I couldn’t find many decent free resources on the internet or decent books on CSET test preparation, especially for the General Science and Physics CSET subtests, so I did my own research and here’s what I found helpful. Please leave a comment if you know of other helpful resources!

You should stop by a couple places to download some important files:

  1. Subtest descriptions and sample questions and answers
    The subtest descriptions are great guidelines of what content you’re responsible for knowing. The sample questions are very similar to the type of questions that show up on the actual CSET. However, these are not entire sample exams, only questions. I’ll explain the difference later.
  2. Science Framework for California Public Schools (PDF)
    The General Science subtests basically cover all the science you learned in up to and including high school, so there’s not really a single book or test prep guide you can read that tells you everything you need to know. However, the Science Framework comes pretty close. This is your general “textbook” for the CSET.

Now that you have those files, here’s what to do with them:

  1. Look at the subtest description for whichever subtest you’re preparing for. Notice in each section (“SMR #.#”), there are several “problems”, followed by short lists referencing sections in Science Content Standards for California Public Schools.
  2. You should be able to “do” the “problems” in each section. If you can’t, then take a note of the sections listed under Science Content Standards for California Public Schools, then find those sections in the Science Frameworks (your “textbook”) and study them.
  3. Look up in your “textbook” the sections listed at the bottom of each SMR. If you’re not familiar with the content of that section, learn it from your “textbook”. Sometimes your “textbook” doesn’t provide enough detail (for example, explaining the process of protein synthesis). In this case, you can refer to either a real textbook or the internet. Google, Wikipedia, and YouTube are your friends. Below is a section on some processes and diagrams you may find helpful (“Resources for Learning the Material”).

If you follow that process for the entire subtest, you’ll know maybe 90% of the answers on the actual exam. The rest are questions that seem pretty obscure and probably not worth your time studying every topic in fine detail just to get that ~10% of questions. Besides, you’ll probably get 25% of them just by guessing, and that’s without narrowing down the answers.

Format of the Exams

General Science CSET subtests are each 58 multiple choice, 2 written response.

The Physics CSET subtest is 50 multiple choice, 3 written response.

The sample questions (mentioned above) are very similar to the questions asked on the actual exam, except the sample questions have only about 15 multiple choice and 2 written response per subtest.

Time Limit

You can sign up to take all three subtests on one day. There is only one session on a test day. That session is 5 hours long. That means if you sign up for three subtests, you must finish all three in five hours. If you sign up for only one subtest, you have the entire five hours to work on that one subtest. You have all your tests in front of you during the session, so you may switch from one to another as you please.

Finishing all three subtests in one session is doable, but you may feel some time pressure. You may want to first gauge your pace by timing yourself when you do the sample questions.

Resources for Learning the Material

The following resources aren’t meant to cover all the material you’re responsible for (and doesn’t even come close), but they do provide more detail that’s not covered in the Science Content Standards to help you brush up on concepts you learned way back when in elementary through high school.

Hydrologic Cycle (water cycle) – Grade 5: 3 – http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/watercyclehi.html

The four fundamental forces of nature – http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/forces/funfor.html

Protein Synthesis

Cell biology

Scientific Classification – Grade 7: 3d

Cardiovascular System

Digestive system – Grade 5: 2c – http://www.kidshealth.org/kid/body/digest_SW.html

How to prepare for the General Science and Physics CSET (118, 119, 123)
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8 thoughts on “How to prepare for the General Science and Physics CSET (118, 119, 123)

  • October 30, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    I’ve been out of science for decades. Thx for your suggestions.

    I found the Princeton “cracking the AP Chem” to be extremely helpful in reviewing the Chem material wiothout the chaf in a textbook. My colleagues as I’ve done the student teaching seem to prefer the Barron’s text. (I’m pretty good at Chem)

    I’m trying to expand the subjects I’m licensed to teach and so I’m doing one Gen’l science in a few weeks and then likely to do more in the future.

  • December 8, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Thank you for all the helpful website, I hope this will aid me in passing the exams

  • June 22, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    Does anyone know exactly what the difference is between CSET Physics 123 and 127???
    I’ve got the first two basic science, GeoScience and I want to take the Physics so I can teach an AP course at a high school. Is one more ‘desirable (and more rigorous)’ than the other?
    Thanks for this web site.

  • June 29, 2011 at 12:36 am

    I don’t see any evidence of a CSET 127 on the CSET website… under science CSETs, the only physics CSET I see is 123. Do you plan to teach AP physics? Just from word-of-mouth, I believe you have to do some sort of professional development to teach that…

  • July 2, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    THANK YOU!! This is great! THANK YOU!! :)

  • July 22, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    This looks like good information, however I’m wondering if most of it is still applicable in 2014. I’ve only taken the CBEST, and did that with no prep, but I’ve heard some horror stories about CSET. I have to take it before or at the latest before my semester starts in the spring at Cal Lutheran. Any help you could offer would be great. Thanks,


  • July 29, 2016 at 10:18 pm

    Hi Frank,

    Thank you for the information! I can also suggest Youtube as a valuable resource for studying for CSET general science and physics.

    BTW: I was there at the NPTW held at USC sometime back! Thank you for your input at that workshop!



  • June 11, 2020 at 12:13 pm

    Thank you so much for the information posted!

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