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If you’re planning to complete a teacher credential program and teach in California, you'll need to meet the state's basic skills requirement in order to qualify for a teacher certification or credential. For many people, taking and passing the CBEST is the way to meet this requirement. What is the CBEST test? This guide will give you the CBEST information you need, including who needs to take it, what kind of questions are on it, and what is required to pass it.

1. What Is the CBEST and What Is the CBEST For?

In grade school, you undoubtedly learned “the three Rs” — reading, writing, and arithmetic. It turns out that these are as important as your elementary teacher said they were, especially if you want to teach. No matter your educational specialty, the State of California wants to ensure that all classroom teachers have basic skills in these fundamental subjects —and this is exactly what the CBEST exam is designed to measure.

CBEST stands for the California Basic Educational Skills Test and must be passed in order to get a teaching credential or to work as a substitute teacher in the state. What type of test is the CBEST? The exam assesses whether a teacher candidate meets state proficiency standards in the core subjects of mathematics, reading, and writing in English. The CBEST does not assess whether you can actually teach those subjects to others. It only measures whether or not you satisfy the basic skills requirement in those subjects.

Keep in mind that CBEST and CSET are two different tests. While many people confuse the two, the CSET is a separate test that assesses subject matter competence.

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2. Who Should Take the CBEST?

It’s possible that you won’t need to take the CBEST. The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing specifies several other options for meeting the basic skills requirement. For example, taking and passing both the Multiple Subjects and Writing Skills examinations of the CSET meets this requirement. So does taking and passing a basic skills examination in another state. Your score on the ACT or SAT may also exempt you from having to take the CBEST. Review the CBEST requirements to see if skipping the CBEST is an option for you.

3. What Is On the CBEST Test?

The CBEST is made up of three sections, which you can take together in one four-hour session, or take in four separate one-hour sessions.

Reading is the first section, which consists of 50 multiple-choice questions. These questions on various subjects require you to read and comprehend information as presented in text passages, graphs, and tables. As you answer the questions, you’re assessed on two main skills:

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

Mathematics, the second section, also contains 50 multiple-choice questions. Most of these questions are word problems, and calculators cannot be used. This section assesses 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 Graphical Relationships (35% of the questions)

The final section is writing and consists of two essay questions. Both assess your writing ability but do not require you to demonstrate specialized knowledge in your responses. The essays will ask you to:

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

Test specifications, practice tests, and other resources are available online that will help you prepare for the CBEST.

4. What is Required to Pass the CBEST?

Each of the three CBEST sections – math, reading, and writing – has a passing score of 41. A combined score of 123 is required to pass the CBEST. You can score as low as 37 on one or two sections and still pass the CBEST, as long your overall total is 123 or higher. However, you would have to retake any section that scores below 37.  

For paper-based tests, your CBEST score is released up to three weeks after your testing date. If you take the CBEST examination via computer, your preliminary reading and math scores will be available to you that day, with your full results delivered within two weeks.

In order to prepare, there are a variety of different CBEST study guides and CBEST practice test questions that you can find online. Before going through the CBEST registration process, it's highly suggested to review CBEST exam practice tests so you can develop your math, reading, and writing skills before test day.

5. What Are CBEST Testing Options?

The CBEST is offered in both computer and pencil-and-paper formats. Both formats require a test fee for each test registration. Paper-based testing is typically offered six times a year at locations throughout California. Computer-based testing has the advantage of being available year-round, by appointment, at state testing centers. However, this convenience comes with an additional service fee.

If you are looking for a teacher preparation program to start your career, Alliant International University can help. We prepare all future educators with test preparation tools and skills they need to succeed in this line of work. To learn more about our teacher credentialing and CBEST preparation, contact our enrollment office today.

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About Alliant

At Alliant International University, you can earn a single-subject, multiple-subject or even a special education credential. Alliant also offers a program for California Teachers of English Learners (CTEL), Leading to CLAD Certificate. Talk to an Alliant Admission Counselor today at (844) 582-4927 to learn more.


  1. “CBEST,” California Educator Credentialing Assessments
  2. “Basic Skills Requirement,” California Commission on Teacher Credentialing
  3. “CBEST,” California Educator Credentialing Assessments…

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