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Teaching can be an incredibly rewarding career. Knowing that you are guiding a student’s future, helping them succeed, and contributing to their overall learning and development is truly one of society’s most important roles. It’s why proper certification is so important to ensure that the most qualified teachers are in front of the PK-12 classrooms. 

Understanding the CBEST Exam

What is CBEST? CBEST stands for the California Basic Educational Skills Test. The CBEST exam is designed to assess the basic math, reading, and writing skills necessary to be an effective California public school educator and is often a requirement for those seeking California teaching credentials. 

The CBEST also gauges a candidate’s readiness to handle the academic challenges they may encounter in the classroom. Fully preparing for this test is crucial given that recent data shows less than 66% of students pass the CBEST on their first try, and only 81% of test-takers pass after multiple attempts.1 But don’t let that discourage you. We’ve outlined some effective tips, strategies, and resources to help you do your best when taking the CBEST exam.

The CBEST exam is a computer-based test divided into three sections: reading, mathematics, and writing. 

  1. Reading: 50 multiple-choice questions designed to assess your reading comprehension skills and your ability to analyze and evaluate written passages, table, and graphs.
  2. Mathematics: 50 multiple-choice questions that test your basic mathematical problem-solving skills including arithmetic, algebra, measurement, and geometry.
  3. Writing: This section consists of two essay questions that evaluate your ability to write coherently and effectively on a topic. 

You have the option to take the CBEST at an official test center or remotely as an online-proctored test. Each of the three sections has a separate time limit. The total testing time for all three sections is approximately four to five hours (reading and writing sections: 1.5 hours each; mathematics: 2 hours).2

The passing score for each section is set by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC). While your individual section scores can vary and will be converted to scaled scores for the final rating, a total score of 123 for all three sections is required to pass. You can visit the California Educator Credentialing Assessments website to learn more about the CBEST requirements, fees, scheduling, and test retake options.

Why the CBEST Can Be Challenging

While the content covered in the CBEST exam might be familiar and straightforward to most test takers, it depends on an individual’s academic background, preparation strategy, and personal weaknesses on a particular subject. Some test takers may simply be out of practice with the material and basic concepts due to a gap in education or being out of school for an extended period of time.

Those with test anxiety may find that it affects their concentration, decision-making, and overall performance on the CBEST exam. Others may have personal challenges such as learning or reading disabilities which could affect how well they do on the reading section. Those who have not performed formal writing exercises in quite some time may find the writing section challenging to complete within the required testing time frame. Time management and test question prioritization should be a part of your preparation strategy.

While these challenges may feel daunting, they are not impossible to overcome. It's important for test takers to assess their individual strengths and weaknesses, tailor their preparation, adopt effective test-taking strategies, and find support to help mitigate these difficulties.

Tips for Successfully Passing the CBEST

Exam content review and consistent practice are the most important steps in your CBEST preparation. If you create a strong study plan and find the right resources and strategies, you can set yourself up for success on exam day. It’s also important to give yourself plenty of time to prepare for the CBEST. Several months is the average minimum3, especially if you’ve been out of school for several years.

There are many study guides and test prep books available to help you review basic math concepts and strengthen your reading comprehension skills along with practice tests for every CBEST section. You may even consider joining a study group if you find peer support helpful. Adopting the following strategies can contribute to a more successful test-taking experience. 

Preparing for the exam:

  • Consistent practice with official sample tests is key for CBEST preparation as they can help to reinforce your knowledge and build confidence. 
  • Use the official CBEST study guide and practice tests provided by the California Educator Credential Assessments.
  • Identify your strengths and weaknesses from the practice tests to help you focus on improving areas where you struggle the most.
  • Analyze your mistakes on practice tests and understand the reasons behind them. Adjust your study plan accordingly.
  • If you encounter challenging concepts or test questions, don't hesitate to get help from teachers, tutors, or online resources.
  • Practice time management during your study sessions to simulate the real exam conditions.
  • Allocate specific amounts of time to each section and test question to ensure you can complete the actual test within the given time frame.

On exam day:

  • Get plenty of sleep the night before the exam. Being well-rested contributes to better concentration and cognitive function.
  • Arrive early at the test center with time to spare. Being rushed can increase stress and affect your performance.
  • Bring all required materials (e.g., identification, admissions confirmation, other items specified by the exam guidelines).

During the exam:

  • Read instructions carefully before starting each exam section to avoid misunderstandings that can lead to unnecessary mistakes.
  • Keep track of the time allotted for each section. Pace yourself to ensure you can complete all questions within the given time frame.
  • If there is no penalty for guessing, make sure to answer every question. It's better to take a chance than to leave a question blank.
  • Don’t let one difficult question disrupt your flow. If you encounter a challenging question, flag it, move on, then return to it later if time allows.
  • If you feel stressed or anxious, take a deep breath and refocus. Panicking can impair your ability to think clearly and may derail your confidence.
  • If time permits, review your answers for any errors or places where you might have misinterpreted the question.
  • Submit your exam before time runs out. Don't risk leaving questions unanswered due to a lack of time.
  • Maintain a positive mindset. Confidence can have a tremendous impact on your performance, so remind yourself of all your strengths and successful preparation efforts.

The Role of Aliant International University in CBEST Preparation

Another path toward success in your teaching career and your CBEST preparation is to enroll in a teaching credential program. The California School of Education (CSOE) at Alliant is California’s teaching credential specialist. Alliant offers online credential programs coupled with hands-on training experience to prepare you to lead your classroom with confidence. And our programs are approved by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC), one of the highest standards in the industry. 

You can earn a teaching credential in single subject teaching, multiple subject teaching, or as an education specialist instruction, mild/moderate disabilities. Completing one of these programs will not only give you the necessary skills to teach in California’s elementary, middle, and high schools but arm you with knowledge that can help thoroughly prepare you for your CBEST exam. Alliant can also help prepare candidates teaching in specific subject areas who need to take their California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET) test. Alliant can help clarify the differences between CBEST vs. CSET to help you choose the right path from day one.

Navigating the CBEST Exam Successfully

Is the CBEST hard? Hopefully we’ve made the answer to that question a little less daunting now that you’ve learned how to successfully prepare for the test day. The CBEST is often a prerequisite for full-time and substitute teaching roles in the California public school system. And while private schools may not require a CBEST, having a passing score on this test can enhance your marketability and give you an edge in a competitive school district or job market. 

Passing the CBEST exam can not only help your immediate career goals but also help support your potential advancement in the education field. You may also want to consider a teaching credential program like the ones offered at Alliant to help you achieve your professional goals. Best of luck on your CBEST exam!


  1. 2023. Accessed on December 18, 2023.…;
  2.  California Educator Credential Assessments. Published 2023. Accessed on December 16, 2023.…
  3. Published 2023. Accessed on December 18, 2023.…;


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