Graduate Early – Consider a High School Proficiency Exam


Graduating from High School seems a simple thing for some students and incredibly difficult for others. I’ve noticed kids who can’t quite grasp/thrive in high school often have one thing in common; they are the creatives. Certainly, there are cases when a student has family, work, or personal problems. Many times, however, what starts out as common stress, builds to frustration, and transitions to weak grades, missed classes, and negative feelings about classes, homework, and/or teachers. Once this burden gets too heavy, stomach issues, self-medication, and depression can ensue. The students I know who decide high school is not for them often have incredible talent working with their hands, whether it be artistic, music, or working on cars. Most don’t have “issues” other than hating high school.

Not all cases of, “will I graduate?” escalate to failure. Let’s take a look at a few options.

1) the obvious, graduate; 2) take the GED; 3) take a High School Proficiency Exam (where available).

Keep an eye on what you really need to graduate. For example, you don’t need 4 years of math. You don’t need 4 years of a foreign language. You can take community college classes that the high school will accept for credit (see the concurrent enrollment article, one semester of a community college class equates to one year of the same topic in high school).

The GED is not easy. It is doable. In another article I’ll outline a good GED approach. If you live in California, Nevada, or any state that offers a High School Proficiency Exam, I recommend you give it a try.

The High School Proficiency Exam is a test students typically take when they are still enrolled in high school. In California the CHSPE (California High School Proficiency Exam) is taken by students 16 years or older. Students who take the exam include those struggling to graduate as well as others with good grades anxious to get to college. Taking and passing the text demonstrates proficiency in high school curriculum, students receive the equivalent of a diploma from the state. If the student fails, no one’s notified.

I have counseled students on the test, including my oldest son. To pass, students need a high school understanding of Math and English. The key here is to assess why you are failing or why you have mediocre grades in school. If it’s an issue of whether you can or can’t do it, that’s much different than you simply don’t or won’t do it. You may have a great reason to refuse, this isn’t about judging; it’s about determining if the test is a fit for you. I know one young woman who did not pass it, in my opinion she blew it off like she did school. Your focus needs to be 30 days of reading and studying to graduate from high school. Then you can move on. Usually, 30 days sounds so much better than another year or two of high school, students are motivated and find it doable.

The first section of CHSPE is the English section. This section has 84 multiple choice questions designed to test reading and comprehension, sentence structure, punctuation and other grammar rules. The English section requires you to write a brief essay to demonstrate knowledge and skills in accurate and clear communication. This written portion is where I see students snag up. The question is unexpectedly easy, test takers feel relieved to know the answer and lose track of the question’s purpose. The correct approach to the essay is to write a topic statement, introduction, transition between paragraphs, summarize, and write a conclusion. The purpose of the essay is to see how students can critically write an essay, to present an idea, to offer who, what, when, where, and why; not to ramble on the topic.

The second section of CHSPE is the math test. These are 50 questions in multiple-choice format covering all areas of high school math such as dividing, fractions, decimals, multiplying, probability, patterns, statistics, basic geometry and algebra. Let’s say you did fine in middle school Math, okay in Math in high school, but don’t turn in homework on time and barely pass the tests as a result. As long as you “get it” you’ll be fine. If you would describe your math ability as very low, then you’ll need to prepare for the test. The level of expertise you’ll need is Algebra. I have one son that flew through the math, and another that struggles in Math regardless of the book, teacher, or class.

Both sections must be passed to qualify for a certificate. If you fail one section and pass the other, you retake what you failed, you don’t need to retake what you pass. Scores are between 250-450 and a score of 350 is needed to pass either section. Scores are mailed out a few weeks after taking the test.

Here’s the the official CHSPE test website.

Here’s the Nevada High School Proficiency Exam information.

Have faith, your career and future aren’t based on following the traditional path of high school graduation.


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