Subtest I: Reading, Language Arts, and Literature Study Guide for the CSET Multiple Subjects Test

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General Information

This is one of two areas of content in Subtest I of the CSET® Multiple Subject test. Subtest I also covers History and Social Science, but we have separate study materials to prepare you for those questions.

Questions about Reading, Language, and Literature include 26 multiple-choice and 2 constructed response (short answer) questions. All of our practice questions will be multiple-choice, but we will include information about answering constructed response questions at the end of this study guide.

If you encounter topics or terms in this study guide with which you are still uncomfortable, try accessing our:

free English Basics study guides, flashcards, and practice questions

You’ll find sections on many things covered on this test.

Language and Linguistics

Linguistics refers to the study of language, which is a system of communication. On the CSET® exam, you will be asked questions related to elements of language and the structural rules that govern language. This means that you’ll need to know the basic rules of grammar and sentence structure as they apply to the English language.

Language Structure

Language has rules that have been put in place to ensure common understanding. Language structure refers to how words, phrases, and sentences are put together to create meaning. We start learning language structure from a very young age—before we are even able to verbalize! Think of language structure as concentric circles. The smallest building blocks of language, letter and speech sounds, are in the center and it builds from there, advancing to using language to communicate effectively with others. The CSET® assesses your ability to identify, understand, and correctly apply the concepts included in this study guide.

Human Language

Human language is complicated and comes in many forms. Verbal language is auditory and allows people to speak to one another, while written language records ideas for others to read. Body language is a non-verbal form of language that can also be used to communicate ideas and feelings. Humans have developed countless languages over the centuries, some of which are now extinct and others that are continuing to develop and evolve. Nevermind the sheer number of languages spoken around the world today. Here are some elements of human language that you should be able to recognize and be comfortable with on the CSET®.

Phonology— This is the study of how sounds are organized in language. Letter and speech sounds are the most basic building blocks of spoken languages. Understanding how sounds are put together and the patterns that those sounds take to create words and meaning is phonology. Phonological development starts at a very early age and develops over time.

Morphology— Once the sounds have been established, they are put together to create word parts. The study of the forms of words is called morphology. It looks at all of the word parts (prefixes, suffixes, and roots) and how those parts interact with other word parts to create meaning. When you divide a word into morphemes, you are dividing it into the smallest units of meaning.

Syntax— This is the basic structure of language. When you have the phonemes creating morphemes, they come together and that is called syntax. Syntax is how words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs are structured and put together. While syntax can get into some very detailed specifics, the CSET® sticks to more general terms and concepts.

Semantics— This is the meaning of words in a language. Beyond just the literal definition of what a word actually means, semantics includes things like reference, implication, logic, and word relationships.

Pragmatics— Humans are social creatures by nature. We have a need to communicate with others and to have them understand our ideas or feelings. Pragmatics refers to the study of how language is used in a variety of contexts or situations. We understand that to effectively communicate, we must tailor our language to our audience and our purpose. Recognizing the “appropriate” language to use within a given context is pragmatics.


Linguistics is the scientific study of language. Why study language, you might ask? To better understand human communication. Language is universal in some respects: every culture uses some sort of language to communicate among themselves. But at the same time, there are many differences between the types of language, the style of language, the context in which it is used, and so on. Linguistics itself is a broad term, encompassing many smaller subsets of study.

Language Differences— Even within the same “language” there often exist important differences. Take, for example, U.S. English and British English. Although there are similarities, there are differences in speech patterns and pronunciation. Even within the U.S., if you travel to different parts of the country, you are likely to encounter people with different dialects who pronounce words differently than you do or who use different terms for the same object (think “soda” vs. “pop” vs. “cola” to refer to carbonated beverages). There is tremendous potential for language differences as language continues to evolve. Think of all of the technology and scientific advances over the last 50 years that have drastically changed our language.

Universality of Language— There are some aspects of language that are universal. This is what allows people who may speak different languages to be able to communicate with one another on a very basic level. Often employing body language or gestures, the universality of language can be seen in a smile or a nod of the head, for example.

Phonemic Awareness

Most importantly, phonemic awareness is not phonics. Its instruction should precede any phonics lessons as phonemic awareness skills lay a foundation from which later phonics instruction can draw. Trying to mix the two can cause a great deal of student confusion and is not productive.

Phonemic awareness instruction is largely a listening activity—training one’s ears to listen effectively and filter out needed information. The most basic phonemic awareness lessons teach children to listen to environmental sounds and identify what makes them—like a doorbell or a car starting. These beginning lessons don’t have anything to do with letter sounds. Neither do the syllable exercises that follow—children simply clap the word parts they hear in longer words.

Sometimes, visual and tactile tools (like blocks to touch or picture cards) are used to augment the instruction, but there is no matching of printed letters to sounds. While there are only 26 alphabet letters used in the English language, there are 40 (or 44, depending on your source) actual sounds you can make with your mouth. These are phonemes, and they play a part in speaking, reading, and writing.

Rhyming— Listening for rhyming words is a fun and solid preparation for listening for smaller, more isolated sounds within whole words. Children can begin by chanting favorite rhymes and telling the words that rhyme. This practice will later translate into being able to hear word endings that don’t rhyme and match them with the letters that produce them.

Segmenting— Before a child can break a word apart into individual letters visually and use letter sounds to decode the word, he or she must grasp the concept of breaking a word apart at all. Segmenting begins by just listening for the first sound in a spoken word, then just the last sound. Children will learn to tell whether the beginning sound in two different words is the same or different during this phase of the instruction.

Finally, the child moves into segmenting a whole simple word. This is best accomplished orally by saying a word slowly and gradually separating it into parts. For example, saying the word “cat” like this: “ccccccc aaaaaaaa tttttttt”. The sounds should not be repeated, like “c, c, c” but just stretched out as best as possible. This is harder with consonant sounds than with vowel sounds. As this technique becomes easier, the child can learn to say just one sound for each part, like c–a–t. Presto, you have one of the two skills necessary to “sound out” a word!

Blending— This is the opposite of “segmenting” sounds, but equally important in preparation for phonics and word decoding. A child must also be able to take the smallest units of a word (the letter sounds) and blend them together. However, at this point (phonemic awareness instruction), they do not use printed letter forms when blending. Instead, they are taught to enunciate individual sounds and “blend” them together to make a word. It’s really the opposite process from segmenting as they start with individual sounds and gradually say them closer and closer together until they hear the word that is formed. So, the sequence goes like this:


Encouraging the “drawing out” of the letters as they speak helps in the learning process.

Phoneme Groups— Another thing phonemic awareness lessons teach children to listen for is phoneme groupstwo or more sounds that combine to form a certain word part, such as “t” and long “a” can combine to form the sound “tay.” Then, children listen to see if they can hear that sound in words presented to them orally. It is also important to point out how these parts might sound different when placed at different locations in a word.


After a strong background in phonemic awareness, a child is ready to attach sounds to the letters that make them. Remember, 40–44 phonemes and only 26 letters that make all those sounds. This is a complicated process.

The Alphabetic Principle— This is the concept that letters stand for sounds in a word and, in spite of the eccentricities of the English language, that there is a fairly predictable way they do so. For example, an m is probably not going to sound like a b in a word. Of course, the word part ow is going to sound different in some words, but this is one of the many phonics ideas that will be taught. There is a certain amount of consistency in the way letters sound.

Symbol-Sound Relationships— Seeing a letter and being able to attach a sound to it is vital in learning to read. One cannot possibly memorize all the words in print, but will need to use “sounding-out” skills while reading. Sometimes, the printed letters do not make their normal sounds, but many times they do. So, at least the student can take a stab at the correct pronunciation. As phonics instruction progresses and more sound/symbol oddities are taught, decoding will vastly improve.

Sound-Symbol Relationships—Additionally, knowing which letter is likely to make the sound you hear is a highly regarded spelling tool. No, you won’t always get the spelling correct, but it sure helps to know the likely letter combinations. Again, good spelling instruction will also provide children with knowledge of exceptions to basic spelling rules, which become rules in themselves.

Parts of Speech

Different words serve different functions within a sentence. Even the same word may be used in different ways and act as different parts of speech depending on the context. The term part of speech refers to the categories into which words can be put, based on their function in a sentence. English has eight parts of speech. Here is a quick refresher.

Noun— Nouns name people, places, things, or ideas. They may be common nouns like dog or school or proper nouns like Susan or Oregon.

Pronoun— Sometimes it can be repetitive to keep naming the noun over and over again, so pronouns are used. Pronouns take the place of nouns and include multiple different types: possessive, reflexive, indefinite, and relative. For example, instead of using the name John repeatedly, you can substitute the pronouns he, him, himself, his, etc.

Adjective— Adjectives modify or describe nouns or pronouns. They help give more information about a noun or pronoun and provide answers to questions like Which one?, What kind?, Whose?, or How many?. For example, the red shirt gives more information about the color of the shirt.

Verb— Nouns and pronouns need to do something. That’s where verbs come in. Verbs are action words or states of being. For example, “The bird flew across the sky.” What did the bird do? It flew. “Grandmother loved her new pillow.” What was Grandmother’s state of being? Loving. Verbs may act as linking verbs, action verbs, or helping verbs and may be conjugated in the present, future, or past tense.

Adverb— The same way that adjectives modify or describe nouns and pronouns, adverbs modify or describe verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They explain how something is done. For example, “The baby screamed loudly.” How did the baby yell (verb)? Loudly (adverb). Often, adverbs end in -ly, though that is not always the case.

Preposition— Prepositions show the relationship between a noun or pronoun in a sentence and some other word in the same sentence. A common way to remember what a preposition is, is to think of “whatever a fox can do to a box.” He can go up, around, over, under, in, on, through, etc.

Conjunction— Words and ideas must be linked together somehow. That is the job of the conjunction. Conjunctions join together two or more words, phrases, or clauses. The easy way to remember the conjunction list is the acronym FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).

Interjection— An interjection adds excitement or emotion to a sentence. Interjections are usually found at the beginning of a sentence, as in “Yay! We won the game!” or “Darn, I missed the bus.”


Parts of speech are put together to create phrases and clauses that are then linked together to create sentences. Sentences are sets of words that are used together to convey ideas. To be complete, a sentence must contain a subject (usually a noun or pronoun) and a verb, and it must express a complete thought. Sentences can be classified into one of three categories:

  • Declarative sentences are the most common type of sentence. They make a statement that ends with a period.
    “Dad drove slowly.”

  • Interrogative sentences ask questions and end with a question mark.
    “Do you know where you’re going?”

  • Imperative sentences state commands or requests and end with either a period or an exclamation point. Examples: “Clean up your mess.”
    “Get out of the way!”

  • Exclamatory sentences emphasize imperative or declarative statements by ending with an exclamation point.
    “We won!”
    “Sit down!”

Syntactic Components— Sentences are built using a variety of sentence parts. The most basic parts of a sentence are the subject (who or what the sentence is about) and the predicate (the part of the sentence that contains the verb and more information about the subject). Further deconstruction of the sentence breaks it down into clauses (either dependent or independent) and phrases.

Sentence Types— These are the four common sentence types:

  • Simple sentences are the most basic type of sentence, containing just one independent clause, though that doesn’t necessarily mean they are always short sentences. It just means that the sentence cannot have any dependent clauses or other independent clauses joined to it.
    “Martha and Miguel walked through their old neighborhood to get to the store.”

  • Compound sentences build from simple sentences and are two or more independent clauses joined together. They may be attached by using a comma (,) and a coordinating conjunction or a semicolon (;).
    “I’m freezing cold, yet the sun is out.”

  • Complex sentences are made up of an independent clause and one or more dependent clauses, linked using a subordinating conjunction.
    “Although he was ill, Mark finished the race in record time.”

  • Compound-complex sentences have at least two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause, all in the same sentence. As the name suggests, these are the most complex sentence types.
    “The dog growled when Sam got close, but she didn’t care since she loves animals.”


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