Subtest III: Human Development Study Guide for the CSET Multiple Subjects Test

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General Information

There are 13 multiple-choice questions and one constructed-response question about human development within Subtest III. They will address the concepts of cognitive development, social development, and influences on development in young people from birth through adolescence. You’ll also need to relate cultural factors to this development and analyze each stage of growth. The varying needs of students of different genders and students with special needs are also addressed by the questions.

Content Tested

Cognitive Development

Cognitive development refers to how children think and accumulate knowledge, skills and problem-solving abilities. The physical development of a child’s brain is also a part of cognitive development. Common theories of cognitive development include Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development and Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development.

Basic Concepts

Many studies and theories on cognitive development look at either stages of development or core skills. In Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development, there are several basic concepts that explain how the development occurs.

  • Schema is the term used to describe the building blocks of knowledge, which ultimately inform how individuals react to new experiences.

  • Assimilation refers to the process of using an existing schema and applying it to a new situation, experience, or object.

  • Accommodation refers to the process of changing an approach when the use of an existing schema is not working.

  • Equilibrium is the force that allows development to progress.

Moral development is related to cognitive development, but it describes the process in which children develop attitudes and behaviors toward other people. This development is largely based upon current acceptable social and cultural norms, rules, and laws.


The ability to reason is one of the characteristics found throughout different stages of development. Reasoning describes the process in which an individual develops logical and coherent thoughts, evaluates situations and reaches conclusions. This process is often characterized by the child’s ability to conform to societal norms that outline right and wrong.

Symbol Manipulation

Symbol manipulation is demonstrated at various levels throughout stages of development. It refers to the use of symbols that are related to either concrete objects or abstract thoughts. As children develop the ability to play imaginatively, symbol manipulation may mean using certain objects as others (pretending a frisbee is a plate, etc.).

Problem Solving

As a cognitive skill, problem solving refers to how children think, perceive, gain an understanding of their world, and make decisions. Problem solving requires two different types of thought processes—analytical and creative. Analytical thinking includes activities such as ordering, comparing, evaluating, and choosing. Creative thinking uses the imagination to develop multiple ideas for solutions to problems that are not obvious.

Stages in Cognitive and Language Development

Depending upon the cognitive theory being referenced, there may be different labels attached to different stages and milestones. Under Piaget’s Stages of Development, these include the sensorimotor stage, the preoperational stage, the concrete operational stage, and the formal operational stage.

Identify the Stages

Each stage of development is marked by certain characteristics. Under Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development, the four stages are:

  • Sensorimotor Stage (from birth to 2 years): During this stage, infants and toddlers learn through sensory experiences and manipulating objects. This stage is marked by rapid advancement.

  • Preoperational Stage (from ages 2 to 7 years): During this stage, representational thought emerges and children learn that objects are separate and distinct entities with existence outside of their perception. Massive leaps in language development occur during this stage.

  • Concrete Operational Stage (from ages 7 to 11): During this developmental stage, children begin to understand that their thoughts are unique to them and that others may not share the same feelings and opinions. Thinking becomes more logical, but kids may still struggle with abstract and hypothetical concepts.

  • Formal Operational Stage (ages 12 and up): Additional increases in logic occur during the final stage of development. The ability to use deductive reasoning and an understanding of abstract ideas. They become able to see multiple solutions and evaluate the merits of each.

Apply These Stages to Developmental Description

Descriptions of the different stages of development as related to actions or milestones achieved by the individual are listed below. It is important to note that these stages may be encountered and learned differently by children with special needs, and how this occurs may depend on the type and severity of the disability. . Sensorimotor Stage

  • Children learn through movement and sensation, including by sucking, grasping, looking, and listening.
  • They begin to understand that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be seen.
  • They realize that their actions cause responses.
  • They begin to understand that they are separate beings.

Preoperational Stage

  • Children begin to think symbolically and use works and pictures to represent objects.
  • Language and thinking improve, but thought still occurs in concrete terms.
  • There is a tendency to be egocentric with an inability to see other perspectives.

Concrete Operational Stage

  • Thought becomes more logical and organized.
  • Inductive logic and the ability to reason from specific information emerges.
  • Abstract thought begins.

Formal Operational Stage

  • Abstract thought emerges more robustly.
  • Reasoning using hypothetical thought begins.
  • Deductive logic, or reasoning from generalities to specifics, begins.
  • Thought about moral, ethical, social, and political issues occurs.


Play is crucial to the cognitive, linguistic, and emotional development in children. Play is defined as an activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation. However, in children, this activity leads to learning physical abilities, emotional acumen, advanced language, memory, and how to navigate social situations. It promotes growth of the cerebral cortex.


Play allows children to explore and learn in a world they can master. They can play at adult roles. They develop competencies, confidence, and resilience. Undirected play allows them to work in groups, share, and resolve characteristics. Playtime may vary throughout the developmental stages. For infants, they learn through interactive games such as peek-a-boo. Toddlers may learn through song and preschoolers begin to play using their imagination.

Influence on Cognitive Development

Play is important for cognitive development. It allows them to gain abilities by learning the right and wrong way to do things, exercise their physical abilities and limitations, and develop linguistic abilities by interacting with adults and other children.


Historically, there has been a lot of research that focuses on what intelligence is and how it is developed. It is defined as the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. A person’s IQ (intelligence quotient) is generally regarded as the standard measure of an individual’s intelligence level. However, with children, there are many other types of measurements, such as group intelligence tests or nonverbal intelligence tests, that can measure certain aspects of intelligence.

Different Perspectives

In the past, researchers have suggested that intelligence was predominantly a genetic trait, or an environmental variable. Currently, intelligence is generally thought to originate from four different components: genetics, cultural influences, socioeconomic influences, and educational influences. It is also widely accepted that there are different types of intelligence that each person holds at varying rates. A widely used theory by Gardener posits that there are nine types of intelligence: naturalist, musical, logical-mathematical, existential, interpersonal, bodily-kinesthetic, linguistic, intra-personal, and spatial.

Implications for Development Analysis

Since each child is unique—and the varying intellectual capacity they hold for each type of intelligence is also unique to them—it’s crucial to recognize that each child’s learning experience will be unique. For instance, Piaget posited that while all children pass through the stages of development in the defined order, there is quite a bit of variability in what ages each child attains the stages.


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