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California High School Exit Exam Released Essay Questions

About the Test

The California High School Proficiency Examination (CHSPE) is a testing program established by California law (Education Code Section 48412). If eligible to take the test, you can earn the legal equivalent of a high school diploma by passing the CHSPE. The CHSPE consists of two sections: an English-language Arts section and a Mathematics section. If you pass both sections of the CHSPE, the California State Board of Education will award you a Certificate of Proficiency, which by state law is equivalent to a high school diploma (although not equivalent to completing all coursework required for regular graduation from high school). Although federal agencies are not bound by state laws, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management has ruled that the Certificate of Proficiency shall be accepted in applications for federal civilian employment. The U.S. Department of Education, including the Federal Student Aid Office, recognizes the CHSPE as the equivalent of a high school diploma in applications for federal financial aid. All persons and institutions subject to California law that require a high school diploma for any purpose must accept the certificate as satisfying the requirement.

Passing the CHSPE does not, by itself, exempt minors from attending school. Minors who have a Certificate of Proficiency must also have verified parent/guardian permission to stop attending school. Many students who pass the CHSPE continue to attend school. State law provides that, if you leave school after passing the CHSPE and are no more than 18 years old, you may reenroll in the district in which you were registered with no adverse consequences. If you do reenroll you may be required to meet new or additional requirements established since you were previously enrolled. If you reenroll and then leave school again, you may be denied re-admittance until the beginning of the following semester. Contact your guidance counselor or school administrator for further information and details about leaving school after passing the CHSPE.

Dropping out of school after registering for the CHSPE or while awaiting results is unlawful for those under 18 years old. It may also result in failing grades for courses in which you are enrolled.

Description of the CHSPE

Important Notice – Please be aware of the following information:
  • For those who have not yet earned a Certificate of Proficiency, all portions of the CHSPE passed from the April 2004 test administration remain valid for the purpose of earning a Certificate of Proficiency. Sections and subtests previously passed do not need to be taken again and continue to apply to earning the Certificate of Proficiency.

The CHSPE consists of two test sections: English-language Arts and Mathematics. You must pass both sections to receive a Certificate of Proficiency. For specific skills tested, visit the Test Specifications & Samples page. Sample test questions, including a sample writing task and the essay scoring scale, are available through links from this page. On this PDF of the sample questions, the format of the multiple-choice questions is the same as in the test booklet.

English-language Arts Section

The English-language Arts section consists of two subtests: Language and Reading. To pass the English-language Arts section, you must pass both subtests. (The two subtests do not have to be passed at the same test administration and can be taken separately.) The Language subtest has 48 multiple-choice questions and one writing task, both of which must be completed at the same administration. The multiple-choice questions measure language mechanics and language expression. The writing task requires you to write an expository essay, which will be scored on the basis of writing proficiency and on your ability to address the subject in your essay. Note that the writing task on the Language subtest must be taken in conjunction with the multiple-choice questions on that subtest. If you only take the writing task, or you only take the multiple-choice questions, you will not pass the Language subtest. The Reading subtest has 54 reading comprehension questions and 30 vocabulary questions, all of which are multiple-choice. The reading comprehension questions test initial understanding, interpretation, critical analysis, and strategies using three types of text: literary, informational, and functional. The vocabulary questions assess synonyms, multiple-meaning words, and context clues. The chart below shows the number of test questions in each content cluster assessed on the Language and Reading subtests.

Number of Test Questions by Content Cluster in English-language Arts

AreaContent ClusterNumber of
ComprehensionInitial Understanding10
Critical Analysis14
Multiple Meaning Words6
Context Clues12
Total Questions 84

AreaContent ClusterNumber of
ExpressionsSentence Structure10
Content and Organization9
Total Questions 48
WritingWriting Task1

Mathematics Section

The Mathematics section has 50 multiple-choice questions that assess content in the following areas: number sense and operations; patterns, relationships, and algebra; data, statistics, and probability; and geometry and measurement. The questions also assess the mathematical processes of communication and representation, estimation, mathematical connections, and reasoning and problem solving. A reference sheet containing necessary formulas is provided. The chart below shows the number of questions in each content cluster assessed on the Mathematics section.

Number of Test Questions by Content Cluster in Mathematics

Content ClusterNumber of
Number Sense and Operations9
Patterns, Relationships, and Algebra15
Data, Statistics, and Probability12
Geometry and Measurement14
Total Questions50

Testing Time

A total of 3½ hours of testing time will be provided to take the CHSPE. No part of the exam is timed within the 3½ hours, and you may spend as much time as you like on any portion until the testing session ends. You are responsible for managing your own use of the testing time.

Taking and Passing the CHSPE

On a test administration date, you can take the Mathematics section, the English-language Arts Language subtest, or the English-language Arts Reading subtest, or any combination of the three. You can make that decision on the day of the test. The test fee, however, is the same regardless of which parts of the test you take. To pass the CHSPE and receive a Certificate of Proficiency, you must pass both the Mathematics section and the English-language Arts section (which requires passing the Language subtest and the Reading subtest). You do not have to pass both sections on the same day, nor do you have to pass the two English-language Arts subtests on the same day. (Note that, on the Language subtest, both the multiple-choice questions and the writing task must be completed at the same test administration.) You do not have to retake a section or subtest, that you previously passed. There is no limit to the number of times you may take the CHSPE, but you must register and pay the current test fee each time.

To pass the Mathematics section, you must earn a scale score of at least 350. To pass the English-language Arts section, you must pass the Language subtest and the Reading subtest. To pass the Reading subtest, you must earn a scale score of at least 350. The passing standard for the Language subtest is based on the combination of your multiple-choice and writing task scores as shown below.

If your writing task score is:Your multiple-choice score must be at least:
2 or lowerYou cannot pass.

Results on the CHSPE taken prior to January 2004 cannot be combined with results on the CHSPE taken after January 2004.

The CHSPE Test Dates for the current school year are:

  • October 21, 2017
  • March 17, 2018
  • June 16, 2018

To begin your registration process you may create a Registration Form or visit the Registration Summary page for more information.

What content is covered in the CAHSEE?

The test is divided into two sections: math and English/language arts. The math portion covers academic content standards for grades 6 and 7 and algebra I, including statistics, data analysis and probability, number sense, measurement, algebra and functions, math reasoning, and geometry. The English/language arts portion includes content standards through grade 10, including vocabulary, reading, writing strategies and conventions. In addition to answering multiple-choice questions, students write an essay on a specific topic. It is a pass/fail test that is not timed.

Who takes the test?

Students take the CAHSEE for the first time in the 10th grade. Students must pass both parts of the exam. Once they pass one portion, they have met that requirement; students only need to retake the portion that they did not pass. Students have five additional opportunities to retake the test.

When did the test become a graduation requirement?

The class of 2006 was the first graduating class that had to pass the CAHSEE in order to receive a high school diploma. These students had their first opportunity to take the CAHSEE in the spring of 2004. Nearly 91% of the class of 2006 passed both portions of the CAHSEE.

If it is called an “exit exam,” why do students take it in the 10th grade?

The goal of the test is to make sure that students have the basic skills they will need to do well in the workplace. Starting the test in 10th grade provides enough time to help those students who aren’t able to pass so they can get the help they need before it is too late.

What happens when students don’t pass the test?

Allowing students to take the test in the 10th grade provides many opportunities to pass. Schools are required to give extra help to students who fail the exam by offering tutoring, special courses, summer school or other assistance. Students may take the test up to six times until they pass.

If students repeatedly fail the test, there are still other options available. They can take the General Education Development Test (GED), which is a high school equivalency exam for adults, or they can attend adult school classes to earn a diploma. Students who are at least 16 years old (or who have completed or are about to complete 10th grade) can take the California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE), which is similar in format to the CAHSEE. Students who pass the CHSPE can receive a certificate equivalent to a diploma, and passing the test allows them, with parental permission, to leave high school early. Students who are 18 or older, regardless of whether or not they have a high school diploma, can attend a community college in California.

When is the CAHSEE administered?

The California Department of Education provides multiple opportunities for test administration. School districts have some flexibility in setting test administration dates, offering testing dates in the fall, winter, and spring/early summer. You can see the testing schedule on the California Department of Education’s Web site.

Why has California said algebra is important for all students?

Algebra is an important skill for helping students to learn math reasoning — an important skill needed when students enter the workforce, whatever profession they may choose. Algebra used to be an important subject only for students on their way to college, but in today’s economy, all workers need higher levels of mathematical and technological skills. One example is that many trades such as electricians and auto mechanics now require algebra as an entrance requirement for vocational programs.

How will CAHSEE improve school accountability?

Reports of how many students pass the test will be an important focal point for school improvement. All schools in California are ranked according to an Academic Performance Index (API), which shows if schools are making real progress each year. A school’s CAHSEE results will be included among the factors that produce a school’s API. Schools that don’t meet their API growth targets are subject to state sanctions. The CAHSEE results are also used to calculate Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) as part of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements.

What allowances are made for students with special learning needs?

Special versions of the test are available to help students who have special learning challenges. For example, the test can be administered in braille, audio CD, and large-print format, and when necessary schools will provide a scribe. Students with physical disabilities will be entitled to the same accommodations they have during classroom instruction. State law allows local district school boards to make determinations about these special circumstances.

What allowances are made for students whose first language is not English?

Students must pass the exam in English in order to graduate. However, test variations for English learners have been added to the CAHSEE. During their first 24 months in a California school, English learners receive six months of instruction in reading, writing, and comprehension in English. During this time, these students are still required to take the CAHSEE.

Can I see the test?

Sample questions for the CAHSEE are available online. Look for “released test questions” on the California Department of Education’s Web site.

Do other states require these tests?

High school exit tests are currently required or are being developed in 26 states.

Where can I find the law that created CAHSEE?

The requirements for the exam can be found in Section 60850 of the California Education Code. The law was passed in 1999 by the California State Legislature. Senate Bill 2 (O’Connell) authorized the California High School Exit Exam to ensure that those graduating from high school possess the skills necessary to function as responsible adults.

Thanks to the California Business for Education Excellence Foundation for providing information for this article.

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