What You Need to Know Before Taking the CBEST

What is the CBEST?

The CBEST (California Basic Educational Skills Test) often represents the first step toward attaining a teaching credential in California. The exam is designed to test the reading, mathematics, and writing skills determined to be the most fundamental to a career as an educator. In this article we will break down everything you need to know about the test: who’s expected to take it, how to schedule a test date, and, most importantly, the type of content you can expect to encounter on the exam.

To start with, it’s important to understand that the CBEST tests an individual’s content knowledge in the areas of reading, mathematics and writing, rather than their ability to teach those skills. In that way, it isn’t that different from many of the standardized tests you may have taken as a student. The goal is for you, the test-taker, to demonstrate your general proficiency in these core areas of education.

As such, the test can be required in a few different circumstances. Most commonly, passing the CBEST typically allows one to begin substitute teaching within the state and/or is required to gain acceptance into a state-accredited teacher preparation or credentialing program. It is also required of those who are seeking an administrative services credential. 

The test itself is made up of three subtests: reading, mathematics and writing. The reading and math sections consist of 50 multiple choice questions each, while the writing subtest is composed of two essays. These subtests may be taken on separate days or as a combined exam. For more details about the major content areas covered in each subtest, consult the summaries provided at the end of this article.

For more information about the exam, please visit the official California Educator Credentialing Exams website, or take a look at the CBEST information page on the Teachers Test Prep website. Here you’ll find a helpful overview of test dates, registration procedures and preparation options.

In this guide, you wil find the following information:

FAQs About the CBEST

Where can you register for the CBEST?

You can register online on the CTC Exams website or by phone or mail. Click here for details.

How long are you given to complete the CBEST?

You are given four hours to complete all three sections of the exam.

What is considered a passing score on the CBEST?

A total score of 123 across all three subtests is required. Your results are determined using scaled scores that range from 20 to 80 for each of the three sections (reading, mathematics and writing). A passing score on each section is a scaled score of 41; however, you can score as low as a 37 on a section, as long as the sum of your three scores is 123 or higher.

How to Prepare for the CBEST

Here are some recommended resources to help you prepare for the exam:

  1. Free preparation materials are available on the CTC website, and they include test specifications and practice test questions.
  2. There are multiple study guides available at bookstores, but be sure to look for the most recognized brand names. Teachers Test Prep offers a free basic CBEST Study Guide online, which provides you with a concise listing of all the topics covered on the exam.
  3. Take at least one practice test. While the official CTC website offers practice test questions, it’s often helpful to get even more practice. Teachers Test Prep provides a free full-length CBEST Practice Test for each subtest of the exam. After you take the test, you’ll be able to see the answers you got wrong, as well as a breakdown by domain of your strengths and weaknesses, so that you can optimize your time while preparing for the test.
  4. If you find you need additional help, Teachers Test Prep also offers a variety of paid services, including CBEST Prep Classes taught by live instructors throughout the state, one-on-one online CBEST tutoring with test experts, and CBEST Online Prep programs, which allow you to go through the same material covered in a live class but use a series of online videos that can be viewed from the comfort of home.
  5. If you’re specifically concerned with the writing subtest, Teachers Test Prep also offers CBEST written response grading services in which a professional grader will score your sample essays using the same rubric as the exam. The grader will also provide you with written feedback describing what you did well and what you may need to improve to succeed on the exam.

10 Helpful Test-Taking Tips for the CBEST

  1. Use the multiple choice format to your advantage. Because both the reading and mathematics subtests are comprised of multiple choice questions, the right answer will always be staring you in the face — all you have to do is find it! On many math questions, you can use approximation skills to get you close enough to the right answer to be able to identify it among your choices. And with reading questions, it’s always a good idea to start by eliminating obviously wrong answers to help narrow your choices. 
  2. Translate. While a variety of different concepts show up on the mathematics subtest, one skill is used most often: translating the language of English into the language of math. In other words, can you take the word problem you are given and translate the key words and phrases in it into the correct mathematical steps that will lead to the correct answer?
  3. Don’t be a hero: Use scratch paper. You’re not able to use a calculator on the mathematics subtest, which means that any and all computations have to be done by hand. To help avoid making silly errors, use the scratch paper provided to you to work through problems.
  4. Read the fine print. Quite often on the mathematics subtest, there will be important fine print to be read as part of a diagram, chart, table or graph. Whenever you come across a visual aid on the exam, be sure to look for that fine print, as it will often alert you to an extra step that must be executed in order to arrive at the correct answer.
  5. Put the passage into your own words. While there are many different question types on the reading subtest, the fundamental skill remains the same: Can you distill the passage you’ve just read down to its essence? After you’ve read through a passage, try to come up with a one-sentence description of what it was about in your own words, and then, let that main idea serve as your guiding principle when answering the questions that follow.
  6. Make sure your answer is specific and supported. On the reading subtest, it’s often easy to eliminate obviously wrong answers; the hard part can be deciding between a pretty good answer and the correct answer. When in doubt, remember that all correct answers will have 100 percent direct support from the passage, and they’ll be specific, qualified statements. In other words, they won’t be broad statements or sweeping generalizations.
  7. If an answer choice is half-right, then it’s all wrong. “Trap” answers on the reading subtest tend to “trick” test-takers into choosing them, because half of the answer is supported by the passage. But these answer choices can ultimately be ruled out because they will add something extra that is not supported by what you’ve read.
  8. Triangulate your answers. On the reading subtest, if you’re stumped by a particular question, answer the other questions about that same passage first. Then, see if you can’t use your answers to those questions to help you figure out the answer to the question you’re stuck on. Remember, while there are many different question types, there is always going to be one unifying (main) idea in every passage.
  9. Outline your essay. Before you launch into your essays on the writing subtest, take a few minutes to jot down a basic outline of your ideas on a piece of scratch paper. Too often, test-takers write themselves into a corner or end up repeating themselves, because they don’t brainstorm and organize their ideas first. Think of it as a roadmap to success.
  10. Proofread your essay. Can you get away with a few typos and a missing comma on the writing subtest? Of course. But if your essay is littered with usage errors (i.e., typos, spelling and grammar mistakes), it can start to obscure the clarity of your message, and your score will come down as a result. So, take a few minutes before you submit your final product to read back through what you’ve written to correct any errors you might have made along the way. 

Logistics for CBEST Exam Day

  • View the CTC exams computer-based testing tutorial, so you’ll know what to expect if you’re taking the computer-based exam.
  • Verify your test date and location by logging into your CTC exams account.
  • Bring government-issued identification with your registered name to the test center. This must include your photo and signature. Examples include: driver’s license, passport, military ID or alien registration card.
  • Do not bring any of the following to your test center: food, drinks, pens, pencils, scratch paper, textbooks, cellphones, smart watches, calculators or recording devices.
  • Visit the CTC to learn more about alternative testing arrangements due to a physical or learning disability.
  • Wear layers to accommodate for various room temperatures.
  • Arrive at your test center early to give yourself ample time to check in.
  • Plan on being at the test center for upward of four hours on test day, if you are taking all three subtests.

Getting Your CBEST Results and Retaking the Exam

To pass the CBEST, your total scaled score must be at least 123 (each section has a passing scaled score of 41 but you can receive a scaled score as low as 37 in one or two sections as long as the total of all 3 sections is at least 123). You may want to retake a section that you already passed in order to increase your overall score. Your highest score for each subtest will be submitted.

For computer-based testing, results are typically made available to you within two weeks. For written-based testing, results are typically made available to you within three weeks.

You can take each subtest as many times as you like in order to pass. However, you must wait at least 45 days from your last test date to retake the computer-based test.