to confirm what subject areas you excel in and in what areas you should study.

Also, take advantage of the preparation materials and interactive practice tests that are available online. Knowing where to focus your effort means being able to study smart and achieve the best score possible!

Knowing When, Where, and How to Take the Tests

Luckily for those seeking certification, there are many options when it comes to the availability and structure of the CBEST and CSET exams. You can find information about test dates and locations, exam fees, registration deadlines, rules regarding the test day, and more on the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Exams website.

If you take the computer-based version of the CBEST exam, you can choose which of the three sections (reading, writing, mathematics) you want to test for during the 4-hour session. The online exam is available by appointment at various locations throughout the year, so you have some flexibility in choosing when to take it. You also have the option of taking the CBEST exam in paper format on specific dates during the year.

For many subject areas, the CSET tends to be computer-based only; the available dates and locations will vary depending on the subject. It is important for students to keep in mind that it can take several weeks for CSET results to be processed. Additionally, if a section needs to be retaken, the student needs to wait 45 calendar days from the test date to retake it. These factors are important to keep in mind when planning for clinical practice opportunities.

If you’ve decided that teaching is your calling, outlining your plan of action—including program enrollment deadlines, exam requirements, and study prep—will help set the course for being recommended for your teaching credential. Check out the resources and information provided by your school to start your path to becoming a credentialed teacher in California.

Interested in pursuing your teaching credential? Learn more about the credential programs available through Azusa Pacific University’s School of Education.