Is the CBEST Hard?

Instructor: Bill Sands
If you're an aspiring teacher getting ready for the CBEST, familiarizing yourself with exam content can go a long way towards making it less difficult. Read on for more information on what's covered and explore factors that can make it a challenging test.

CBEST Difficulty

Unlike most other exams administered by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the California Basic Educational Skills Test, or CBEST, covers three separate subjects - reading, writing, and math.

While the scope of the exam could prove difficult for some students, those who work to understand the format and diligently study can help ensure a smoother testing experience. Take a look at what's included in each of the exam's three subtests so you can identify and head off any areas that could pose a challenge to you on test day.


The reading comprehension portion of the CBEST focuses on two skill areas. To answer questions measuring your critical analysis and evaluation skills, you'll need an ability to assess the language choices and supporting evidence an author uses to build his or her argument. You might also be asked to compare and contrast differing views found in one or more texts. Questions testing your research and comprehension skills, on the other hand, will also require you to analyze visuals, usually in the form of tables or graphs, in addition to written passages.


This part of the test gauges your expository and argumentative writing skills. One prompt asks you to recount a personal story, while the other provides a certain idea or situation and asks you to offer your own thoughts on the matter. While these tasks do not require specialized knowledge, they nevertheless represent a challenge. You'll need to quickly organize your thoughts into a coherent narrative and a solid argument within a short amount of time.


Questions on the mathematics section cover topics ranging from basic arithmetic and estimation to graphical reasoning and statistical analysis. Most questions on this part of the test appear as word problems measuring your understanding of mathematics' practical applications. In order to solve a problem, you might be asked to calculate the measurements of geometric shapes, develop and solve algebraic equations, compare numerical relationships, or interpret standardized test scores. Moreover, you will not be allowed to use a calculator on this section.

CBEST Passing Standards

Another factor that contributes to the potential difficulty of the CBEST is the passing standard. Candidates must earn an overall score of 123 in order to pass the exam.

There are also achievement standards for the individual subtests. Scores of 20 to 80 points are awarded for each one, and a passing score for a single CBEST section is 41. Candidates can still pass the exam if they do not pass one or more sections, but only if they score at least a 37.

A candidate who earns scores of 39, 40, and 70 on the CBEST will still pass, because their overall score exceeds 123. If, however, a candidate scores 75, 60, and 30, they will not pass. Even though their overall score is well above 123, the 30 score means they automatically fail.

These standards force candidates to perform well on all three sections. If you are an excellent writer but a poor mathematician, you cannot expect your strong writing section score to cancel out a poor mathematics score.

Studying for the CBEST

One way to make your CBEST experience less difficult is to adequately prepare, and Study.com has several tools to help you review test content and develop a study plan.

For a complete review of the exam, check out this CBEST Practice and Study Guide. The guide covers every section of the test and contains engaging review materials like video lessons and interactive quizzes.

You'll also benefit from studying each individual subtest on the CBEST. The following study guides concentrate specifically on each respective portion of the exam:

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