How Hard is the CSET Social Science?

Instructor: Bill Sands
The CSET Social Science exam is a difficult test that covers a wide range of history, economics, political science, and geography concepts. Learn more about the challenging nature of this assessment, and pick up some tips to help you prepare.

Challenges of the CSET Social Science Exam

The CSET Social Science exam is administered to prospective social studies teachers in California and represents a difficult test of a candidate's subject area knowledge and teaching skills. If you're preparing to sit for this exam, you'll want to be aware of the potential difficulties that this diverse and complex test might pose.


The first and most substantial hurdle is the actual information on the CSET Social Science test. Content covers a wide range of topics and is divided into six learning areas, referred to as domains by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC). They are classified as follows:

  • World History: Ancient civilizations, medieval and early modern times, and modern world history
  • American History: The pre-revolutionary era, the early republic, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Gilded Age, the U.S.'s emergence as a world power, the 1920s, the Great Depression, World War II, post-war foreign policy, and the civil rights movement
  • California History: The pre-Columbian period, the end of Mexican rule, and the gold rush through the present era
  • Principles of American Democracy: America's fundamental values, the principles of civil society, the three branches of government, important Supreme Court cases, the election process, the function of different levels of government, the role of the media in political affairs, and various political systems
  • Principles of Economics: Economic concepts and terms, characteristics of America's market economy, the effects of politics on economics, the U.S. labor market, measures of economic behavior, and international trade
  • Principles of Geography: Geographic tools and perspectives, geographic diversity, and the relationship between society, culture, and the physical environment

As you can see, you will need to have a deep understanding of a number of economic, historical, and geographic concepts in order to succeed on the CSET Social Science examination.


The demanding nature of this CSET test also stems from the sheer volume of questions that candidates will need to answer.

The Social Science exam is divided into three subtests. Subtests I and II each consist of 39 multiple-choice questions and three constructed-response questions, while Subtest III has 40 multiple-choice questions and three constructed-response questions.

Subtests I and II must each be completed in two hours and 15 minutes. Candidates will have one hour and 45 minutes to complete Subtest III. The entire assessment lasts just over six hours, meaning you will need to display plenty of endurance in addition to intelligence.


The CSET Social Science test is offered via computer-based testing, or CBT. While the CTC strives to make this format as accessible as possible, it is nevertheless an unfamiliar interface that may pose a distraction if you're already worried about the content of the test.

In order to help candidates prepare for CBT, the CTC website provides a series of tutorials designed to familiarize them with test-taking procedures. It is highly recommended that you complete these tutorials. The test is difficult enough as it is, and failing to understand how to answer questions or move through the test content could further complicate your testing period.

Preparing for the CSET Social Science Exam

While the length, format, and content of the assessment are certain to challenge even the best students, the CSET Social Science test is not an impossible exam. With diligent studying and extensive preparation, you can enter the testing site feeling relaxed and confident.

In addition to the tutorials mentioned above, the CTC website contains other preparation materials. Of particular benefit are the sample questions, which can provide unique insight into the wording and structure of questions found on the real test. You can also use these questions as a trial run to test your knowledge before sitting for the official exam.

Another good source of review materials comes courtesy of, which offers a study guide for the entire test as well as each individual subtest:

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.