(Updated January 15, 2017)

April 28, 2016 marks the day that my life has forever changed. It is the day I received my official admission letter to UCLA’s Teacher Education Program for a 2-year Master’s degree!!! My heart literally leaped out of my body. I had to read the letter 3 times to really let the news sink in.


via GIPHY Source: www.Reddit.com
Anyone who wants to teach in California knows of the two giant hurdles that are the state exams: CBEST (California Basic Educational Skills Test) and CSET (California Subject Examinations for Teachers). As I started researching these two tests, my heart sank. In disguise of being only two exams, there are actually four or more, as the CSET is made up of multiple subtests. Even the people who made the tests suggest taking one subtest at a time! To make matters worse, as I scrolled through the content knowledge required of the CSET Math, I knew squat, nada, null, nothing. Things I never heard of in my life: Vectors? Matrix? Identity Property?


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So why should you take exam advice from me, a self-admitted underdog? Because if I can do it, you can definitely do it. I graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, and aspire to pursue a Master in Education (the two degrees don’t even bridge). I studied one university-level math course, and aspire to cram an entire math-major worth of knowledge in 4 months, just to pass the CSET. I started my teaching journey with 0 hours of youth interaction – I didn’t even know what I would say to the kids. The end goal seemed so unattainable, yet one year later, I wrote an essay strong enough to persuade the UCLA committee to give me a shot.


via GIPHY Source: SNL Saturday Night Live
I moved to Los Angeles to study for these exams (CBEST is available in Canada, CSET is not). That’s the first thing, you have to be 238% committed. These exams can be regarded as ridiculous, yes, but treat it as the time to prove your dedication to the profession. Teaching will not be any easier than these tests, let’s be honest.

To my surprise, UCLA has no collective resources for students to seek help for the CBEST or CSET. As an incoming student, I want to create a hub where students can share advice and study tips with each other, because collective knowledge can really help future teacher candidates  navigate through the rocky seas of state exams. I want to set up peer-to-peer resources for those seeking exam help from those who did (and passed!) the exact same tests. But before I even have a remote idea of what it looks like, I want to share my experience, and success, on tackling these hurdles.

Taking the CBEST

CBEST is by far the easiet exam. I studied for less than 2 weeks, and passed with flying colors:

Total Score: 214/240 (Passing Score: 123/240)
Reading: 62/80 (Passing Score: 41/80
Writing: 75/80 (Passing Score: 41/80)
Math: 77/80 (Passing Score: 41/80)

Recommended Resource(s)
CliffsNotes “CBEST Test Prep”, 7th Edition. This is the only resource I used. For each section of the test, it contains explanation, strategy, approach and examples. Best of all, it has 4 practice tests, each with a full-length answer key, step-by-step explanation for math problems, and sample essays in each score level.

CBEST CliffsNotes

When shopping for a test prep book, the most important consideration is whether the level of difficulty of the practice test matches the real exam. You don’t want something too difficult, and definitely not too easy.

CliffNotes Practice Section

Above/On Par/Below CBEST Difficulty

Reading

On par – Below

Writing

On par

Math

On par – Above

I found the Reading practice at the same level/slightly easier than the real test, Writing practice on par, and Math practice at the same level/slightly harder than the real test. Overall, if you complete the practice tests, you will have a good idea for the type of exam questions on the CBEST. (Disclaimer: I am usually better at Math than Reading in standardized tests.)

The Princeton Review “Cracking the CBEST”, 3rd Edition, . I also read many good reviews online regarding this prep book, but I did not purchase it.

CBEST Princeton

Study Schedule
I only completed 3 practice tests out of 4 available in the book, and passed the test! For Reading and Writing combined, I devoted 6 days of study for 3-4 hours (18-24 hours):

First Day: Read general info of CBEST, explanation on Reading section and Writing section
Second Day: Practice Test 1, review and analyze
Third Day: Practice Test 2, review and analyze
Fourth Day: Break
Fifth Day: Practice Test 3, review and analyze
Sixth Day (Day before exam): Light review, relax, get a good night sleep

For Math, I devoted 5 days of study for 3-4 hours (15-20 hours):

First Day: Read explanation on Math section
Second – Fifth Day: Same rhythm as above
(Disclaimer: If you need to brush up/re-learn probability, stanine scores, mean/median/mode, etc., then you may need to take a day to review these concepts.)

Test-Taking Strategy
You do not need to complete all sections of the test on the same day! I took advantage of it, as I learned while doing the practice tests that I need a lot more time for the Writing section. I took Reading and Writing one day, and scheduled to do the Math section in 2 weeks. You do have to pay for the exam fee again. As you learn about your pace, your strengths and weaknesses, you will know if you should split up the test to buy more time.

CSET Math – Subtest I, II, III

(Updated: I passed Subtest I, II, and III on the first try.)

I had a tough time finding study resources for CSET Math. It is a difficult exam consisting of 3 subtests, so it’s not something straightforward that can be packaged into one prep book. From general experience of writing standardized tests, it’s about finding resources that can push you to the next level. These are the resources that I cannot do without, and would like to share with the teacher-to-be community.

Laura4Math Problem Packets (https://sites.google.com/site/laura4math/cset).
This resource is a godsent. The packets contain over 30 pages of practice problems, most of them modelled after the real CSET exam. Each question has a written solution and a video solution explaining the methods and answers. I counted 19 out of 35 multiple choice questions on the real exam as either very similar or exactly the same as the ones on the packet, even the multiple choice selections were copied and pasted verbatim. Two words, BUY THIS. Each packet is $50 (honestly cheaper than retaking the test).

She does not have a fully developed Calculus (Subtest III) packet yet. Currently, her draft packet is free on the website!

W. Michael Kelley, “The Humongous Book of Algebra Problems”, “The Humongous Book of Geometry Problems”, “The Humongous Book of Calculus Problems”.
Look through Laura’s packets (she has free samples), if they are too difficult for you, then get these books! I finished the Algebra book in 2 weeks (they are humongous, but not un-doable). The books review all important concepts that you will need to know for the CSET, and quite fun to read. They will give you the foundational tools and skills to solve CSET-level problems.

In the same series, Kelley also published “THB of Statistics Problems” and “THB of Trigonometry Problems”, but I am not planning on getting them.

Available on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, retail price $21.95.

Katheryn Porter, “CSET Mathematics”, 2nd edition.
I recommend this book as a supplementary resource in addition to W. Michael Kelley’s Humongous Book series. The 2 practice tests are very helpful, and I find some questions to be more difficult than the real CSET. The math refresher in the book covers all topics on the test, but the explanation can be dense and tedious to read, and sometimes erroneous.
CSET REA
Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, retail price starting at $60. However, the MRSP printed on the back of the book says $34.95. I received this book for free by hiring a tutor from LAtutors.

Frank Ayres, “Schaum’s Outline of Calculus”, “Schaum’s Outline of Trigonometry”.
If you need more examples and practice on differential and integral calculus for CSET III, Schaum’s is the way to go. It is highly recommended by numerous CSET prep sources, and has thousands of solved questions and practices. I feel it fills in the gaps of “The Humonguous Book of Calculus”, goes further in-depth, and better prepares for CSET-level problems.

Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble. Calculus retails at $13.25, and Trigonometry at $10.38.

Google
W. Michael Kelley’s books cover about 85% of each subtest. Number Theory (Subtest I), Probability (Subtest II) will not be in his books. To fill this gap, I have consulted Google and my private tutor alike. What is the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic? Google. What is the definition of closure property? Google. Definitions and explanations on WikipediaKhan Academy, and Paul’s Online Math Notes are just as good as a textbook, and they will become your best friends for free.

Magoosh GRE Free Resources (http://magoosh.com/gre/gre-math/).
I took the GRE last March, and there are overlapping concepts between the GRE and CSET. If you need a reminder on the basics, or wonder if there is a different way to solve a problem, then I highly recommend Magoosh. They have a free Math e-Book online with formulas, arithmetic basics, number properties, GCF and LCM, work rates, etc.

Private Tutor ($70-100 per hour)
The last fitting piece of my puzzle is a weekly tutor session for about an hour. Tutors for CSET are not cheap, they run from $70-100 USD per hour (you may be able to find cheaper with someone who has less experience). I highly recommend LAtutors if you are in the Los Angeles area. I tried tutors from different companies, and LAtutors is by far the most effective. The base price seems higher at first ($100 per hour), but they gave me a free CSET Math prep book by Katheryn Porter (mentioned above) that retails at $60. Plus, my tutor works in between our sessions by typing up notes, sending additional resources, and looking over my practice test results. So when we sit together, we go straight to my pain points, and the full hour is dedicated to improving my weaknesses. I found that other tutors failed to do the background work before coming, and I ended up paying for time that was spent on preparation work (time wasters).

I purchased the tutoring package of 12 hours (they provide different CSET prep books depending on the program you purchase).

I DO NOT recommend CliffsTestPrep “CSET Mathematics”.
Stay clear of this book! It covers only one or two topics in each subtest, and the practice tests are way too easy compared to the CSET. This book will not give you the real picture of the exam; it will guarantee an unpleasant surprise when you are in the exam room.

CSET CliffsTestPrep

I hope my suggestions can ease someone else’s journey through the CBEST and CSET Math. If you have tips or advice, please leave a comment and share with the rest! I want to leave you a quote before you start your diligent studies:

Michael Scottvia NBC.com