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In education we are bombarded with state tests, each referred to by a different acronym. Students in California take the CAASPP, the CAST, and the CHSPE to name a few. Then there are college admissions exams, the ACT and SAT. Knowing the difference between these exams can be a challenge in itself.

If you plan on becoming a teacher in California, you must familiarize yourself with other acronyms. For example, if you intend to become CLAD-certified to teach English learners, you must pass the CTEL exam. But no matter your subject area, you will also need to know what the CBEST is and what the CBEST and the CSET is, and how those tests relate to getting your credential. 

This guide will help you understand the differences between the two, what’s on each test, and whether or not you need to take both of them to teach a classroom in the state of California.



Before we get into the fine details of each test, let’s look at the CBEST and CSET to determine the main differences.

CBEST stands for the California Basic Educational Skills Test. The State of California wants to ensure that you, as a classroom teacher - regardless of your subject area or grade level - possess fundamental skills in mathematics and reading and writing in English. The CBEST measures those basic skills needed for teacher certification. So, what is CSET?

CSET stands for the California Subject Examinations for Teachers. Unlike the CBEST, the CSET is not a single, uniform test for all teachers. The CSET measures your competency in a specific subject area – like art, physical education, science, or Spanish – and will, therefore, look different depending on what you plan to teach.

Now let’s look at each test in detail, including the kinds of questions that you can expect on each test and who needs to take them to obtain the teacher certification.

CBEST Sections and Requirements

To pass the CBEST for your basic skills proficiency, you must complete three sections. You may take them together in one four-hour session or in four separate one-hour sessions.


This section contains 50 multiple-choice questions requiring you to read and comprehend information presented in various text passages and tables. The questions will measure these two skills of the teacher candidates:

  1. Critical Analysis and Evaluation (40% of the questions)
  2. Comprehension and Research (60% of the questions)


This also contains 50 multiple-choice questions, mostly word problems. Here you’ll be assessed on three main skills:

  1. Estimation, Measurement, and Statistical Principles (30% of the questions)
  2. Computation and Problem Solving (35% of the questions)
  3. Numerical and Graphic Relationships (35% of the questions)


The last section consists of two essay questions, which will require you to:

  1. Write from personal experience on a given topic
  2. Analyze a given statement or situation1

A practice test and resources are available to help you prepare for the CBEST. But while all teaching credential candidates in California must demonstrate these basic education skills, passing the CBEST is not the only way to do it. For example, passing a basic skills proficiency examination in another state satisfies California’s requirement. If you take the CSET and pass the Multiple Subjects and Writing Skills examinations, you can also satisfy the basic skills requirement.

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CSET Questions and Requirements

As mentioned, the CSET varies according to the subject matter. In fact, there are 40 different versions of the CSET, assessing subject matter competency from agriculture to writing skills1. Each CSET breaks down into multiple subtests that assess different domains or skills within each subject. These subject matter requirement tests are a mixture of multiple-choice and constructed-response questions. The number of subtests and types of questions vary according to the subject matter, so a one-size-fits-all outline cannot be provided here. However, we can look at a particular subject – physical education –  for example, and see how its CSET is structured.

The CSET certification for physical education is made up of three subtests, which you can take together in one five-hour session, or take in separate sessions lasting one hour and 45 minutes or one hour and 30 minutes each, depending on the subtest.

Subtest one of the Physical Education CSET consists of 40 multiple-choice questions and two short constructed-response questions, assessing two domains:

  1. Growth, Motor Development, and Motor Learning
  2. The Science of Human Movement

Subtest two of the Physical Education CSET consists of 40 multiple-choice questions and two short constructed-response questions, assessing three domains:

  1. The Sociology and Psychology of Human Movement
  2. Movement Concepts and Forms
  3. Assessment and Evaluation Principles

Finally, subtest three of the Physical Education CSET consists of 40 multiple-choice questions and one extended constructed-response question, assessing two domains:

  1. Professional Foundations
  2. Integration of Concepts1

Again, this is only one example. Each CSET test is subject-specific and structured to assess a subject’s particular domains and skills. Specific CSET information about your study area can be found here under California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET).

Whether you’re pursuing a single-subject, multiple-subject, or specialist credential, to receive a teaching credential in California, you must either take the CSET or complete a subject-matter credential program at an institution of higher education that’s approved by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC)2.


How Is the CBEST Scored?

The California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) is scored on a scale ranging from 20 to 80 for each section, with a total possible score of 240.  The passing score for each section is a scaled score of 41, with an overall passing of 123. It is possible to pass the CBEST with a scaled score of 37 on one or two sections, given that the total score is still 123 or higher. It is impossible to pass the CBEST if any section score is below 37, regardless of how high the total score may be.

The Reading and Mathematics sections are multiple-choice, and each correct answer affects the overall score. The score corresponding to each skill area title reflects your performance on the multiple-choice test questions within that specific skill category.

The CBEST Writing score is scaled from 1-4, with one being the worst performance and four being the best. At least two readers will independently evaluate your writing skills. The Writing section measures the ability to construct coherent and organized essays, focusing on clarity, grammar, and overall composition. 

Understanding this scoring process can help you strategize your approach and do well in each section.

How CBEST and CSET Fit Into Your Educational Journey

The California subject and basic educational examinations are more than standard educational requirements. They are stepping stones towards a fulfilling career in education. Depending on your career goals and the educational programs you're interested in, getting a passing score in the CBEST or CSET could be crucial.

For instance, if you're aiming for a career as an elementary school teacher, understanding the specific CSET requirements for this path is crucial. Each subject area and grade level might have unique requirements. It’s important for a prospective teacher to research how these exams align with the chosen single-subject teaching credential or multiple-subject teaching credential program at Alliant University.

At Alliant University, we understand that preparing to get competitive exam scores can be daunting. That's why we offer specialized preparation resources. Our resources, from study guides to practice exams, are designed to help you succeed. Our experienced educators excel in these exams. They can provide insights into effective study strategies and tips on tackling challenging sections of the exams. Explore our programs and discover how Alliant University supports you in preparing for and excelling beyond the CBEST and CSET exams. 



About Alliant

Many teachers get their start at Alliant International University. Alliant’s CTC-approved California Teaching Credential programs combine the convenience of online courses with the hands-on teaching experience you need. Call (855) 385-5357 to discuss your options with an Alliant Admission Counselor.


  1. California Educator Credentialing Assesments, "CBEST and CSET," CBEST, Accessed November 29, 2021.
  2. Commission on Teacher Credentialing, "Teaching Credentials Requirements,” Accessed November 29, 2021.

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