Is the CBEST Hard to Pass?

Writing for, Diana Lambert reports that just 66 percent of the people who took the CBEST in 2019-20 passed the test on the first try.

After multiple attempts, 88 percent passed. So, the answer is yes and no, depending on the section of the test.

As we shall see, the essay writing test is the most difficult to pass on the first try.

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What is the CBEST?

Passing the CBEST (California Basic Educational Skills Test) is one pathway to becoming certified to teach in California.

The test measures basic skills and understanding of math, reading, and writing. It does not, however, evaluate the candidate’s teaching skills.

Who can take the CBEST?

California school

The test is available to those who are applying for the following:

  • a California teaching or services credential
  • issuance or renewal of an emergency teaching permit
  • seeking employment in a California school district
  • seeking admission to a California teacher’s training program

What is on the CBEST?

The CBEST is both a computer-based test given at a test center and an online proctored test that the candidate can take remotely.

Each section of the test is in English, and all responses must be in English.

The test is in three sections:

Section 1: Reading

The reading section has 50 multiple-choice questions. This section assesses the candidate’s ability to understand the information presented in a variety of media, such as written passages, tables, and graphs.

tables, and graph

Expect varying levels of difficulty and subject matter originating from a variety of fields. None of the questions require any outside independent knowledge.

The questions are related to the given passage only and the answers can be inferred from the information provided.

Reading section questions assess the candidate’s ability to critically analyze and use comprehension and research skills.

About 60 percent of the questions focus on comprehension and research. Those questions test your ability to accurately and logically read the text and make conclusions about the ideas and words presented.

The questions related to comprehension and research include:

  • Figuring out the meaning of unknown words, colloquialisms, and spotting how context changes the meaning of a word or how words can have different interpretations and meanings
  • Spotting the relationship between general/specific ideas and outlining or paraphrasing summaries of the main ideas

The remaining 40% of the reading questions focus on critical analysis and evaluation with questions on:

 critical analysis
  • Spotting what supports a writer’s main idea, and identifying any inconsistencies or differences in the writer’s point of view from reading a passage or two separate sources
  • Understanding and recognizing a writer’s viewpoint, techniques of persuasion, and audience.
  • Assessing how the author uses specific words to communicate an incorrect or correct tone
  • Identifying relevant information in the writer’s argument, how what the author writes strengthens or weakens the argument, along with identifying what statements are facts and what are simply opinions

On the reading test, there are no penalties for wrong answers. Usually, the final choice is between two multiple-choice responses.

To get a flavor of the CBEST writing section, download the CTC 50-question practice reading test and answer key.

Section 2: Mathematics

Consisting mostly of word problems, the 50 questions in this section assess the applicant’s ability in three skills factors:

math exam

1. Estimation, measurement, and statistics (30%)

2. Problem-solving and computation (35%)

3. Graphic and numerical relationships (35%)

No calculators are allowed in the CBEST math exam.

Example math word problems:

Example 1: An average person takes 15 breaths per minute. How many breaths will an average person take in 5 minutes and 45 seconds?

Example 2: A doctor prescribes a 250 mg capsule of a common antibiotic for strep throat. The pharmacist has only 1 gram of the antibiotic in stock.

How many capsules of medicine can the patient get from the pharmacist?

Section 3: Writing Section

This is the most challenging subtest of the CBEST. Sandra Lindenmuth, writing for, reports that recent CBEST test data show that the pass rate for the reading and math tests is as high as 81.5%, while about only 66.9% to 75.1% pass the CBEST Writing subset on their first attempt.

In this section, the applicant must write two essays on specified writing topics. Assessing the applicant’s ability to write effectively, the topics in this section:

1. Ask the applicant to analyze a statement or given situation

2. Ask the applicant to write about a specified personal experience

The writing test evaluates your ability to:

writing test
  • Express a clear focus or position
  • Write on a topic with relevant examples or information
  • Follow standard English language rules
  • Follow a logical pattern of thought

Essays are graded on the following scale:

A grade of “4” is a well-formed writing sample that effectively communicates a whole message to the audience.

A grade of “3” indicates “an adequately formed writing sample to communicate the message.

A grade of “2” is for a “partially formed writing sample that only attempts to communicate the message.

A grade of “1” is for an inadequate essay that “fails to communicate a message”.

The essay could be graded as “U” if it is unscorable for a variety of reasons: off-topic, illegible, too short.

For a point-by-point listing of criteria for each score, see Page 2 of the CTC CBEST Writing Score Scale.

Example writing prompts:

Prompt 1: Dramatist George Bernard Shaw once commented, albeit tongue in cheek, “Youth is wasted on the young.”

 George Bernard Shaw

In an essay to be read by an audience of educated adults, state whether you agree or disagree with Shaw’s observation.

Support your position with logical arguments and examples.

Prompt 2: Most students have experienced difficulties in their courses from time to time. Those difficulties can be such things as teacher-student conflict or your lack of interest in the subject field.

In an essay that will be read by educated adults, talk about one class in which you faced such a difficulty as a student or as a teacher.

Describe the problem and how you handled the situation.

What score do you need to pass the CBEST?

The applicant must score at least 123 points across the three sections of the CBEST to pass. The raw score is then converted to scaled scores of 20 to 80, where a scaled score of 41 is a passing grade.

The scaled score can be as low as 37 in one or two sections if your total score surpasses 123.


  • Every question in the math and reading sections has the same value.
  • There is no penalty for wrong answers.
  • The writing test is graded on the CBEST writing scale with specific criteria listed on the CBEST Test Results Information Guide.

How soon can I find out the results of my CBEST test?


When taking the computer-based CBEST at the testing site, you will receive your preliminary test results for the reading and mathematics section after the appointment.

The writing section results will be available within 2 weeks after the test.

For applicants who take the online proctoring version, test results will be available within 2 weeks.

How should I prepare for the CBEST?

You can download CBEST preparation materials from the California Educator Credentialing Assessments website.

Can teaching applicants bypass the CBEST?

Yes, they can. Faced with an ongoing shortage of teachers, the California legislature dropped the requirement for passing both CBEST and the California CSET, which tests the candidate’s proficiency in the subject they wish to teach.

While the original intent of the CBEST and CSET was to show how ready a candidate was to become a teacher, the tests for some applicants became a barrier and kept some great teachers from continuing their quest to learn to teach.

Alternatives to passing the CBEST are passing the SAT, College Board Advance Placement Exams, and other college entrance exams.

Still, according to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, approximately 90 percent of teacher candidates prefer to take the CBEST.

How can I schedule a CBEST computer-based or online test?

log in

Log on to the California Educator Credentialing Assessments web page for information about dates and to arrange online proctoring appointments during the 7-day testing windows each month.

Use the link at the bottom of the page to register for a CBEST session.

Also, provides a CBEST Writing: Practice & Study Guide with suggestions on how to study and practice for each section of the CBEST.

What are other alternatives to taking the CBEST?

The new California law lets teacher candidates show they are proficient by earning a grade of B or better in their college coursework.

Their transcripts are evaluated for college coursework in reading, math, and writing.

The reading requirement is fulfilled through course studies involving critical thinking, philosophy, textual analysis, or rhetoric.

The math requirement can be met through classes in geometry, mathematics, quantitative reasoning, or statistics, including related subjects.

The writing requirement can be satisfied by successful completion of courses in English, composition, written communications, or general writing courses.


Let’s recap:

  • The CBEST is one of the tests required for a teacher’s credential in California.
  • The CBEST can be hard for one out of 3 applicants to pass on the first try.
  • The CBEST is in three sections: reading, math, and essay writing.
  • You can substitute evaluated coursework instead of taking the CBEST.
  • The reading test has 50 questions on comprehension and critical analysis.
  • The Mathematics section has 50 questions on statistics, problem-solving, and mathematical relationships.
  • The writing section consists of two essay prompts: one requiring an analysis or a statement of a situation, and the second on a student’s personal experience.
  • You must score 123 points across all three exams to pass.
  • You can download sample CBEST tests from the CTC website and other resources.