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The Definitive Practice Test Guide for the CSET Multiple Subjects Test

About the CSET

The California Subject Examinations for Teachers, or CSET, is an exam developed by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing for potential teachers in the state. This exam assesses applicants to ensure that they meet specific requirements for certification before they begin their teaching career in the state of California.

The content on your specific CSET exam depends on what subject and grade level you intend to teach. The CSET Multiple Subjects exam includes three subtests. Subtest I covers Reading, Language, and Literature, as well as History and Social Science. Subtest II covers Science and Math, and Subtest III covers Physical Education, Human Development, and Visual and Performing Arts. You will likely be taking the CSET with a specific credential as your goal. An overview of the credentials and how they impact the test itself includes:

Basic Skills Requirement: Needed to teach in a general classroom, this exam contains all three of the CSET Multiple Subjects tests and a Writing Skills test.

Subject Matter Competence Requirement: For this credential, your test would include all three sections of the Multiple Subjects test, plus an appropriate subject area test. Candidates who pass the exam would have to apply for a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential and a single Subject Teaching Credential, also called an Education Specialist Instruction Credential.

Depending upon their desired career path, teachers may also want to seek the Education Technology Requirement or the competence requirement for Bilingual Authorization.

Note that our test preparation is for the CSET Multiple Subjects exam only.

The format for the CSET Multiple Subjects exam generally consists of multiple choice questions, with a couple of essay questions. Each of these three tests has a number of multiple choice questions, ranging from 39 to 52 questions, and three to four short essay questions. The Writing Skills subtest contains two long-form essay questions. The exam is timed, although you do not have to take it all at once. There are individualized times for each subtest, although if you take all three of the subtests in the Multiple Subjects exam at once, you will have five hours total to complete the entire exam, although you can move through each subtest at your own pace. Depending upon the testing site you use, you may take the CSET as a computer exam or as a paper-based exam.

Sections of the CSET Multiple Subjects Test

Subtest I: History and Social Science

The CSET® Multi-Subject exam contains 26 multiple-choice and 2 constructed-response (short answer) questions that will require you to demonstrate your knowledge and skills in the areas of World History, United States History, and California History. You should be able to answer questions in each of these areas by utilizing and interpreting graphs, tables, timelines, charts, and maps while applying chronological and spatial thinking.

Subtest III: Human Development

The CSET® Multi-Subject exam Human Development questions will assess your understanding in the areas of cognitive development from birth through adolescence, social and physical development from birth to adolescence, and influences on development from birth to adolescence. Be prepared to make connections, describe cultural influences, and analyze different stages of development through these ages while also considering gender and special needs.

Subtest III: Physical Education

Movement skills and movement knowledge, self-image and personal development, and social development are the content areas that will be assessed by the Physical Education questions on the CSET® Multi-Subject exam. You will be expected to understand how to create and structure a lesson for students on different skill levels, be able to express the importance of physical and emotional health, and have knowledge of the cultural and historical influences of movement and exercise activities.

Subtest III: Visual and Performing Arts

The Visual and Performing Arts questions on the CSET® Multi-Subject exam will cover the components from the State Curriculum Framework and the strands from the California Students Academic Content Standards in the Visual and Performing Arts. These consist of the following:

  • Artistic perceptions—processing sensory information
  • Creative expression—producing works in the arts
  • Historical and cultural context—the time and place of creation of works of art
  • Aesthetic valuing—pursuing meaning of the arts
  • Connections, relationships, applications

These components and strands will cover the areas of dance, music, theatre, and visual arts. You will be given 13 multiple-choice questions and 1 constructed-response question. You may be asked to interpret a piece of art, supporting your answer with reasoning, analyzing the components and citing strands from State Curriculum Framework and the California Students Academic Content Standards in the Visual and Performing Arts, and discussing other ideas with regard to the visual and performing arts.

Subtest II: Mathematics

The CSET® Multi-Subject exam includes mathematics questions covering the topics of number sense, algebra and functions, measurement and geometry, statistics, data analysis, and probability. You will be required to answer 26 multiple-choice questions and 2 constructed-response questions to apply your mathematical knowledge in these content areas. You will also be expected to show mathematical reasoning using a number of different strategies, such as numbers, words, mathematical language, charts, graphs, symbols, and diagrams. You will have access to an on-screen calculator for Subtest II, which includes Mathematics.

Subtest II: Science

The Science questions on the CSET® Multi-Subject exam will cover an array of topics such as physical sciences, life sciences, and earth and space sciences. This portion will also consist of a multiple-choice format and 2 short-answer written response questions. For the short answer portions, be prepared to analyze and interpret a scientific investigation while responding with scientific academic language. There will be an on-screen calculator available during Subtest II, which includes the science questions.

Subtest I: Reading, Language, and Literature

Exactly half of the questions in Subtest I of the CSET® Multi-Subject exam relate to these topics. So, 26 multiple-choice and 2 constructed-response (short answer) questions will require you to demonstrate your knowledge and skills in the areas of Language and Linguistics, Written and Non-Written Communication, and Reading Comprehension and Analysis. Questions will not only cover the content in these areas, but also ask you to relate that content to instructional practices. These questions will occupy about half of the 3 hours you are given to complete Subtest I.

What to Expect on Test Day

Taking and passing the CSET is a big career milestone, and because of this, it is easy to let anxiety get the best of you in the days and weeks leading up to your exam. But it often helps if you have a good idea of what to expect when you do take the test. This process can help you to prepare as much as possible, which usually eases anxiety.

On your exam day, you should plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early, possibly more if you are unfamiliar with the location of the testing site. You will need to check in, which requires presenting appropriate identification and providing biometric data, such as a digital signature, palm scan, or digital photograph. Since the test can be rather long—especially if you are taking more than one subtest—it’s always a good idea to have a nutritious meal and a good night’s sleep before arriving to take the exam. This will ensure that you stay focused throughout the duration of the exam.

What to Bring

You will be required to bring a government-issued form of valid identification (not expired), and present it when you check in for the exam. If you are taking the paper-based version of the exam, you will also be expected to bring a printed copy of your admission ticket (an electronic version will not be accepted) and several sharpened No. 2 pencils with erasers. Pens and mechanical pencils are not allowed, and the testing center will not supply pencils. You may also bring a graphing calculator when taking Subtest II, although you cannot bring the manual for the calculator.

What Not to Bring

Aside from your ID and graphing calculator, and your admission ticket and pencils if taking the paper version of the test, you will not need to bring any other materials with you. Study guides, reference materials, electronic devices (including cell phones), personal items, and food/drinks are prohibited in the test room. The testing center may or may not have secure storage space for your personal items. If you are unsure, you may contact the test center beforehand and inquire, or you can play it safe and leave these items at home or in your vehicle.

Best Ways to Study for the CSET

Take Practice Tests for the CSET

The CSET Multiple Subjects exam tests individuals on a wide array of knowledge and concepts. The best way to prepare for an exam of this breadth is by taking plenty of practice tests. Practice tests can give you an idea of what types of questions to expect on each of the subtests. They can also give you an idea of how you will perform on each subtest and which ones may need additional study time in order to get the best score possible.

Use Alternative Study Methods

Many students find that using alternative study methods, such as flashcards for the CSET and study guides for the CSET can give them a more comprehensive studying experience and increase their knowledge leading up to the test. Seeing the content and questions in multiple formats can help some individuals retain it better, leading to a better performance on exam day.

Simulate the Testing Experience

In addition to taking practice tests, it’s a great idea to simulate the entire testing experience at least once or twice before you take the exam. The CSET Multiple Subjects exam is timed, and you will have a total of five hours to take the exam. However, you don’t have any time restrictions for each subtest, meaning you can take the exam at your own pace. This freedom is nice, especially for test takers who can complete some sections quickly, but may need additional time in other sections. Simulating the testing experience gives you an idea of how you will need to pace yourself in order to complete the entire exam within the time restriction. You can learn which sections take you longer and which ones take less time and plan accordingly.

CSET Tips and Tricks

Decide Whether to Take the Exam All at Once or Break It Up

Those taking the CSET can opt to take the entire exam all at once or break up the subtests. While taking the subtests separately can take you longer to attain licensure, it can be a good strategy if you are uncertain whether you can pass the entire exam all at once. Taking the subtests individually allows you to focus and study for each one, which can lead to a better score. If you anticipate struggling with the entire exam, it may be a good idea to split up the subtests.

Create a Comprehensive Study Plan

Passing the CSET takes a tremendous amount of studying and effort for most examinees. In most cases, it cannot be done by cramming in a few study sessions in the last few days leading up to the exam. Your best chance for success is to develop a solid study plan that devotes time for studying every day in the weeks leading up to the exam. This slow and measured approach ensures that you cover all topics and retain the information.

Pace Yourself

Because the overall test is timed, but the subtests are not, time management is a crucial aspect in passing the CSET. Taking timed practice tests before your exam day will give you an idea of how long you can devote to each question. Remember these guidelines and follow them on your exam day.


1. How much does the CSET cost?

The CSET Multiple Subjects exam costs $247 when all three subtests are taken together. When they are split up, the cost for each subtest is $99.

2. What is a good score on the CSET?

A minimum score of 220 per subtest is required to pass the CSET, although the report only includes a Pass/Fail score. If you get a Fail on any of the subsections, you will also receive a description of your strengths and weaknesses in each section to help you focus your study efforts before retaking the exam.

3. How long will it take to receive my CSET scores?

Scores are generally available within five weeks of taking your CSET.

4. Can I retake the exam?

Examinees can take the CSET, in whole or in part, as many times as needed to achieve a passing score. However, they must wait 45 calendar days between exam attempts.