CAHSEE Test Breakdown

One cannot expect to progress much in life without a high school diploma. Sound education and good qualifications are the two necessary prerequisites for success in any career oriented endeavour. A high school diploma is the first qualification that you will earn before embarking on the journey towards a successful career; which in turn depends on your college studies and other specialized studies. You will not be able to secure admission to any college program of study if you do not have a high school diploma. CAHSEE (California High School Exit Exam) has to be passed by all high school students, graduating from public schools in California, as one of the requirements for earning their high school diploma.  Therefore, it becomes extremely important to understand the test structure if you wish to earn your high school diploma.

The Utility of CAHSEE

Before going through the test format, it is equally important to understand the significance so that you appreciate the reason why you have to take up the test. The most important reason is to provide a means for evaluating the level of basic academic skills in reading, writing, and mathematics developed by high school students, which should be of the minimum level as specified by the state standards.  The score reports help in the identification of those students whose skills do not meet the requisite levels and therefore, such students can be provided with the necessary guidance and counselling so as to bring their abilities and skill levels to the standard that is expected of a high school student graduating from a public school in California. CAHSEE is also used for calculating the Academic Performance Index for state accountability purposes and the Adequate Yearly Progress so as to meet the requirements of the ‘No Child Left Behind’ Act.

CAHSEE Test Format

CAHSEE evaluates the academic competence of high school students in two major subject areas, English and Math. The test format is organized in such a way that there are two parts for assessing the skills of students in these two subject areas. The two parts are:

  1. English-Language Arts (ELA)


This part of the exam has two sections designed to evaluate reading and writing skills of the level of the state standards for grade ten. The two sections are:

    1. Reading Section: This section will cover the test content related to vocabulary, informational reading and literary reading. You will be presented with approximately 50 percent literary texts and the remaining will be informational texts.
    2. Writing Section: This section will have questions related to strategies that need to be employed for good writing skills, application of your knowledge for writing and adherence to conventions of standard written English.

Test Content and Questions: The test content for this part covers six major subject areas which are also referred to as strands:

  1. Word Analysis: This accounts for 7 multiple-choice questions
  2. Reading Comprehension: There will be 18 multiple-choice questions based on this subject area
  3. Literary Response and Analysis: This subject area accounts for 20 multiple-choice questions
  4. Writing Strategies: 12 multiple-choice questions will be based on this subject area
  5. Writing Applications: This subject area consists of essay writing. This is a writing task in which you will be required to respond to a given topic or passage by writing an essay.
  6. English Language Conventions: You will be presented with 15 multiple-choice questions related to this subject area

There will be a total of 72 multiple-choice questions. There will be additional 7 multiple-choice questions that are trial test items and are not scored.
Scoring:  The scale scores for this part range from 275 to 450. You will need a minimum scale score of 350 in order to pass this part.
The essay is scored on a point scale ranging from 1 to 4 by two readers. The average of the two scores is taken into account as the essay score.  The essay score is scaled to account for 20 percent of the ELA score. The multiple-choice questions of the reading and writing sections account for the remaining 80 percent of the ELA score. You will receive a NS (non-scorable) score in the essay if the essay is

  1. too short to be scored
  2. not related to the given topic
  3. written in illegible writing
  4. written in a language other than English
  1. Mathematics


The subject areas pertaining to this part are of the level of grades six and seven and the first part of Algebra as per the state standards.
Test Content and Questions: The test content for this part is drawn from five major subject areas, also known as strands:

  1. Probability, Data analysis and Statistics: There will be 12 test items in this strand
  2. Number Sense: This subject area will consist of a total of 14 test items
  3. Algebra and Functions: There will be 17 test items in this strand
  4. Measurement and Geometry: You will be presented with 17 test items pertaining to this subject area
  5. Algebra I: There will be 12 test items for this strand

In addition, there will be 8 test items pertaining to Mathematical reasoning. You will be presented with a total of 92 multiple-choice questions. 12 questions out of these will be trial test items and they will not be scored.
Passing Scores: The scale scores for the mathematics part of CAHSEE range from 275 to 450. The passing score for this part is 350.

You should visit the official website, and go though the blueprints for both the parts. These blueprints are available at the website and they contain useful information about the skills being assessed and the breakdown of test items for each skill. The blueprints will help you in understanding the test content better.

Important Aspects Related to CAHSEE

There are some important aspects related to taking CAHSEE that each test-taker should be aware of. Some such aspects are listed below. Go though the official website of to understand the policies that govern the conduct of this test.

  • Every grade ten student studying at a public school in California will have to take CAHSEE. If you fail to clear either one or both the parts, then you can retake those parts subject to the following conditions:
  1. You can take the parts not passed by you  up to two times per school year in grade eleven
  2. Parts not passed by you can be retaken up to five times per school year if you are in grade twelve
  3. You can retake the parts not passed by you up to three times per school year if you are an adult education student
  4. Retest of parts in which you have failed can be taken in consecutive test administrations. There is no time limit before which you cannot retake a part.
  5. You cannot retake any part of CAHSEE if you have already passed it.
  6. You can pass the test by taking the two parts in two different administrations.
  7. You will be provided with training and guidance for improving your skills if you have not been able to pass till the end of grade twelve. Contact your school authorities for details of this facility if you have not been able to pass CAHSEE and you have already reached the end of grade twelve.


No Gain Without Pain!

The age old saying which stresses the fact that one cannot hope of any gain if one does not put in pain in the form of adequate efforts holds true in the case of CAHSEE prep. Do not expect to do wonders just by walking into the test centre with little or no preparation. Understand the test format and prepare well by practicing solving problems specific to the test format. This is the only way that can assure you of success in CAHSEE at the earliest.

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