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What is an Exit Exam?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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An exit exam or exit examination is a test a student may be required to take in order to show proficiency in a class, in a major subject in college, or as in the case with high school to exhibit basic proficiency in math and English to gain a high school diploma. When you search for exit exam information on the Internet, you will find the subject mainly discussed in context of this last definition. This is especially true in regards to the California high school exit exam (CAHSEE), which is now a graduation requirement of all high school students in the state. Other schools, states and countries may also require exit tests for students to make sure no students graduate or move on to other course without proving they have mastered what they have studied.

Sometimes exit exams are highly standardized as in the case with the CAHSEE. Other times, especially in the college setting, an exit exam may be composed by teachers and made for specific students studying in a certain area. Some people in Master’s programs, for instance, might not have to write a thesis and are able to take an exam option to receive their degree. In this case, they may need to take a written examination to prove competency in their major, and take an oral exam too.

In other instances a college may require that all students planning to graduate with a bachelor’s degree take an exit exam. Often colleges test written proficiency a year or two before students graduate. If they are unsuccessful in writing a few five-paragraph essays, they may need to take a remedial course or two to improve their writing. Trade and professional schools may require exit tests, especially if they offer certification. Students may need to pass these tests prior to getting licensure or certification in a given subject.

Exit exams are primarily a means of helping students who may not be fully prepared to pass a class, graduate high school or college, or work in their chosen field. Many of them are general and non-specific tests that merely look for writing skills and fundamental math skills. Unless these areas pose problems for you, you might not need to study for these generalized knowledge tests. On the other hand, exit exams that evaluate skills in a certain field can require tons of study, since they are often very specific and require significant knowledge of your field.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon329158 — On Apr 08, 2013

I think exit exams are a big waste of time. How can you go through a whole course, pass it, say with a "B" then for some reason fail your exit exam?

If you pass all the tests and do all the required work, you should pass the course. The way I see it, it is just a big money making scheme by the schools and a big, big waste of time and money. Exit exams should be eliminated.

By Sara007 — On May 03, 2011

@popcorn - I know with my driving license testing we have to do a final exit exam. It is pretty stressful to practice for, but I am not sure if there is any better way to judge students when there are so many going through one program.

I can't imagine it is any easier with high schools where they have to rank hundreds of students. Does anyone have any idea about solid ways to test students that don't require us all to jump through identical hoops?

By popcorn — On May 01, 2011

I believe that exit exams can be some of the most stressful tests a person can take! I remember in high school when there was so much emphasis on those final exit tests. It seemed that despite all your hard work throughout the year that everything ended up riding on one score.

I really think they need to come up with an alternative method of grading students. There have already been some studies showing that these kinds of tests may actually be causing students to drop out of school and have lower future expectations. Why don’t schools understand that some students just don’t test well?

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor...
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