What is the CSET Exam?

What is the CSET?

The California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET) is a series of tests developed by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) to assess the preparedness of aspiring teachers. These exams verify prospective K-12 teachers' command of essential subject matter, and passing scores are among the requirements for teacher certification in California.

Should I Take the CBEST or the CSET?

There are multiple ways that prospective teachers can satisfy credential requirements in California, two of which involve achieving a passing score on an exam like the CSET or the CBEST. The CSET is a series of individual tests related to the subject(s) an educator wants to teach, while the CBEST is a single test that measures proficiency in reading, writing, and math.

Credential candidates can take the CSET Multiple Subjects, CSET Writing Skills, or the CBEST to fulfill the satisfy the California basic skills requirement. You can visit the following informational article to learn more about the differences between the CSET and the CBEST.

Which CSET Exam Do I Need to Take?

The CSET exam(s) you'll need to take will depend on the credential you're applying for. Prospective teachers who are applying for their California credential from another state or country must take the Preliminary Educational Technology exam in order to satisfy the basic educational technology requirement for Multiple Subject, Single Subject, and Education Specialist credentials. For details about CSET exam options for other credentials, see the table below.

Desired Credential California Credential Requirement Applicable CSET Exams
Multiple Subject
(elementary educators)
Basic Skills Multiple Subjects
*Subtest I: reading, language, literature, history
*Subtest II: math, science
*Subtest III: human development, visual & performing arts, physical education
Writing Skills
Single Subject (secondary educators) Basic Skills Multiple Subjects
*Subtest I: reading, language, literature, history
*Subtest II: math, science
*Subtest III: human development, visual & performing arts, physical education
Writing Skills
Single Subject
(secondary educators)
Subject Matter Competence Humanities, including:
* Business
*Social Science
Foreign Languages, including:
Math & Sciences, including:
*Health Science
*Home Economics
*Industrial & Technology Education
Additional subject tests are listed on the CTC website.
Education Specialist (special education) Basic Skills Multiple Subjects
*Subtest I: reading, language, literature, history
*Subtest II: math, science
*Subtest III: human development, visual & performing arts, physical education
Writing Skills

What Is the Format of the CSET?

The mix of questions on the CSET varies by exam, but you should expect to see a mix of multiple-choice and constructed response (essay) items. The following table provides more information on the format of many CSET exams.

CSET Exam Multiple-Choice Items Constructed-Response Items
Multiple Subjects* 39-52 3-4
Writing Skills 0 2
Preliminary Educational Technology 110 5
Subject-Specific Exams* 0-166 5-14

*number of items varies by subtest

The CSET is offered as a computer-, paper-, or (in rare cases) video-based test, which can be requested when registering for the exam. The following page provides complete information on registering for the CSET, including details about each of the three available testing methods.

How Is the CSET Scored?

CSET tests are criterion referenced exams, which means they are graded based on an established scale. The performance of other students will not affect a test-taker's individual scores. Candidates must score at least a 220 on each subtest in order to pass. According to the CTC, the cumulative passing rate for all examinations administered between 2003-2017 was 68.4%, with pass rates for individual exams ranging from 7.9% to 96.8%.

Scores are typically not available until at least two weeks after your testing appointment. The score release dates vary from exam to exam, but you can check the exact day you can expect to receive results once you've selected a test date.

How Do I Prepare for the CSET?

Regardless of which individual tests you wish to take, each CSET assessment requires appropriate preparation and studying. Some steps that you can take to be successful on the CSET are:

1. Find your tests and select a testing date. Register for the CSET exams required for your role and select a date to take them. The cost to register will range from $63-$134 per subtest.

2. Familiarize yourself with the tests. Take CSET practice tests to gain familiarity with CSET exam content, question types and test length.

3. Make a study plan. Use CSET test prep courses and CSET study guides to make sure your schedule and covers all exam material. Map out study intervals and establish a daily or weekly routine to maintain consistent progress.

4. Make sure you have everything you need on test day. Bring your photo ID for admittance but leave prohibited items (e.g., cell phones, food, drinks, and unauthorized aids) outside the testing center.

CSET Test-Taking Tips

Constructed response items appear on every CSET exam, so you should also be prepared to respond to essay prompts, case studies, and share your domain-specific knowledge in an organized, logical, and thorough way.

Because every CSET exam aside from the Writing Skills test contains multiple-choice items, make sure that you're familiar with strategies to answer multiple-choice questions.

  • take a first pass at the multiple-choice items and enter responses for anything you can answer quickly
  • use what you've studied to eliminate incorrect options and locate the right answer
  • remember that blank and incorrect answers are scored the same on the CSET, so there's no penalty for giving your best guess if you're not sure about an answer!
Continue reading: CBEST vs. CSET

There are a number of tests that are part of the CSET test family. This article looks at different resources that can be used to study for CSET tests as well as useful test prep information.

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