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Frequently asked questions about the California High School Exit Exam

Get your questions answered about the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) and how it affects your student.

By GreatSchools Staff

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.

Comments from readers

"i think is not fair that studenths really try hard throe out elemtary middle school but specially high school trying to get good grades get caught up on their crediths and if you don't pass the cahsee you don't egraduate than whats the point of going to school? what happen to the no child left behind this is really stupid "
"i was wondering if i can get the pass on the math i got a 349 out of a 350 and then i took it again and still didn't pass some had the same thing happen to them and they didn't have to retake the district or state let them pass how can i pass why cant i like them?"
"The CAHSEE is the result of the clearly failed “one size fits all� school curriculum, poor teaching, and mismanagement of the entire California School system, but despite these facts they are trying to hold-fast to it instead of abolishing it in favor of the old curriculum that worked. So, instead of owning up to THEIR mistakes and failures, they decided to cover it all up by making it appear so-called “underachieving� students were entirely to blame if they failed – don’t believe it, 99.9% of them try and try and try, but they just can’t pass the CAHSEE. In addition to those points, failing students costs the school system, school officials, teachers and other over-paid employees money because schools receive funds that they “deserve� based on student success or failure. You see, it reflects poorly or positively on them depending on their percentages of drop-outs, or graduates – good test scores, poor test scores and on and on it goes like that. By shifting the blame to the students for poor performance rather than on itself (the school system), they effectively cheat the system by there then appearing to be less failing students due to their (the school system and teacher’s) shortcomings and by that little re-distribution of what they refer to as “accountability� (which, translated in plain English, again equates to: their failure becomes the student’s failure – in case you didn’t catch that the last few times I’ve said it). Also, don’t believe what they tell you about getting “underachievers� help and doing “whatever it takes� for “however long it takes� for them to get caught up and pass the CAHSEE. I was one of the many whom they failed and they didn’t follow through on these promises of helping me, at all. They forced me out by making me believe that the pitifully worthless “certificate of completion� was my one and only option, when in fact there were several other avenues I could have chosen instead as per: I am trying right now (at nearly 21) to return back to High School to get the extra help that I need but wasn’t offered, or even let known about four years ago. So far my inquiries as of how to proceed have gone unanswered. Looks like their decision to screw me over is permanent… The bottom-line here, is that CAHSEE is irreparably destroying lives, regardless of the why’s or the how’s surrounding it. I honestly don’t believe that they realize just how much of a damning effect it has on the lives of us who cannot get through one or both sections of it because of receiving poor educations. Without a Diploma (especially in these economic climates), you cannot and will not find employment. You cannot and will not be able to go to college, for lack of funds and the inability to qualify for student loans (I have tried all of these, but came up empty-handed). You have absolutely NO options or paths to take to create a marginally decent life for yourself – you will be in limbo unless you get lucky, or learn how to lie, cheat and steal in this day and age. If I’m being honest with you here, I sometimes wonder if it’s not going to take a few dozen of us opting out of life altogether because of this grave injustice before these people and everybody else start to realize just how catastrophically damning the CAHSEE is at the other end, to otherwise good students who would have graduated if the CAHSEE had never been... Here’s to hoping it doesn’t come to that."
"Well I just got my questions answered. This was rather useful, and I can finally stop stressing out about the exam. I'm pretty sure I'll pass this test and leave high school early. Thanks to whoever wrote this article. I'm very appreciative. (: "
"My son says that he took the high exit exam in the 10th grade and passed it. I was wondering will he still have to take it again now that he is in the 12th grade."
"So i am a junior now and i failed the math part and it was screwd up i hot 349 out of 350 what the heck grrrrr "
"I disagree with the reasoning behind this test. My parents, Myself, husband and my first born graduated 12th grade and have become very successful in our careers without the exit exam. I have a child who has learning disabilities in home school that will not be able to pass this text no matter how many times he tries. What happen to no child left behind?? We have done just find for many years before this test. I could understand if your career was a high demand for advanced english and math, but not all careers require such standards!"
"I plan to graduate high school this year and will be getting all my requirements for the high, but when it comes to this test, I just can't seem to past it.. I am in SDC student and I think it should be lowered a little for SDC/RSP students. Just because we weren't smart enough to pass 1 test but then we have all the requirements to pass H.S. and end up failing. Now that doesn't seem fair."
"Well i feel like personally the cahsee is too hard and it really puts kids behind from going to college and i believe there is a program no kids left behind and just look how many are being left behind for those who do not pass the cahsee. Then on top of that the people who come from different countries i feel that it is not fair to them either."
"Question: Do you have to be a high school graduate to take the exit exam? Or, if you take the GED can you also take the CA exit exam?"
"yes i am a student in high school and i was wondering why you have to take math or english after you pass the calafornia exit exam."
"My son has ADHD. He will be entering the 9th grade in the fall. He has been with the IEP program since the 2nd grade. He is not at his grade level in math. What accommodations can b made if any to help him pass the CAHSEE test. He scores low in his CAT-6 test on all subjects. If any help is available please et me know. Thank You"
"My son is a SDC Student and is a credit current senior he has taken the exit exam 5 times and cant reach the 350 mark cant they lower the scores for RSP/SDC STUDENTS. "
"This article was brief and concise, and I thought it was easy to read and understand. "
"The CAHSEE is an exam that should and needs to be kept. Passing the exam or not depends on the student and whether or not they are able to receive their high school diploma. It is not unfair because every student must take it and they are all taught the same thing in high school. It is also a good way to encourage students to try hard in wanting to succeed. It also teaches and prepares students on their test taking skills and being able to retain the knowledge that has been taught to them over a period of time. Spokeswoman Hilary McLean said the exit exam is “ our best tool for ensuring that students have mastered critical skills”. That is very true because its not like the California school board can sit in class with each student and see if whether or not they are actually paying attention and learning. "
"It is not fair to other high school graduates that dont have to take this CAHSEE! Some people who struggle to pass this exam,but somehow they cant passes it over and over again!Instead of me graduating with the year that I suppossed to grad cant walk the line because of this CAHSEE! I have done my high school requirements but for just this exam i cant get through because I think its not really important! In how many times I took the test i get poor scores.I have a friend who didnt grad because of she didnt pass it by one point and she had all her requirements done.Everything was useless for her as she said! But she cant do anything about it!And how shes 24 and still getting her math on CAHSEE!I dont know how this test came out of no where! "
"Hi, I am Paul and my girlfriend is 23 going on 24 and I have beenn endouring her struggles with the cahsee. She is a h.s. dropout and she is nearly done with adult school, but she can not seem to get a handle on the math portion of the test due to a lack of direction from her school. She got into a preparation class but teachers were just too busy with a hundred students in a little room. It is outrageous that a 24 year old still has to pass a hogh school exit exam in an adult school that does not prepare students to pass this test. Please reply. A 24 year old woman should not have to worry about stuff like this, all she wants to do is move on with life and not deal with a silly h.s. exit exam, don't you think?"
"question: If a child has passed one state's exit exam and then move to another state, will that child be required to retake that states exit exam?"
" i came to california from portland oregon in june 2006 in oregon we are not required to pass any tests in order to graduate, however i did take the test and passed the english but failed the math twice isnt it unfair that i didnt gat to prepare for the test like other students did i only had a few months while other students had 2 years right now im preparing to take it again but i was wondering if there was anything i could do?"
"needed to look up info. for english at san joaquin delta college. this helped alot! thanks..!"
"what about the programs that are offered by the schools and the state, California exactly? what is being done to help does kids who struggle with the CAHSEE? the at-risk kids, are they being helped to obtain that knowledge to pass the exam? I do like the fact of the exam being given, but more opportunities should be given? For example more after school programs for all students, yet helping the students who require more attention should be offered."