Muddling through the blogosphere

Passing the CTEL Exam…


ctelI won’t know for about 6 weeks if I passed the California Teachers of English Learners (CTEL) test , which I took yesterday at CSU, Sacramento. Taking the CTEL is an all day affair, if you’re planning to take all three sections. I signed up for all three.

From the parking lot, I joined a few other teachers also on their way to the test. Two were PE teachers, who were questioning the value of having to know the difference between a diphthong and a digraph; the other two were returning to retake the two sections they had previously failed and were fairly frustrated by both the certification requirement and the testing format. I kept my mouth shut.

What I did not share with my fellow CTEL test takers was how deeply interested I am in the topic of English language learners (ELs). Nor did I share my frustration at not being able to find some affordable workshops on the topic.  Our local COE canceled their CTEL workshop series based on low enrollment (with close to 300 of us showing up for Saturday’s event, that seems puzzling). And I also did my best not to get in a huff over the fact that I am permanently out $303 (something, admittedly, I could have avoided had I opted to take the test a few years back), whereas my four walking companions mentioned they will be reimbursed for the exam fee as soon as they have proof of passing.

But I’m not writing this post to complain about the CTEL exam. I’m writing to acknowledge four people who helped me prepare for the test, either in print, online, or face-to-face.  The first three people I’ve not yet met f2f; the 4th person, I know well:

  • Lynne Diaz-Rico – Thank you for your helpful book A Course for Teaching English Learners.  You provided the first step in preparing for the scope and sequence of the exam – and you reminded me, through research and samples, of the importance of promoting and supporting bilingual education.
  • Jeffery Heil – Thank you for your contributions to the CTEL wiki! Your PowerPoints helped prep me for the fact that careful reading of the multiple-choice questions would be critical (and sort of got me over the hump that although it was easy to eliminate two of the choices, for many of the questions, deciding between the two remaining answers, choosing the better of the two would not always be obvious). Lucky SDCOE to have you as a resource!
  • Carol Booth Olsen – Thanks to the Know Els ning (part of the National Writing Project network), I found your Cognitive Strategies Approach to Reading and Writing: Instruction for English Language Learners in Secondary School. On Friday, I had hit rock bottom in terms of getting bogged down with CTEL  EL-related acronyms and laws (which were completely missing from Saturday’s test, I might mention).  So, in search of a pre-test jitters/blues antidote, I headed to the Know ELs ning – and found your article. As I read about the Pathways Project, and noted the excellent strategies for building ELs’ language toolkits, my interest and enthusiasm for the topic resurfaced.  I ended my Friday study session feeling prepared  to sit for the test and hoping that the essay sections would provide a venue for showcasing powerful teaching strategies from Writing Project teachers.
  • And one last person I want to thank Lesley McKillop, 4th grade teacher, A3WP TC, and my friend. Through classroom visits, often extended via phone calls during my daily commute, I have watched you engage your elementary students and build EL strategies, much like Carol Booth Olson has done for secondary students. Three out of four of my CTEL essays were based on best practices from your classroom:

If you also spent Saturday taking the CTEL, I hope you passed!

And if you have CTEL stories and/or resources to add to this post, I’ll hope you’ll add a comment.


  1. I am so glad I found this blog! I am prepering to take the CTEL and reading of strategies of what worked for you has been great. Thank you for sharing.

    If anyone wants to study together near Corona let me know.

  2. What a great resource! Thank you! As I prepare to take the CTEL next week this blog and all the comments have been super helpful.

    FYI, the wiki link in your original post is no longer working. Here is one I found that may be related to your original.

  3. Thank you Gail for starting this blog and thanks to everyone else for your contributions! This blog was one of the first things I ran across when I began my online search for CTEL resources. I took the 3 subtests in Feb. and just received my results today. Thankfully, I passed all 3 subtests! The 2 main study resources I used were “A Course for Teaching English Learners” textbook by Diaz-Rico, the powerpoints on the wikifoundry site mentioned in a previous post, and the CTC CTEL site. The subtests were exactly what I expected…but I do want to add that a brush-up on basic grammar, syntax and literary devices is essential for subtest one. Good luck to all future test takers!

  4. Congratulation to everybody have already passed the test! I have good news! I took the 1st subtest in Feb and passed it! Now I start to prepare for subtests 2 and 3 in May.
    I used for learning “The Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development Handbook” (HELPFUL), “CTEL California Teachers of English Learners” (LESS HELPFUL) and “CTEL Exam Practice Questions (First Set): CTEL Practice Test & Exam Review for the California Teacher of English Learners Examination” (HELPFUL, unfortunately the questions are not sorted by subtests, which is a bummer).

    May somebody can help me with one question. Since I am not an English native speaker and teacher (I am from Germany), writing is my weak part (may you realize it as you read this…). Does anybody know if the scoring for the second subtest is the same (70% multiple choice and 30% essay) or if it is any different?
    Thank you!

    • Regina, I believe each subtest is weighted the same: 70% Multiple Choice and 30% Essay….at least that is what it states on my exam results explanation page.

  5. Thank you for this post! I am happy to say I took some of your recommendations and passed all three tests!
    I have a couple books and a flash card set that I’m done with, and as I spent almost $200 on them, I’d rather pass them on than toss them. Anyone need them?
    post a response here if interested

  6. Hi everyone
    Thanks in part to suggestions from this post, I passed all three tests. I have two books and a flashcards set I would love to pass on to someone who could use them!

    • Hi Candy, first of all congrats on passing all sections!!!
      If you are willing to part with your study materials I could definitely use them! Thank you!

    • Hi Candy,

      Let me know about the materials as I need to take the CTEL in August.

      Thank you.

    • Candy,

      Are you still looking to rehome your flashcards? I’m in need of extra assistance in order to pass the CTEL. Classroom-based instruction is not my area of expertise (I’m a PE teacher), and I would love all the extra help I could get. Please let me know. Thanks!

      • If anyone is willing to pass on their resources after taking and passing their CTEL and are willing to sell or simply pass on the materials please email me!! I would like to get some tips from you and maybe some study tips you have for me to pass the test =) THANK YOU!!!!

    • I could use them to prepare for the CTEL. Let me know if you still have them.

      Thank you,


  7. Candy,
    I would love to use your materials!

  8. Hello everybody!
    I wanted to share the good news!
    I passed the tests! I am soooo happy and relieved.
    Thank you all for the great advise and this blog! Good luck for the one, who are going to take the test soon.

    • Congratulations, Regi! Any advice you’d like to share for those who will be taking the test soon?

      • Some people posted here, that they are struggling with the 3rd test. I am a teacher from Germany, in this case I am an EL too, plus I am from a different culture. The German and US culture are similar but still in many ways different. However, this experience helped me to understand and agree with many facts I have learned (I used Diaz-Rico “Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development Handbook”), I would not have understood everything quite well before my experience living in another country. My advise: opening minds as much as possible for other cultures and language difficulties. For example, as a teacher in Germany, I had never allowed students to use L1 in during the lesson. I would handle it differently nowadays, since I know how helpful the use of L1 for me was and still is.

        I practiced the questions for the test with this book “CTEL Exam Practice Questions (First Set): CTEL Practice Test & Exam Review for the California Teacher of English Learners Examination”. The questions have pretty much the same format as the test.

    • Regi – can you suggest any materials to study for the test?


      • I used:
        Diaz-Rico: “Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development Handbook”
        CTEL Exam Practice Questions (First Set): CTEL Practice Test & Exam Review for the California Teacher of English Learners Examination.

        Good Luck!

  9. Hi all,

    I just came across this blog. I’m trying to decide whether I should study and take the exam or pay several thousand $$$’s for the class. I’d rather just take the test. I’m curious to hear from some of you who studied on your own and took the test. Thanks!

    • I would study by myself and save $$$$. I studied on my own. My background is German,the content was partial new for me, my language skills are good, but far away from being perfect. Not being native speaker makes it difficult in mastering multiple choice questions, since I still don’t know ALL all English words. I did study for each test one month beside my fulltime position. I took the 1st subtest alonet first and then the 2nd and 3rd together and passed them all the first time.
      I hope this encourage you!

  10. Thank you so much for the posts! I am registered to take all 3 parts in August, and I have had a hard time finding real suggestions for resources.

    I am using the Rico-Diaz text, “The Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development Handbook,” but I am curious to explore the other Diaz-Rico book as well.

    Does anyone know how we could create an online forum or study group?

  11. Heather, I would be interested in the virtual study group. I’m taking part three in August. My email is:

  12. That’s a great question Ethan. I’m signed up for a CTEL class through a private college. Would it be better just to study on my own and take the tests?

  13. I made 55 flashcards on Quizlet for CTEL exam 3. Here’s the link for anyone wanting to use them.

  14. I would love to study together. I live in Valencia. (By Magic Mountain)

  15. Hi, Has anyone got any tips on writing the essays? I am from the UK and the whole concept of the CTEL is new to me. I am having to learn all the material from scratch.

    The essay sections are causing me the most concern as I do not think I know the topic areas well enough to write an essay with credible information.

    Any tips of what I should focus on in my studying would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you


  16. I am wondering why anyone would opt to take minimum 6 mos. of classes and pay about $2700. when taking the tests is way cheaper and less time consuming. Unless the tests are really hard to pass, there aren’t sufficient materials to study, or if you are a bad test-taker.
    Anyway, will be signing up for the test soon because from what I can tell, with a good amount of preparation this test is passable.:)

  17. Has anyone tried the study guides and practice tests available on Amazon or from Barnes and Noble? I have taught in the mid-west for 15 years with limited EL experience or training.

  18. I have been studying all summer on my own, and I have found the text “A Course for Teaching English Learners” by Rico-Diaz to be extremely helpful and the most directly related text I have found so far. The book gives in order, almost word for word, an elaboration of each of the KSAs mentioned on the CTC website ( I was able to find the book through an inter-library loan system. After reading and taking notes on this test, I have done well on the practice exams I have found. Good luck everyone!

  19. I am so grateful to read through this information as I start to gather up materials to pass this thing. Taking test in November to be eligible to teach in CA public school. I’ve had many years as a private school art teacher but then a number of years outside teaching and don’t have this requirement. Plus despite quite a lot of memorizing and terminology, it will be useful and helpful. I hope I can do it. So cheers to all!

  20. Thanks so much for this blog! It was a big encouragement to me, as I prepared to take the tests in August. I used all the suggested materials, studied hard, and passed all 3 tests in August. If you are pondering whether to take the tests or take the classes, I would suggest taking the tests. It saves a lot of money. But you will have to be dedicated and put in the time to study. But aside from the money, think of all the time you will save not having to drive to classes and write papers for the classes. Good luck to you!

  21. As I search for the best deal (new or used) for Rico-Diaz’ book, I see a copy with 4 children on the front (shirt colors yellow, blue, orange, pink)for $100, and a less expensive copy with a predominantly blue cover with the CTEL capital letters prominent- which book do I want to prep for the 3 CA CTEL exams? Thanks.

    • The most recent edition is the yellow/tan cover with the 4 children on the cover. You can buy a less expensive or used copy on Amazon. Hope this helps and good luck on your exams!

  22. I studied for CTEL 1,2 and 3 for about 5 days straight. I wish I had started much earlier so I didn’t have to cram. It’s a ton of material. After taking the exams I found the best and most relevant study tools to be the study guides available on the official CTEL website, especially the the Knowledge, Skills and abilities section. It basically lays out exactly what is on the exams. Also the sample exams are very close to the real ones.
    I passed all the exams on the first try using all the time alloted and focusing on the relevant study materials. Quizlet has some good resources as well. Good luck!

    • Hi Michelle,
      I am taking the tests in a couple of weeks. The CTC sample questions (the 10 or so sample multiple choice questions) don’t have any questions about percentage of ELs in CA, an so on. Do you recall if the tests pose any questions about statistical data that needs to be memorized?



    • Michelle,

      Did part 2 ask questions about the court cases? It’s the only part of the notes and such that I’m freaking out about.

  23. I’m looking to purchase the Rico-Diaz book- anyone have one they are done with? They are $95 new on Amazon and $92 used- I’d love to get one cheaper! 🙂 I’d also love to connect with some other people studying for the exam. I’m in the Long Beach area.

    • Hello CTEL test takers,
      I am a substitute teacher, looking to connect/study with fellow ctel test takers. I have registered for May 19th 2015. I am in the Bay Area, Fremont specifically. Please let me know if group study is possible.It is a whopping 7 hr. exam and I am starting early!

  24. Hello all,

    I’m signed up to take Part 1 & 2 on May 16. I live in the Valencia/Santa Clarita area. I’m looking to see if anyone wants to form a study group. Anyone interested, email me:

    • Hi! I have not yet registered for the test as I am a little worried about how long it will take me to learn all the content but I have started my studying and would love other input/help from a group (Kristin & Amber & Vaidehi). I have the Diaz-Rico book!

  25. Does anyone have any insight as to which test(s) to take first? I am planning on taking all separately and don’t know which I should register for first?

  26. Hey! I’m taking the tests in May and would love a group. I live in San Diego, so we can either text or have skype sessions! Email me at

  27. Just finished taking all three exams. The day before my test, I decided to split up the three tests rather than take them all on the same day. I am so glad I made that decision. It just gave me time, even if a couple of hours, to regroup. I am not sure if I passed any or all of the exams, but I gave it my best shot. The essay on the Subtest #1 threw me a bit because it was something I would have expected on Subtest #2, so be prepared for anything. Good luck everyone. I absolutely advise people to take the test rather than spend $$ on the classes.

  28. Hi Dawn,
    I took them Mon-Wed in this order:1,3,2 and the only thing that threw me was the constructive response for 1 (the 2 C’s) as I hadn’t lasered on it yet since it appeared to be 2 material.

    Something that helped me a LOT was Googling ESL practice tests under the Pearson or nesinc term. The Massachusetts MTEL sample test had 100 questions and several essay questions and looks just like the CA test. The Washington WEST test is similar. I also looked at the CA ESL teacher test samples questions. Just going through the mind exercise for all those questions was good prep for me.


  29. I took all three tests last November and did NOT study because I wanted to see the format. I just took all three again last week on different days and put in my study time. I felt I did much better. I hope I passed!! Good luck everyone!

  30. I’m wondering if anyone who took part 2 in January would be willing to tell me if I need to know all the court cases and federal and state requirements inside and out, or just the basics. It’s truly the only part of the exam that is freaking me out!

  31. anyone looking for part 1 or part 3 flashcards, i just finished them on username: alba820 with horse icon – i made them public. working on part 2 now – enjoy!

  32. Just got my results today! Passed all three sections first time out! Used the Diaz Rico text and the Mometrix Media flashcards. Split the test up into two days with time in between second day. Good luck everyone! You can do it!

  33. Hello,

    My name is Daniel and I am from Spain. I took the CTEL in February and I recently received the results. I passed part 1 and I got 219 in part 3 and 208 in part 2. I am going to retake parts 2 and 3 in May. I only read the book “a course for teaching English Learners” by Diaz Rico. I think it is a great book but still think I would need more resources. Do you recommend me to read the other Diaz Rico’s book: “The Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development Handbook”?

    I have read in other posts that this book might also help me to pass parts 4 and 5 of the Spanish CSET for the bilingual authorization. Any advise on how to pass these two test too?

    Thank you very much for your help,

    • Daniel-
      I am currently reading “The Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development Handbook” and I highly recommend it! I haven’t yet taken my exams but the content of the book aligns closely with the KSA’s for the CTEL tests and I feel it has given me tons of information. I have been using that book and flashcards and feel it is preparing me well, but won’t know for sure until May!
      – Lindsay

      • Thank you very much Lindsay!

        I will buy it then and I hope to pass in May. Please let me know if you have other advice regarding this test.


  34. I want to find out how to pass the 2nd and 3rd CTEL tests. I have not been able to pass them twice. I have studied hard both times and felt really good thinking I would pass. I have never failed a test in my life. I am wondering if I should take classes, but that is a lot of money and time commitment. I am looking at your blog to get resources to study and take the test again. Can you please let me know the name of the books and test prep material you use? We can also study together, if you are planning to take the test soon.

  35. I passed all 3 CTEL tests from February, and I am selling my Diaz-Rico book on eBay for $66 BuyItNow, and at auction begining at $45. Included are free shipping, and (3) sample tests with a total of 300 questions as described in the ad. Good luck to all in the May tests!

  36. Just wanted to say Thank You for the resources for the CTEL exams.

    I passed them in November. The first test had to be the most difficult for me. I am surprised that there is not a separate test for language arts teachers; who have a background in uses of language. Many answers seemed so similar once you were limited to 2 choices. The teaching and culture sections are about understanding lesson planning and being familiar with culture. What helped me the most was developing concept maps built around a teaching philosophy for all learners. In each section, I would have core principles for all students and ways in which they would succeed. By personalizing the information to my own future classroom, I made it relevant and was excited to share my ideas in the constructed responses. In all honesty, I think I may have done rather poorly on the multiple choices, but on each exam I always was prepared and demonstrated how using proper methods for english language leaners would add value to their family’s lives and their own enjoyment of learning.

  37. Hello all,
    I took all the exams individually, passed 1 and 3 but failed 2. I took 2 again and passed. I found the multiple choice sections to be very problematic with at least 2 choices on many occasions to be very similar, which was not very helpful. The essays were fine no problem if you put the study time in. But I believe the multiple choice questions are put in there to mislead people. This whole process is very expensive, especially if you decide to take the coursework. try and avoid this, the cost is ridiculous. Good luck.

  38. I’m looking into buying Lynne Diaz-Rico’s books for study purposes, both “A Course for Teaching English Learners” and “The Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development Handbook,” and I’m wondering if I need both or if one is more closely tied to the CTEL than the other. Can anyone comment on the difference between these books? Thanks!

  39. Hi – thank you for sharing this. I am currently preparing to take the test at the end of May, and I appreciate you sharing your resources and your story. I am also an advocate for bilingual education, and culturally conscious teaching practices.

  40. Hi CTEL test takers, If any of you have the adobe links from SDCOE for CTEL 2, could you send them my way? Thank you!

  41. I just took all three parts of the CTEL exam today. I feel confident that I passed it. I have taught ELA for 7 years. The only resource I used for studying was the CTEL Exam Secrets Study Guide I bought from for about $30. I will let you know how I did when I receive my results in June!

  42. I took the test yesterday. Studied with the kdsi online class and the ctel book by Diaz-Rico. Also found several practice tests online as an earlier poster suggested. Big help in getting my brain into testing mode. I’m pretty disappointed with some of the questions on ctel 3. Dumb questions with equally dumb answers. I mean I just can’t even…I really feel insulted. But government schools, government agendas. It felt like the matrix, a false construct made up of numbers and letters. It was easy enough though, to parrot back the pre-thought thoughts and bubble in the desired response, though I wouldn’t say it was the right answer. Stupid standardized tests. Makes me wonder if I really want to continue in this profession, perpetuating this false conception…

  43. Does anyone want to sell any materials for Ctel exams.

    • Maria- I just took the CTEL in May and have Lynn Diaz-Rico’s 2nd edition book mentioned here. I paid about $80 for it (used copy), looking to get some money back for it if you’re interested. Email me at

  44. Does anyone want to sell any materials for the Ctel exams .

  45. If anyone is willing to sale the book “A Course for Teaching English Learners” by Lynne Diaz Rico, I would be willing to buy it. I would also be glad to pass it on. I have my CA teaching credential but have came from out of state and need to take the CTEL test.

  46. I am looking for study group to connect with in the Long Beach area. I am also interested in buy some CTEL study guides. Other helpful ideas would be so appreciated.

    • Susie- I live and teach in Long Beach and I would be happy to sell you my book (The Crosscultural Language and Academic Development Handbook) for $20. They did just put out a new edition so you’ll have to consider if you want mine (which is the 4th edition) or the new one. I just got my scores and I passed all 3 tests! Yippee! I’d be happy to meet up and share some of my study materials. Too bad we didn’t take it together- we could have studied!

    • Susie – I just found out I passed all 3 exams (I took them in May) and am happy to share any helpful things I found while studying if you want! Feel free to email me @ 🙂

  47. Susie- I live and teach in Long Beach and I would be happy to sell you my book (The Crosscultural Language and Academic Development Handbook) for $20. They did just put out a new edition so you’ll have to consider if you want mine (which is the 4th edition) or the new one. I just got my scores and I passed all 3 tests! Yippee! I’d be happy to meet up and share some of my study materials. Too bad we didn’t take it together- we could have studied!

    • Hi Amber,
      I would love to meet with you and share some of your study materials. I have the other Diaz Rico book on limited loan from the library and and a study guide also from the library. Hope to hear from you soon. Thanks so much!!

  48. The tests, if taken all in one day, take 7 hours to complete. Utterly absurd. It’s like you’re MCATs or something. One test and one essay would be sufficient to demonstrate proficiancy. I think they want you to be intimidated so you’ll pony up the money to take the passing courses way out so the university system gets $3,000. Such a waste of time and money.

    • Brad,

      The test is totally do-able with some study time. It is definitely worth saving the money to take the test rather than paying for the coursework. There is a 6 hour allotment but I only used 4 and I really took my time and worked slowly and went back to proofread everything. The constructed response questions are not full essays but just 2-3 paragraph answers. I will say that I did a fair amount of complaining while I was preparing, but now I can honestly say that I really learned a lot and I’m a better teacher for having studied the materials. I use what I learned nearly every day in my teaching (and I’m not even a general classroom teacher- I teach music) Best of luck to you and please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

  49. I just found out that I passed all three tests. The tests were tough but you can definitely pass them if you put in some study time. I took the KDSI Elizabeth Jimenez prep course online. Her lectures were interesting and really helped me prepare – especially for the essay questions. I also used flashcards found on Quizlet. I did not use the Diaz Rico book. I would highly recommend finding some people on this website and get into a study group. My group helped me a lot! Good luck!

  50. Gail – thank you for starting this blog. It was difficult to find current info on the CTEL anywhere else. All of the tips on your site were a huge help! I am very grateful!

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