Do you go to school in California? Chances are you’ve heard of the CAHSEE – the exam all Californians need to take to graduate high school.
You might be wondering how to pass the CAHSEE. In this post, we will explain what the CAHSEE tests, what you need to do to pass, and how to study for it.
What Is the CAHSEE?
The CAHSEE (California High School Exit Examination) is an exam all California high school students must pass to earn a high school diploma. Students take the exam for the first time sophomore year, and retake it in later years if they don’t pass.
The exam has two sections – math and English Language Arts (ELA).
Most students, around 80% each year, pass the exam on their first try. In 2014, 85% of sophomores passed math and 83% of sophomores passed ELA.
However, the pass rate is significantly lower for English Language Learners (ELLs) and students with disabilities.
In 2014, 42% of special education sophomores passed math, and 39% passed ELA. Only 54% of ELLs passed math, and 38% passed ELA. The test is only given in English, making the ELA portion especially challenging for students still learning the language.
The CAHSEE is not designed to be an extra burden or especially difficult, and students are expected to pass with the basics of what they learn in high school. The goal of the CAHSEE is to ensure all California high school graduates have met a certain skill threshold.
However, if you’re worried about passing, this guide will give you the tools you need for success – and a California high school diploma.
What If I Fail?
Before we dig into the study guide, it’s important to know what happens if you fail the CAHSEE.
You will take the CAHSEE for the first time sophomore year. If you don’t pass a section, you will just have to retake that section – for example, if you pass ELA but fail math, you will only have to take math again. If you fail both sections, you will retake both.
You can retry the CAHSEE twice in junior year and up to five times senior year. So don’t stress if you don’t pass during sophomore year – you will get plenty of chances to retry the test.
If you don’t pass by graduation, you can try for up to two school years after. Depending on your district, there may be summer school or fifth year options to help you pass the CAHSEE and complete high school. Contact your school to find out their policy for students who don’t pass CAHSEE by graduation.
How To Pass The CAHSEE: English
The English, or ELA, section is mostly multiple-choice, though there is a written response section as well. It covers reading and writing topics.
To pass, you need to be able to comprehend and analyze passages, and also know the basics of English grammar and writing strategies. If you don't do much reading in your spare time, try to do a little every day, even if you're just reading articles online or books for fun. Daily reading can help you get better at reading comprehension, even on standardized tests like the CAHSEE.
This section is untimed, so unlike high-stakes tests like the SAT and ACT, you don’t have to worry about pacing.
The reading topics are:
- Word Analysis (7 questions)
- Reading Comprehension (18 questions)
- Literary Response and Analysis (20 questions)
The reading questions mostly consist of reading passages and answering questions about them.
The writing topics are:
- Writing Strategy (12 questions)
- Writing Application (1 essay question)
- English Language Conventions (15 questions)
This comes to a total of 72 multiple-choice questions, plus 7 additional unscored questions sprinkled in used to test out new question types.
The ELA section is given a scaled score between 275 and 450. A scaled score means they translate the raw scores (a.k.a. how many points you get from right answers) into a number between 275 and 450. Anything above 350 is passing.
There is not a set amount of raw points you need, since scaling can change from test to test. So you should aim to get a majority of the questions correct, though you don't need to shoot for perfection.
Your essay will be assigned a score from 1 to 4, with 4 being best. Two people will read it, and their scores will be averaged. Your essay won’t be scored if it is illegible, not in English, or off-topic.
How To Pass the CAHSEE: Math
The math section of the CAHSEE is all multiple-choice questions. It is untimed, so again, you don’t have to worry about rushing through.
However, there are no calculators allowed, so you have to do all math work by hand. If you rely on calculators to do multiplication and division, you have to practice doing math on paper.
To pass, you also need to have a pretty solid understanding of math through basic geometry and Algebra I.
Or practice on a chalkboard for some old-school cool.
The math section tests the following topics:
- Probability, Data Analysis and Statistics (12 questions)
- Number Sense (14 questions)
- Algebra and Functions: (17 questions)
- Measurement and Geometry: (17 questions)
- Algebra 1 (12 questions)
- Mathematical Reasoning (8 questions)
- Unscored trial questions (12 questions)
This makes for 92 total questions.
The math section is also scored between 275 and 450, with anything above 350 passing. Again, aim to get a majority of the questions right, but don't worry about being 100% perfect.
CAHSEE Study Guide
So now that you know what's on the CAHSEE and how many chances you will have to pass it, how should you study for it? And what can you use? We will show you how to come up with a study plan, what resources to use, and how to get help at school.
Score Report = Study Guide
After you take the CAHSEE, you will get a detailed report that says how well you did in each topic. For example, it will say how many Algebra and functions questions you got right, in addition to giving an overall math section score.
If you failed the CAHSEE the first time, don’t get overwhelmed by the score report saying all the things you did wrong. You don’t have to fix every single mistake to pass – you just need to fix enough to get above 350.
Use your score report as a study guide. Start with the sections you missed the most questions on and focus on learning that material first.
As an example, say a student got the following score report for math:
- Probability, Data Analysis and Statistics: 7 / 12
- Number Sense: 11 / 14
- Algebra and Functions: 3 / 17
- Measurement and Geometry: 2 / 17
- Algebra 1: 2 / 12
- Mathematical Reasoning: 4 / 8
While this student missed points in every section, they have the most work to do in Algebra and Functions, Measurement and Geometry, and Algebra 1. Since those topics build on each other – you need to understand basic algebra before getting Geometry and Algebra 1 – they should start by studying Algebra and Functions, and then move onto Geometry and Algebra 1.
Also, those sections also happen to be the largest, with 17 questions each for Algebra and Functions and Measurement and Geometry, and 12 questions for Algebra 1.
So if they can improve their scores in those three sections, they will be on track to pass. If they have extra time, they can review the other sections. But they should focus on learning Algebra and Geometry skills and practicing problems in those sections.
If you haven't taken the CAHSEE yet, start with the official study guides (which we will link to below) and focus on what is most difficult for you.
Gather Your Resources
You won't need tons of books to study for the CAHSEE, since there are many resources online. Make sure you have studying basics, though, like a notebook, pen, and earplugs if they help you focus.
Before you start studying, you need some materials! Luckily, there is a free, official CAHSEE study guide online and tons of practice questions for each section – way more questions than actually appear on one CAHSEE.
1. Math study guide
2. Math released questions
3. ELA study guide
4. ELA released questions
The study guides will walk you through what problems are going to be on the CAHSEE, and what you need to know. Start by reading the study guides before moving onto the practice problems. To do the practice problems, either print them out or look at them on the computer. (You can use a blank notebook to keep track of your answers.)
Doing the practice problems is also important so you get used to the format of the CAHSEE. When you correct the problems, don’t just mark what you got wrong and tally your score, try and figure out why you got the question wrong and what you didn’t know.
Pretend It's The Real Thing
You don’t have to time yourself while practicing, since CAHSEE is untimed, but remember to simulate test conditions by not using a calculator or any outside resources. If you don’t know a question, circle it. Come back to it later and figure out what you would need to know to get the question right.
Schedule, Schedule, Schedule
Make studying for the CAHSEE part of your weekly schedule. Put it in your calendar like it’s another class or sport. By making CAHSEE studying a set part of your weekly routine, you can retain information from week to week and make sure you get plenty of practice.
Also, make sure when you study you find a quiet room without distractions. Whether that means finding a table at your school library or asking your family to give you some space after dinner at night, make sure you find a good study spot. It’s very hard to focus with distractions around, especially other people.
Find School Resources
Of course, you shouldn’t try to study completely on your own. Your school probably has resources for CAHSEE studying – it’s a goal for every California high school for all of their students to pass and graduate!
Some schools have CAHSEE classes you can take. Others have after-school or Saturday study sessions. While it’s not fun to have to give up after-school time for studying, even just a few sessions could help you learn what you need to pass, and you might study faster than you would on your own.
Is this the coolest place to spend a Saturday? No. Can it help you pass CAHSEE? Yes.
To find out how your school helps students with CAHSEE, go to the guidance counseling office and ask about CAHSEE classes and resources.
If your school doesn’t have these, you can find a math and an ELA teacher to help you study. Ask if they can explain topics that you don’t understand, or to help go over practice test answers with you. Some schools also have peer tutoring, and you can ask for help there as well.
If you receive special education services, ask your school’s special education department coordinator about resources for CAHSEE, including accommodations you might not have received that could help you pass.
If you normally get accommodations on tests, you should be able to get the same accommodations for CAHSEE.
English Language Learners
If you’re an English Language Learner, ask your school’s ELL coordinator about accommodations you can get on the CAHSEE, including bilingual dictionaries or a read-aloud test.
Remember, it’s in your school’s best interest for all students to pass the CAHSEE. Don’t be shy about tracking down resources that can help you.
Also studying for the ACT or SAT? Learn how to improve a low math score.
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Come up with a target SAT or ACT score based on colleges you want to attend.
Your dreams of earning a high school diploma from the US State of California can be realized by passing CAHSEE (California High School Exit Exam). The test format has been designed to assess the basic academic skills that should be possessed by students graduating from public schools in California. In other words, the State of California utilizes your performance in CAHSEE to assess all the skills and also the knowledge that you should ideally possess in order to be worthy of a high school diploma as per the state standards.
Do you Know the Importance of CAHSEE Scores?
Do not be under the impression that taking this test is an unnecessary burden that has been heaped upon you. Your performance will be good for you only, especially if you are finding it difficult to cope with the skill levels that are considered essential for high school students. The test scores help in segregating those students who are in need of additional coaching and training since they do not possess academic skills of the level that is expected of high school students graduating from California. These students are then subjected to intensive training to help them improve their skill levels if they have not been able to pass CAHSEE until the end of grade twelve.
The performance of high school students in this test is also used for state accountability purposes by calculating the Academic Performance Index. Moreover, it is used for the Adequate Yearly Progress which is required to meet the requirements of the ‘No Child Left Behind’ Act.
Are you Aware of the CAHSEE Test Format?
You could be putting in your best for studying for CAHSEE with the aim of passing it, but you might fail to achieve your aim if you are not aware of the following:
- Types of questions asked
- Passing Scores
Both of the above mentioned aspects are indispensable for a good performance in CAHSEE. You will not be able to prepare well if you are not aware of the types of questions asked in the test. At the same time, preparing for the test without knowing the passing scores will be like taking a shot without looking at the target.
The test structure is divided into two parts for evaluating your skills in two major subject areas; English and Math. A brief description of both the parts is given below:
- English-Language Arts (ELA)
This part consists of six strands consisting of multiple-choice questions except for the Writing Applications strand.
- Word Analysis: 7 questions
- Reading Comprehension: 18 questions
- Literary Response and Analysis: 20 questions
- Writing Strategies: 12 questions
- Writing Applications: Essay writing
- English Language Conventions: 15 questions
There are a total of 72 questions asked in this part. In addition, there will be 7questions that are trial test items and these questions will not be scored.
Scoring for ELA
The score for ELA is arrived at by considering your responses to the multiple-choice questions and the essay in different proportions. Your essay score accounts for 20 percent of the ELA score and your performance in the multiple-choice questions accounts for 80 percent of the ELA score.
- Essay score: Your essay is scored by two readers. They will score your essay on a point scale that ranges from 1 to 4. The final essay score will be the average of these two scores. You can also receive a NS (non-scorable) essay score if your essay meets any of the following conditions:
- it does not address the given topic
- it is too short to make any sense or be scored
- it has been written in an illegible writing
- it has not been written in English
The scores are scaled so as to do away with the differences that may arise due to different editions of CAHSEE. The scale scores for the ELA part range from 275 to 450. You can pass this part only if you score 350 or above.
The questions for this part of CAHSEE are drawn from the following subject areas:
- Probability, Data analysis and Statistics: 12 questions
- Number Sense: 14 questions
- Algebra and Functions: 17 questions
- Measurement and Geometry: 17 questions
- Algebra I: 12 questions
- Mathematical Reasoning: 8 questions
There are a total of 92 questions in this part out of which 12 questions will be trial questions and they will not be scored.
Scoring for Math
The scoring for the mathematics part is carried out depending upon the questions that have been answered correctly by you. The raw scores are then scaled to a scale score ranging from 275 to 450. The passing score for this part is 350.
You need not pass both the parts in the same administration in order to pass CAHSEE. You can retake the part not passed by you in consecutive administrations. If you want more information about the test format, then you should visit the official website, www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/hs/ for a detailed description of the test format and the policies governing the conduct of the test.
Are you Aware of What the Score Report Contains?
You need to be aware of various aspects related to the score report so that you know what to expect when you see your score report. You will receive the Student and Parent Report in approximately seven weeks from the test date. One copy of the score report will be handed over to the parents of the test-taker and another copy will be filed with the student’s school records. The following will be displayed in the score report:
- General information about the test taker
- Information about the test-taker’s performance in the most recent test taken by him. This would be for a single part if the test-taker has taken one part only. This information will be in the form of the scale scores for the part taken.
- Whether you have passed or not will also be mentioned in the score report. This information will be displayed under the heading ‘Status’ in the score report. Status will be marked as ‘Passed’ if you have scored more than or equal to 350 in the part taken by you; otherwise it will be marked with a ‘Not Passed’. Status for a particular part will be marked as ‘Satisfied Requirement’ if you have taken that part in a previous administration and have passed it.
- Your performance in each of the strands for each part will also be indicated in the score report. This will be done under two heads. One will be for the number of questions asked in the strand and the other will be for the number of questions in the strand that you have answered correctly.
- Your Writing Applications score will also be displayed.
Finally, What if you Fail in CAHSEE?
Although, students cannot ignore the amount of hard work, studies and preparation required for passing CAHSEE, this test has not been formulated to put an additional load on high school students. You will be given a fairly high number of opportunities to pass the test if you are not able to pass it in your first attempt.
- If you have not been able to pass either one or both parts in grade ten, then you can retake the parts not passed by you up to two times per school year in grade eleven and up to five times per school year in grade twelve.
- If you are an adult student, you can retake the parts not passed by you up to three times per school year.
- You can avail the facility of undergoing special coaching and training for up to two consecutive academic years after the end of grade twelve if you haven’t been able to pass CAHSEE.
As can be seen, CAHSEE can be passed comfortably with a preparation schedule that is headed in the right direction with the right amount of hard work and dedication.