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Last Updated On: November 1st, 2023

What was the CHSPE?

For years, students who wanted to qualify to leave high school early in California took the California High School Proficiency Exam (or CHSPE). A passing score on the CHSPE allowed students to leave high school to pursue their professional or educational goals. Many students used their passing CHSPE grade to enter community college early, earning credits that would then allow them to transfer to a four-year institution. The CHSPE was also popular with child actors and other young professionals, for whom a passing score on the CHSPE allowed them to work without an on-set tutor or a violation of California law. Many students with passing CHSPE scores continued their education, but merely were able to do so with more flexibility given their demonstrated proficiency.

How was it formatted?

The CHSPE consisted of four sections: math, reading comprehension, language, and an essay. Students had 3.5 hours to complete all four sections. Students had to get about 65% of the questions correct to pass each section. It was possible to pass the math but not the reading and language sections or vice-versa. Many students found that, after taking the test the first time, they had to retake one section (usually the math, which students typically found more difficult).

The end of the CHSPE

The last CHSPE tests were administered in the first half of 2023. If you took and passed the CHSPE in 2023, don’t worry, your certificate of proficiency is still valid. However, if you only passed one of the CHSPE sections, this passing score will not count towards your proficiency certificate and you will have to pass both sections of the new exam, the CPP. As of this fall, the CHSPE has been replaced by the CPP (California Proficiency Program). The new CPP will use preexisting high school equivalency exams (the GED and the HiSET) rather than a proprietary CHSPE exam. Students will have to complete and pass both a math and a language arts subtest. There are a bunch of other important facts about the new CPP format that we will go into in more detail later on.

Why was it replaced?

While the state has not given explicit explanations as to why the CHSPE has been replaced, in our years preparing students for the exam we found students had a number of complaints about the test, many of which the change to the CPP should hopefully address. These included:

  1. Confusing timing on the test itself: The CHSPE exam didn’t separate the sections or give students guidelines about how much time they should spend on each section. This was great for students who were wizzes in one section but needed more time in another, as they could devote the extra time they had from finishing one section early to another section. However, it also meant that students had to spend some time learning arbitrary pacing guidelines and that many students found they lost track of time over the course of a 3.5 hour exam.
  2. Limited test availability: The CHSPE only had a few test dates over the course of the year, and, at least in the Los Angeles area, was quite popular. This meant that students occasionally had trouble registering for the exam or finding an available testing site. We even had one student forced to drive from Los Angeles to Palm Springs just to get an available test.
  3. Limited prep materials and information: The official CHSPE website only gave rough guidance as to what was on the exam. They didn’t release an official practice exam or go into much detail as to the test content. Additionally, because it was a California-specific test, the market for prep books was smaller, so students often struggled to find practice materials. The prep books that did exist tended to be of a lower standard than prep books for national tests such as the SAT or the ISEE. This meant that students sometimes struggled to assess their progress preparing for the exam or adequately prepare without the help of an outside tutor.

The new CPP

The CPP will award you a certificate of proficiency if you pass the language arts and mathematics sections of either the GED or the HiSET exam. Students will have the option of taking the test on the computer or on paper, either at a testing center or online with live proctoring. In another change from the CHSPE, the test will now also be offered in Spanish as well as English. This certificate of proficiency will serve the same function as a passing score on the CHSPE: it will allow students to leave high school early either to enter the workforce or continue their education. These changes will hopefully make the CPP easier to prepare for and take, as both the GED and the HiSET are common, nationally administered tests with more testing locations and preparation resources available. Another useful change is that, should students wish to continue with testing and earn a High School Equivalence (HSE), their passing math and language arts scores can be applied towards that goal.

Who is Eligible for the Exam and How to Register

Students are eligible for the exam if they are:

  1. 16 years old or older OR
  2. They have completed one year of enrollment in 10th grade OR
  3. They will have completed one year of enrollment in 10th grade at the end of the semester in which the next test is administered.

Unfortunately, the California Department of Education has not yet announced when the first exams will be taking place. Once the registration and testing specifications are finalized, they will be posted here. When we reached out to the department for more information, they said that they are working on updating the website and finalizing test dates, so students should check back weekly for more information. You can also email the department at [email protected] for specific questions.

How to Prepare for the CPP

Preparing for the CPP will require two main components: learning the relevant material and familiarizing yourself and practicing with the test format. While the test format will depend a bit on which test you decide to take (more on that below), the material covered in either case will be largely the same. The language arts section will require reading comprehension skills, familiarity with basic grammar and usage rules, and an essay. The math section will cover a variety of high school math subjects including basic math, algebra, geometry, graphs, and measurement. Both test formats allow the use of a calculator on the math section.

If there are areas within these subject lists you know you struggled with in school (or have yet to cover), it is worth reviewing them (either alone or with a tutor) as the first step towards passing the CPP. You should also try some practice questions and even a practice exam before the real test in order to familiarize yourself with the format and timing of the exam. A practice test can also help you identify exactly which areas you need to review in each section.

G.E.D. or HiSET?

One decision you will need to make is which format of the test you’d prefer to take, the G.E.D. or the HiSET. The two tests are extremely similar in subject matter covered and difficulty, so the decision is not as consequential as it may appear at first. We recommend looking at some practice questions for each test to see if one format appeals more than the other. If cost is an issue for you, you should also be aware that the HiSET is typically a bit cheaper than the GED, although that difference is fairly minimal. The exact price will depend on whether you decide on a computer or paper test, and (may well increase a bit by the time of your actual test date), but you can probably expect to save around $20 dollars or so by taking the HiSET. Another consideration is availability. Finding a test center close to you and a test date that is convenient to your schedule is honestly as or more important than picking the format you like more between two very similar tests.

Photo by Antoni Shkraba

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