How to Prepare for the CBEST Writing Test (With CBEST Writing Examples)

The California Basic Educational Skills Test or the CBEST is one of the credentials aspiring teachers in the state should get. It is available for test takers all year round, and can even be retaken as many times as needed.

One of the three sections of the CBEST is the Writing portion, which unlike the other two subjects, is not in a multiple-choice format. Beyond basic grammar and language skills, this test challenges test takers to prove their competency in creating and organizing arguments. If you are worried about not getting a passing score in this section, we are here to help you prepare and improve.

CBEST Writing Structure

The CBEST Writing portion is offered by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) to qualified individuals who want to be teachers or want to apply to certain positions in the education system. It is one of the qualifications that cover basic requirements in the state. The CTC website offers in-depth information about the test.

The CBEST consists of three sections:

  • Reading – 50 multiple choice items, 1 hour and 30 minutes
  • Math – 50 multiple choice items, 2 hours
  • Writing – 2 essays, 1 hour and 30 minutes

For the Writing section, test takers will be given two topics: first about a given situation or statement to analyze, and the second about a specific personal experience and their reflections on this.

The most important part to remember about the Writing section is that there are certain rubrics or standards your essays will be graded over:

  • Rhetorical Force: the overall cohesiveness of the essay in relation with the central or main idea, as well as the quality of the writer’s ideas
  • Organization: the clarity of the writing and the logical sequence of the writer’s ideas
  • Support and Development: the relevant and proper use of the supporting statements in the essay and how it flows or develops down the line
  • Usage: the use of proper terminologies and precision in word choice
  • Structure and Conventions: the proper use of grammar, language, syntax, paragraph structure, sentence structure, and mechanics (e.g., spelling, punctuation, capitalization)
  • Appropriateness: the extent to which the writer addresses the topic and uses language and style appropriate to the given audience and purpose

Try to not worry too much about word count, although an ideal length would be around 300-500 words. Write only about the topics or prompts presented and make sure the main idea is supported by the rest of the essay.

CBEST Writing Test Examples

The following are sample CBEST Writing Test prompts you can start with:

  • Steve Jobs once said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” In an essay to be read by an audience of educated adults, state whether you agree or disagree with Jobs. Support your position with logical arguments and specific examples.

For this writing prompt, you can begin on whether or not you disagree with the quote, to introduce the main idea of your essay. You should then follow this up with at least three strong supporting ideas, such as the role of passion in innovation, how it brings out the best and the creativity in people, and if you can, give an example of other famous personalities who are known to be passionate with their work. End the essay by reiterating your stand on the quote and a closing sentence that summarizes everything.

  • Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” Use specific reasons and examples to support your position.
  • Explore the role of history in promoting empathy and understanding among individuals and communities. Discuss how learning about the past fosters tolerance and helps bridge cultural divides.

For this writing prompt, begin with stating your main idea, which is how history promotes empathy in people, no matter the race, age, or nationality. You can support this by talking about significant cultural events that have brought out the best in people, bringing them together amidst tragedy or adversities. Follow up with how history helps us remember as people, and how it reminds us that no matter what age or era we are all humans who survived because we learned how to help each other. Add other strong points that support the main idea and end with an inspiring closing sentence.

  • Explore a course where the content was particularly complex or demanding. Describe the specific challenges you encountered in understanding and mastering the material, and discuss the strategies you utilized to enhance your comprehension and performance.
  • Reflect on the role of extracurricular activities in a student’s educational experience. Discuss the benefits of participating in extracurricular activities and how they contribute to a student’s personal growth and development.

For this prompt, open with your main idea, which is the main benefit of extracurricular activities. As an educator, draw from your personal experience and observations to use these for your supporting statements. You can talk about different extracurricular activities and how they helped you or a student come out of their shell. List down benefits of physical activities without making generalizations. End your essay by reiterating your main argument.

You can get more free sample prompts and premium CBEST Prep Packs over at our partners at JobTestPrep!

How to Interpret the CBEST Writing Test Score

Unlike the Reading and Math Sections of the CBEST which are in multiple choice format, the Writing Section has scorers who will read and evaluate each of your responses using the standard set of criteria mentioned earlier. You will get a score anywhere between 4 and 16, which are then scaled to provide a more accurate representation of the student’s performance, with an average range of 20 to 80.

The official CBEST Test Results Information provides an official writing score scale and description, with 1 being an “inadequately formed writing sample that fails to communicate a message to the specified audience” and 4 as “a well-formed writing sample that effectively communicates a whole message to the specified audience.” This diagnostic scoring will also be provided to you when you receive your results, and will help you see where you excel and where you might be lacking, in case you have to retake this section of the CBEST.

How to Prepare for the CBEST Writing Section

Writing is not for everyone, but with enough practice, you can learn to write well enough to get a high score in the CBEST Writing Test. Here are some tips on how to prepare:

  • Begin with the official CBEST Writing Practice Test. This is the best way to begin your practice writing sessions. The practice test provides prompts and a writing sheet, as well as the official guide to scoring to remind you where to focus.
  • Remember: the first draft is the most important. Not everyone likes writing, and some even find it daunting. For the Writing section, practice by writing and using test prep packs. Begin with a simple outline, and then get to writing. Avoid second-guessing every sentence and focus on writing your thoughts down first. Once you finish, then you can reorganize your thoughts, flesh out some ideas, and of course proofread to weed out mechanical errors.
  • Review the Rubric. Focus on the scoring standards so you know which aspects of the essay to prioritize, which are mainly the structure, the contents, and the mechanical aspects. Don’t try to use words you are not sure of the meaning of just to “sound smarter.” Don’t add more words and sentences for the sake of length, but don’t try to write it too short either. The official writing practice test shows the sample responses with their respective scoring to give you a basis.
  • Keep on Writing. There’s no better way to improve than using writing prompts to keep you going. Practice organizing your thoughts and ask for feedback from friends, mentors, and colleagues. Write about your day at work, an article you just read, or a movie you just saw.
  • Read to Improve. Learn about new topics, discover how other writers flesh out their ideas, and see how they open or close their essays by reading. This will also help you expand your own vocabulary and strengthen your mental capacity to take on any writing prompt when the test day arrives.

Make sure you prepare for the day of the test and arrive at the testing center or login on your computer early! Shake off the nerves and know that you can ace this section.

The Write Way

The Writing Section of the CBEST challenges test takers on their abilities to analyze situations and talk about their stands or personal experiences in essay form. It tests their capacities to provide solid supporting arguments and their critical thinking abilities as well, which is important in becoming a good-quality educator.

Preparing for this section of the CBEST may sound difficult because you won’t know the prompts or questions until the day of the test, but sharpening your technical skills and using practice packs will definitely help. Keep in mind the scoring rubrics to focus and organize your essay and you will get that passing score in no time. Good luck!