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In many ways, getting ready to take the CBEST — the California Basic Educational Skills Test — is like preparing for any other academic exam. You start by finding out what the CBEST is for and whether or not you need to take it. Then you look to see what skills and level of knowledge this exam assesses. You find prep materials, study the required content ,and take a practice test. 

Understanding CBEST expectations and procedures before test day also adds to your preparedness. Below are some of our top test preparation and test-taking tips to help you pass this California test.

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Make Sure You Need the CBEST

Before you start preparing for the CBEST, confirm that you actually need to take the exam for what you want to do. The California Basic Educational Skills Test assesses whether a teacher candidate meets California proficiency standards in the core subjects of mathematics, reading, and writing in English. It’s possible that you’ve already met this basic skills requirement, as there are several other ways to do this without taking the CBEST. 

For example, taking and passing a basic skills examination in another state will satisfy California’s requirement. Since you’ll probably need to take the CSET as well, know that taking that test’s Multiple Subjects and Writing Skills examinations also satisfies the state’s basic skills requirement. While the CBEST and CSET are two completely different tests, you will most likely have to satisfy both requirements, which is why you should begin your research early on to properly prepare. By reviewing your options, you may be able to save yourself time and money by not having to take the CBEST.

Understand CBEST Content

Once you’re sure you need to take the test, studying for the CBEST begins with looking at which skills the test actually assesses. The CBEST Test Specifications are available through the California Educator Credentialing Assessments website1. Although the document does not include actual questions that you’ll see on the test, you will find a list of the skills you’ll be asked to demonstrate on each section of the CBEST. For each section (reading, mathematics, and writing), skills are listed under the related domain.

For example, here is one of the test specifications for reading, under the “Comprehension and Context” domain:

  • Determine the meanings of figurative or colloquial language in a reading selection.

While the specification provides no clues as to what the actual reading selection and vocabulary will be, it does tell you what kind of language you’ll be asked to look for. By reading through these test specifications, someone who had forgotten what “figurative” and “colloquial” mean would know to review those while studying for the test.

Likewise, here is a test specification for mathematics, under the “Computation & Problem Solving” domain:

  • Solve simple algebraic problems (e.g., equations with one unknown).

Again, the specification doesn’t supply any numbers or variables, except to say there will be one unknown. This lets you know the type of equation you’ll need to study, especially if it’s been a long time since your last algebra course.

Read through all of the CBEST specifications, identify any confusing terms and look up their definitions. Naturally, familiarizing yourself with the test’s vocabulary will help you understand the questions, giving you more time to work out the problems.

Find CBEST Prep Materials

Now you’re ready to take a practice test. If you search online for “CBEST Practice Test,” you’ll find many companies selling practice tests, test prep books, and other study guide materials. Pearson Education, which produces the CBEST and other state tests, provides a free CBEST practice test and a variety of test prep materials on the California Educator Credentialing Assessments website2.

The first version is a Flash-based webpage. If you’re planning to take the CBEST as a computer-based test, you may want to choose this “interactive” version of the practice test. However, some computers or web browsers may automatically block Flash, or have other issues that keep the CBEST practice content from loading properly. If you have any such issue with the Flash version, there is another option.

The second version of the CBEST practice test is a PDF, which you will need to download and print as a hard copy. If you plan to take the actual CBEST on paper, and if you have a printer available, this practice test version is the better option for you.

Take the Free CBEST Practice Test

The practice tests for reading, mathematics, and writing feature questions similar to those you’ll find on the actual CBEST. You’ll get the most out of the practice test if you treat it like the real thing. If you haven’t already registered for the actual CBEST, you may want to decide whether you’ll take all three sections of the test together in one four-hour session, or you’ll take each section separately. Whatever you end up choosing, it’s best if you time yourself and minimize breaks during the practice test in order to replicate the actual test experience. This definitely includes putting away your cell phone and getting rid of any other distractions.

If you choose to take the CBEST practice test on paper, make sure to have several, pre-sharpened No. 2 pencils with erasers ready to go before starting.

As you would during the real test, read directions and practice questions carefully, pace yourself according to the time limit, and do not consult Google or any other outside help.

When you’ve finished with the CBEST practice test, you’ll need to score your own work. The reading and mathematics sections consist of multiple-choice questions, with correct answers provided at the end of the practice test booklets. Since the writing section requires two essay responses, an answer key is not provided. Instead, scored sample responses for each writing topic, along with a scoring rubric, are included so that you can see how your response would compare.

Pearson also provides Test Results Information that will help you interpret your practice score and, later, your actual CBEST results.

How Do Practice Tests Help?

A disclaimer at the end of each practice test reminds you that your practice score is only that, and isn’t meant to indicate how you’ll do on the actual CBEST. You might be disappointed to read this and ask, “So what good is the practice test?” 

The primary value of both the CBEST practice test and the CBEST test specifications already mentioned is that they familiarize you with the format of each test section, and the skills you’ll need to know in each domain. This certainly gives you an advantage going into the actual test, compared to someone who didn’t take the practice test at all.

Concentrate Your Study Time on Weaker Skills

The secondary value of the CBEST practice test is that it highlights those skill areas that you need to study more and those that perhaps require less time to review. For example, if you scored well on the written essays but performed poorly on word problems in the mathematics section, your study time will be better spent on reviewing word problems. 

By taking the CBEST practice test, you may become aware of basic skill deficiencies you didn’t know you had. If you’re an older teaching credential candidate, years or even decades may have passed since your last class of general education courses. Identifying which skills to brush up, and then reviewing them, will make you better prepared for test day.

Review Test Day Procedures

Included on the California Educator Credentialing Assessments website is information about the Day of the Test for both computer-based and paper-based test takers. Find out how to report to the test site, what to bring with you on your scheduled test day, how your identity will be verified at the test site, and other expectations and procedures you should know beforehand.

If you’ll be taking the CBEST as a computer-based test, Pearson’s prep materials include computer-based testing tutorials, which allow you to preview and practice functions, including calculators and other features, that you’ll see onscreen during your actual computer-based test. You can also view a slideshow of what you’ll experience after arriving at a Pearson Professional Center on the day of the test.

The CBEST fee is usually around $41 per registration. Be aware that while the computer-based test is offered year-round, unlike the paper-based test, it is also more expensive, with an additional, approximately $61 service fee.

No matter which version of the test you register for, it’s always wise to remember general strategies that can improve your performance. This includes CBEST study tips like practicing and preparing for the test well in advance, not cramming, and getting plenty of rest the night before the exam. Anything you can do before test day, from looking up test center directions to setting out everything you need to take with you, will boost your confidence, make you feel more relaxed, and help you pass the test.

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About Alliant

If your goal is teaching single or multiple subjects, or working in special education, consider Alliant International University’s CTC-approved California Teaching Credential programs. Alliant also offers a Certificate in California Teachers of English Learners (CTEL), Leading to CLAD Certificate. To learn more, call (866) 825-5426 to speak with an Alliant representative.


  1. California Basic Education Skill Test, Test Specifications,, Accessed Nov. 29, 2021
  2. California Educator Credentialing Assessments, CBEST Test Specifications,…, Accessed Nov. 29, 2021

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