2024 Edition

High School Graduation Test Guide

The High School Graduation Test Summary
What: An exam for high school graduation.
Who: High school students take the test, published by their state public school boards.
Where: The high schools which the students attend.
When: Differs by state.
How: Timed.
Type: Paper and pencil, multiple choice.
Why: Required for graduation in some states.
Time: Average is 6.5 hours.
Language: English
Preparation: Free online courses
Cost: Free

By Alyssa Choiniere, Tests.com Contributing Writer

In an attempt to establish a standard of academic achievement across the United States, State Graduate Exams, or Exit Exams, have been implemented in 22 states. These tests are used to determine whether a student is allowed to pass high school. Some states adopted the examination for graduation in the 1980s, and the number of states using the system is continually rising.

As of late 2008, 22 states required exams to graduate high school, according to the University of Minnesota. The list of states using the exams, and the name of each test, is listed below, followed by the subjects tested and the grade administered.

  • Alaska High School Graduation Qualifying Examination (HSGQE): Reading, Writing, and Mathematics; 10th grade
  • Alabama High School Graduation Examination, 3rd Edition: Reading, mathematics, science, language, and social studies; 11th grade
  • Arizona's Instruments to Measure Standards: English, mathematics, and science; 10th grade
  • California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE): English/language arts and mathematics, 10th grade
  • Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT): Reading, writing, and math in 10th grade, and science in 11th grade
  • Georgia High School Graduation Test and Georgia High School Writing Test: Writing test administered fall of 11th grade, second in the spring, covering English/language arts, social studies, science, math
  • Idaho Standards Achievements Test (ISAT): English/language arts and mathematics, 10th grade
  • Indiana Graduation Qualifying Exam: English and mathematics; 10th grade
  • Louisiana Graduation Exit Examination for the 21st century (GEE 21): English and math; 10th grade; social studies and science; 11th grade
  • Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System: English and mathematics; 10th grade
  • Minnesota Basic Skills Test: Reading and math in 8th grade and writing in 10th
  • Mississippi Subject Area Testing Program (MSATP): Administered at the end of courses Algebra 1, Biology 1, US History from 1877, and English 1
  • North Carolina Competency Test of Reading and Mathematics: Reading and mathematics; 8th grade
  • New Jersey HS Proficiency Assessment (HSPA): Reading, writing, and math; 11th grade
  • New Mexico High School Competency Examination: English, science, mathematics, and social studies; 10th grade
  • Nevada High School Proficiency Examination: Reading, writing, and mathematics, 11th grade
  • New York Regents Competency Tests: Math and science in 9th grade, global studies in 10th, and reading, writing, and United States Government in 11th.
  • Ohio Graduation Test: English, mathematics, science, social studies, and writing; 10th grade
  • High School Assessment Program: English and mathematics; 10th grade
  • Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program Gateway Tests (TCAP): Administered at the end of courses reading, writing, mathematics, social studies, and science.
  • Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS): Science and social studies; 11th grade
  • Virginia Standards of Learning Test (SOL): Administered at the end of courses English, math, history, social science, and science.

The following states will implement a graduation exam by the end of the 2009 school year, according to the Center of Education Policy:

  • Arkansas Comprehensive Assessment Program
  • Maryland HS Assessment (HSA)
  • Oklahoma End-of-Instruction Exams (EOI)
  • Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL)

What are the Differences Between the State Exams?
The most important difference in exit exams to students is the policy regarding failure of an exit exam. Although passing is technically required for gradation, the tendency of school boards to withhold a diploma was far more strict when these tests were initially distributed, according to the Center of Education Policy. Many schools had a vast percentage of student failures, and schools became more lenient on their policies for graduation.

Currently, the policy for failing high school based on the graduation exams differ by state. In Alaska, California, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia award students a different diploma based on their achievement on the exit exam. Some states also allow a substituted grade. For example, if a student fails the state graduation exam, but earns a high score on the Standardized Aptitude Test (SAT), the student will still be allowed to graduate. The states allowing substitution are Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, and Virginia. Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio, and Utah accept appeals for graduation if the student fails. The remaining states do not permit graduation until the exit exam is passed.

However, most states begin administration of the test in the sophomore year of high school, or sooner. Students who do not pass are allowed to retake the test until it is passed. Because many of the exams are at the proficiency level of the grade in which the test is first administered, students should be able to complete the exam if they can complete their coursework.

How do the Exams Work?
Tests are given in the high school where the student takes daily classes. There is no direct cost, as the expenses are paid by tax dollars. The tests are administered on paper, filling in dots with pencil to be graded by computer. The tests are written by the public school administration of each state. The tests range in length and time, but are typically given over a two day period and take a total of approximately 6.5 hours. The questions are multiple choice.
Many tests are now being reformatted so that they will be administered at the end of required courses. Some states have already adopted this method.

How Do I Prepare?
The most fundamental way to prepare for the tests is to study hard in the classes that will be tested on the exit exams. Many teachers consider these tests to reflect upon their teaching abilities, and will frequently gear the course work toward the tests themselves.
In addition, a free class can be completed online to assure success on the exams at Exit Exam Help.

If you're getting ready to take your state graduation exam, take a look at our State Graduate Test Directory.