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The California Teacher of English Learners (CTEL) exam was developed as a method to test the competency of teachers in the skills and knowledge required to teach English learners1. The CTEL exam consists of three subtests:

  • Language and Language Development (CTEL 1): covers your knowledge of the structure of the English language and the importance of English in academics. This subtest consists of 50 multiple-choice questions and one essay.
  • Assessment and Instruction (CTEL 2): evaluates your knowledge of content instruction, literacy development and assessment. This subtest consists of 60 multiple-choice questions and two essays.
  • Culture and Inclusion (CTEL 3): evaluates your knowledge of culture and diversity and their relationship to academic achievement. This subtest consists of 40 multiple-choice questions and one essay.

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How to pass the CTEL Exam

Passing the CTEL exam will be an important step in your career development, and as such preparation for the exam should not be taken lightly. In order to properly prepare for the test, you will need the right materials, resources and habits. The following study tips will help CTEL test-takers achieve their desired results. 

1. Use a good CTEL Exam study guide.

You’re only as good as your study guide—so make sure you have good study materials. The CTC offers a free CTEL study guide on their website with basic information on what to expect from the test, as well as practice questions for each section, but you will likely want to supplement with an additional study guide as well. Investing in a thorough study guide will help you focus on the various skill sets, knowledge and phrasing within the exam.

2. Understand concepts and application.

Memorization will only take you so far in your studies. In order to pass the CTEL exam, you will need to have a deeper understanding of the concepts and be able to apply them. This will certainly be necessary for the CTEL exam essay questions, where you will be required to clearly discuss and illustrate concepts, but even the multiple-choice questions will require critical thinking and application of learned theories in order to answer correctly. As you study, don’t just focus on memorization but incorporate application into your study routines as well. For example, once you’ve finished a lesson, test yourself by trying to explain the lesson—using real-life examples—as if you were teaching the lesson to a classroom of students.

3. Take CTEL practice tests to gauge growth.

The CTEL practice test is a good way to incorporate application into your study routines. Practice tests will help you identify areas that require additional attention and improvement. Many study guides include practice material, but you can also find a CTEL study guide for free, as well as free questions online. When you test yourself, be sure to simulate real test conditions. Complete the entire test in one sitting, and time yourself, allotting the actual amounts of time that will be given for each part of the exam. Make sure to take time to study and answer the CTEL practice test essay questions and utilize flash cards if they help. With continued practice, students find that they are better prepared for the time requirements of the test come the actual test day. When initially attempting to understand a new area during study, a timer may be counter-productive. Take the time you need then to learn and review the material at your own pace.

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4. Study over time.

It makes no sense to cram information in a short window of time as retrieval is typically easier when knowledge is stored at a deeper level. Create a study calendar to create a realistic time frame for study and avoid becoming overwhelmed. Gather the necessary materials and set goals for weekly and monthly progress, accounting for other events and obligations. These periods of study should also be reasonably related to your stamina but with ongoing study, students find they increase stamina over time. As test takers become more familiar with the test and their individual performance, they can focus on areas that require additional attention.

Students that plan and follow a study regimen prior to test day may find significant improvement in results and feel more confident during the day of the CTEL exam. Interested in getting your CTEL/CLAD certification? Contact an Alliant admissions counselor to learn more about this online certification program.


  1. California State University, Northridge, California Teachers of English Learners (CTEL) Authorization,…, Accessed Nov. 29, 2021

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