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Last Updated On: December 14th, 2020

The California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET) is very important in your pursuit of a teaching credential or graduate degree in education in the state of California. It was developed by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, and it is notoriously difficult. If you want to be a California educator, you have probably heard, or lived, horror stories of the CSET loop of take, retake, retake.

The CSET exam has more frustration associated with it than other common teaching tests, like the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) or RICA. No one wants to take the CSET more than necessary, so consider these ways to be prepared for the CSET, get a passing score, and move on to the next step of your program!

Know what will be on the test

Review the topics

Because it’s a subject test, what you need to study will vary from exam to exam— you may need to review English, Physical Education, or even a Social Science. Review your old materials, watch videos, do Quizlets, or read schoolbooks; if you have materials related to your CSET topics, break them out and review those topics. Don’t forget your teaching course materials; this is a test for educators after all! Because you are a prospective teacher, educational terms and concepts that you are able to logically use in your constructed-responses can support your essay.
There are study materials on many websites; Quizlet, for example, has many flashcard sets related to CSET tests. If these resources are available and helpful to you, use them! Someone like you made these study guides, you do not need to redo that work. Select your materials strategically though. If the information seems too long, convoluted, or limited in value, you will want to select a different resource.

Review the test subject matter

Each CSET test, single-subject or multiple-subject, has a published list of subject matter to be covered for each of its subtests. After you have studied everything else, use these as a checklist to pick up missing concepts. It is a bit intimidating to start with this, but after you have done the rest of your prep, to be really prepared, you will want to review these and make sure that you are prepared for all of the topics listed. An example of this is for the CSET Multiple Subjects test: Content Specifications for the Multiple Subject CSET. Each CSET test or subtest has a list of this sort.

To help you prepare, you can make a document or print these Content Specifications and track your understanding. For a document, you can highlight using different colors for comfort level with the concept. You can then work your way to an entire document of whatever notation you selected for “comfortable”, with each of the topics completely reviewed. For a printout, you can highlight a subject area when it is comfortable and aim for a fully highlighted sheet. These are the contents that the exam was built to test, so knowing them all will indicate that you are prepared for all the right material.

Prepare for the format

Understand and practice the CSET Multiple-Choice

The CSET exam has trends in its multiple-choice questions and answers that you can anticipate, which can make the test more comfortable and easier. Multiple choice questions show up on both Subtest I and Subtest II, so it’s definitely worth looking into. For example, the CSET likes to include answer choices that are truthful, but do not answer the question. Knowing this allows you to know that just because an answer choice is true, doesn’t mean that it is the right answer for your question, which can stop you from falling into traps set for those who aren’t considering the question. You can also use this to eliminate wrong answer choices by identifying the topic that an answer is really answering. For example, if answer choice A is accurately describing inertia, but the question is about equal and opposite actions, you can eliminate answer choice A.

Understand and practice Constructed-Responses
Constructed-Response questions on the CSET exam are typically graded on Purpose, Subject Matter Knowledge, and Support (Occasionally also Depth). These types of questions appear in Subtest III and IV. Notice that writing skills are not included in this list, so focus on your content as long as your writing is coherent.

  • Success in Purpose indicates that you fully answered the question; practice doing a final check at the end of your reply to make sure that you addressed all of the questions asked in the prompt.
  • A successful Subject Matter Knowledge reply shows that you are familiar with relevant terms and definitions and that you can use them properly. Practice “term-dropping” while you write your constructed-responses and doing a review at the end of your writing to see if you can add any more terms or definitions. Make sure that you stay relevant to the question, but use any terms or concepts that relate to your questions. This is your time to show off; show them that you really do know what you are talking about. This is also a good place to get credit if you can not answer the question or are unsure. With Subject Matter Knowledge, you can show them that even if you can’t answer the question, you do know some things about the topic.
  • Support is successfully shown by explaining how you got your answer and why your response addresses the question asked. “How” and “Why” are the difference between an acceptable score and an excellent score. Don’t assume that your reader can make the connections; show that you understand the how and why. Practice taking any “What” statements and converting them to “How” and “Why” statements. For example: “The answer is 36.” can convert to “The answer is 36 because the equation for area of a rectangle is A= l x w, so I multiplied the length, which was 4, with the width, which was 9 to get 36.” If you got 36, you already know how you did it, so add this information for your reader.

Know what your strengths are for constructed-responses and be prepared to use them

If you know history or important people or applications or definitions, capitalize on that. You do not need to know everything about all topics, but you will likely have at least one area in a topic that is more interesting to you and in which you are stronger. If you have a strong background in definitions, use more definitions; if you know important events, include more important events. This is important to keep in mind as you read sample responses for constructed-responses; remember that the writer had a certain background and set of strengths, but yours may be entirely different. There is more than one way to get a 3!

Take practice tests

Taking practice tests is your best way to get the feel for the CSET before your actual test date. Practice every single test that you can find. Start with the official practice test for the CSET that you are going to take. Select the test you are going to take on the CSET’s Preparation Materials page and you will find the official practice test, as well as the standards used in the test. Then look for additional books, supplemental webpages, Teacher’s Test Prep, or questions posted on education chat boards. Regardless of if a question that you study is on the CSET exam that you take, exposure to these tests will help you review the concepts on the test.

All practice tests are set up to help you review the material. Some tests will also prepare you for the format of the exam. If you are not sure if a practice test is designed to help you practice format, compare the questions to the CTC official practice materials. If the question types look similar, then it is designed to help you with the question style. If they don’t, it is probably a topic-only test. Both types have value, but stick with the format practice tests if you have limited time and if they are available. Check back in with the CTC test often to make sure that you keep your perspective on the style of the exam.

Work with a mentor, tutor, or study group. Or all of these.

Remember that you are not alone in your desire to be prepared for the CSET. Others have taken this test before you. There are education specialists who have trained specifically to help you with a preparation program. You have colleagues, both known and currently unknown, who are studying to take this same exam. Working with others can make a preparation program seem more approachable, which can reduce stress and make the whole studying process more enjoyable. Keep to people who are encouraging, dedicated, and knowledgeable to maximize the benefit. Take what you learn from your mentor or tutor and share it with your study group, remembering that teaching is the best way to learn.

You know that you need to prepare for the CSET, but preparing strategically can help you be ready more quickly and more thoroughly, helping you to see that PASS sooner and with more confidence!

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