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The California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE)

Editor's Note: Rachel Phillips wrote this article in 1998, the year she took the CHSPE exam and passed. The exam has changed slightly since then, and so this article has been updated to reflect the changes. Rachel is now a graduate of Skidmore college and has her own reading tutoring business.

The California High School Proficiency Exam:
One Teen's Experience

About Rachel Phillips

By Rachel Phillips

Hello, my name is Rachel. I'm fifteen, and the editor of Homefires asked me to write about my experience taking the CHSPE. CHSPE is an acronym for California High School Proficiency Exam. Those who pass this test earn a Certificate of Proficiency which is the legal equivalent of a high school diploma.

If you pass the CHSPE you may (with your parent's approval) leave high school early. You can go to work or attend community college, or you may be able to attend a 4-year college or university. Because passing the CHSPE is not the same thing as completing all of the course work typically required for regular high school graduation -- if you plan to go to a college or university, contact the admissions office and find out the admission requirements including whether or not the Certificate of Proficiency will be sufficient for admission. In some cases you may have to take SATs or SAT IIs to satisfy admission requirements, or attend community college and then transfer to the school of your choice.

CHSPE Eligibility

The CHSPE can be taken at age 16, or at any age that your school administrator (your parents, if they have established a private school) say you have completed either the first semester of 10th grade, or one academic year of the 10th grade.

At first, my Mom wanted me to take the test. I didn't really want to, but she exchanged something I wanted for my agreement to sit down with her for about 6 hours each week for 3 months to prepare for it. (She bribed me.)

I studied for this test using Barrons book, "CHSPE, How to Prepare for the California High School Proficiency Examination, 5th Edition." Most of this book is good (and was the only book I could find to prepare for this test). However, the answers to some of the questions in the book are wrong -- and there are some big differences between the book and the actual test.

At the CHSPE website, you can download sample test questions and samples of the written essays in order to prepare for the test.

CHSPE Testing Scope

The test consists of two sections: English Language Arts and Mathematics. The English section is divided into two tests that consist of writing a persuasive essay and answering 48 multiple choice questions that test your skill in things like grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and sentence structure.

The reading test has 30 questions that test your vocabulary skills, and then 54 reading comprehension questions. You have to read paragraphs (high school level) and answer questions about them.

The math section has 50 multiple choice questions that test basic math skills, algebra and geometry.

The difference between the Barrons' test preparation book and the test is in the way the questions are asked. For example, the Barrons' book would give you a question like this: "Two partners in a business earn $60,000 one year. If the senior partner's share is 3 times that of the junior partner, what is the junior partner's share?" If the same question were to be asked on the CHSPE, it would most likely ask what can you (or can not) find from this information. It would not ask you to actually find something (the junior partner's share).

There is no oral part to this test. You can have no scratch paper when you take the test. However, you may write in the test booklet. Students may bring and use battery-operated or solar-powered calculators. Visit the CHSPE website for more information on what you can and cannot bring with you on the day of the test.

More Testing Resources

What to Expect

In terms of taking the test, it is long. The entire test is three and a half hours. But as the CHSPE website explains: "Neither test section is timed within the three and one-half hours, and you may spend as much time as you like on either test section, and on either English-language Arts subtest, until the testing session ends."

On the day you take the test, you can decide if you want to take the whole thing, or take just the Mathematics section, the English-language Arts Language subtest, or the English-language Arts Reading subtest, or any combination of the three. However, you have to pay the test fee (currently $92) each time you take a portion of the test. (If you're on a tight budget, you may want to take it all at once.)

While you have to pass all of the test sections to get your Certificate of Proficiency, 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.

The cool thing about CHSPE is this -- you can take the test and if you pass one section and not another, you do not have to retake the section that you previously passed. There is no limit to the number of times you may take the CHSPE, so you can keep taking it until you pass the whole thing. But you do have to register and pay the fee every time you take the test or a portion of the test.

If you decide to take the whole thing at once like I did, it can be hard to stay focused when you're answering endless multiple choice questions. I recommend you bring something to eat that is not messy, like a Power Bar, and take your time.

College Resources

CHSPE Scores

After you take the CHSPE you get a letter about four weeks later saying, "pass" or "not pass." All examinees receive score reports. The test is scored on a bell curve, and about 40% of the people that take it don't pass on the first try.

I found that a couple months of study was plenty to prepare for the test. I spent most of that time working on my math. By the way, I did pass, and enrolled in community college. I had never taken a standardized test before, and it was sort of fun to learn how to prepare for it. We had some pretty good dinner table discussions about some of the problems that we encountered in the book. All in all, it was a good experience.

About Barbara Phillips

A Note from Rachel's Mom, Barbara Phillips:

I had Rachel take this test not for her, but for me. In addition to being finished with the compulsory education requirements next year (age 16), she can now get a work permit directly without going through the local high school district. I also wanted her to feel that she could take these kinds of tests. I did not want her to avoid them out of fear. In home schooling there are no hoops to jump through, no bell curve to beat (thank heaven). There are many wonderful opportunities available for older students, and I wanted my daughter to be in the position of being able to choose which direction to go in -- rather than having a direction chosen by default, simply because she was afraid to tackle the requirements. Hence, she has learned how to take this type of test.

The CHSPE is administered 3 times a year, in fall, spring, and summer. It is a pass/fail test. The fee is $92 each time you take the test, or a portion of it. For more information contact:

The California High School Proficiency Examination
Phone: 866-342-4773 (toll free)
Email: CHSPE

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