Teenagers in New York City high schools may need to take five or more of the New York State Education Department (NYSED) Regents Exams in order to graduate with a Regents diploma, but it can be tough to know which schools require the exams, which tests to take, and when students take the exams during their high school career.
Every school is a little different, so it’s important to check with the high school counselors and get your school’s exact schedule, but you should be prepared for five exams or more taken over the four years of high school.
When you’re trying to get more information about the exams, you may wonder:
• What are the NYSED Regents Exams?
• Which high schools require the exams?
• When do students take the exams?
• What are allowable substitutions students can make instead of taking the exams?
• What types of diplomas or honors can students achieve?
• How do students prepare for the NYSED Regents?
This article was written to answer these questions and provide some helpful information on the NYSED Regents Exams for students who will attend high school in New York City.
WHAT ARE THE NYSEDREGENTS?
The NYSED Regents Exams are a series of tests developed by the NY Education Department for several different high school subjects. They were developed to make sure that high school students in New York develop a specific set of educational skills and cover the same amount of material before leaving to go to college.
While the exams can change slightly every few years, the exams offered currently are:
- Social Studies o Global History and Geography
- United States History and Government
- English Language Arts: Comprehensive English
- English Language Arts: RE in English Language Arts (Common Core)
- Mathematics o Integrated Algebra o RE in Algebra 1 (Common Core)
- Algebra 2 and Trigonometry
- Earth Science/The Physical Setting
- Biology/The Living Environment
- Chemistry/The Physical Setting
- Physics/The Physical Setting
In general, these exams are all three hours long and taken as final exams in that particular high school course. The exception is Earth Science, which includes a 40-minute lab component for students to test their skills, and this component takes place a few weeks before the written test.
The written exams all follow the same type of format: some multiple choices questions and some essay topics/short answer questions. The multiple choice section lasts anywhere from 30-50 minutes, and it includes questions that test students’ knowledge about the topic that all students should have learned in their high school classes.
The short answer and essay section can be a little different depending on the subject. For math and science NYS Regents Exams, the short answer section will require students to do some technical problems and show their work. This can take some getting used to if students aren’t familiar with this kind of test question, and it’s also the method used for some SAT questions.
For social sciences, the short answer or essay questions focus on a handful of prompts, and students must pick one or two to write about in length. For sample exams and descriptions of the tests, visit NYSED Regents websire
There were foreign language exams available to students up until 2012, but the exams are being phased out. Now students who want to show proficiency in foreign languages can take exams created by their high schools, which are intended to be the same level of difficulty as the NYSED Regents, but there are no longer any language-specific NYSED Regents Exams.
Some new changes to the exams began in 2014 testing season, when the NYSED Regents Exams were edited to start conforming to Common Core standards.
Future changes are planned for next year’s exams as well: in 2015, the Geometry and Algebra Regents will be aligned with Common Core. Starting in 2016, students will need to achieve scores of 75 or higher in English and 80 or higher in math in order to pass the exams, instead of the typical passing score of 65 and up.
Students need to pass five or more NYS Regents Exams in order to get a high school diploma in New York State. Thankfully, students don’t need to take all five of these exams in one year!
Students usually begin taking exams at the end of freshman year, and then continue taking one or two exams per year throughout high school. Each high school will have a recommended timeline for completing the diploma requirements, and as long as you stick to that timeline, you should be able to complete the requirements without problems.
Remember that these exams usually replace the final exam you would take for your high school class, so the Regents aren’t as scary as you may think. See the section on Regents Diplomas for more information about these requirements.
WHICH HIGH SCHOOLS REQUIRE THE NYSED REGENTS EXAMS?
Nearly all public schools in New York require students to take the NYS Regents Exams for some subjects, usually at the end of the year when students took that particular course in high school. Public schools require students to achieve passing scores in at least five of the NYS Regents Exams in order to achieve a Regents Diploma to graduate. A separate diploma can be awarded to students with learning disabilities, but all other students must achieve a Regents Diploma and pass at least five exams.
Not all New York City schools require students to take the NYS Regents Exams. Private schools may or may not require NYS Regents Exams, depending on the school. A good rule of thumb is that the more specialized and prestigious a school is, the less likely that school is to use the NYS Regents Exams for their students. These schools do not have to require the exams because they can show that their diploma requirements exceed Regents standards. In addition to some private schools, Hunter (a public school) is also exempt from the NYS Regents Exams because of the rigor of its diploma requirements.
WHEN DO STUDENTS TAKE THE NYSED REGENTS EXAMS?
Here’s where it can get a little bit tricky. While students need to pass at least five NYS Regents Exams in high school in order to graduate, there is not particular sequence of exams that all students follow.
Since the NYS Regents Exams are broken up into specific subjects, a student who takes chemistry in tenth grade would take the exam in the spring of tenth grade, but a school that teaches chemistry to its ninth grade students would recommend that students take the exam as high school freshmen.
The exams are offered every year in June, usually over a two-week period so students have ample time to choose all of the NYS Regents Exams they want to take that year.
Generally, students will take a math or science Regent in 9th and 10th grade, and then take the remaining three required exams (English, Global History and Geography, US History) whenever that particular high school decides to offer those courses to students.
It’s not so important to focus on the order students take these tests, just because the order can vary, but it is important to plan out a schedule that will ensure students take their five exams over the four years of high school.
To check the current exams dates for each subject, look at the NYSED website for helpful calendars and links.
WHAT ARE ALLOWABLE SUBSTITUTIONS FOR THE NYSED REGENTS EXAMS?
For schools that are not exempt from NYSED Regents Exams but still offer advanced classes, students can occasionally substitute other exams for the Regents tests.
Most Advanced Placement (AP) exams offered in the spring each year can fulfill NYS Regents requirements, which is a great incentive for students to take as many AP courses as possible at their respective high schools.
In addition to possible college credit and a stronger college application, taking AP classes and then the corresponding AP exams for those classes is a good way to cut down on the number of standardized tests that students may need to take.
Students should expect that scores of 4 or 5 (out of a possible 5) on respective AP exams may be enough to fulfill the Regents requirements, but the cutoff score can change from year to year.
In some cases, high scores on SAT subject tests (US History, for example, or one of the math exams) can replace NYS Regents Exams for those same subjects. Again, the cutoff scores to substitute these exams changes every year, so check with your school’s counselor before trying to substitute for a NYS Regents Exam.
Students who follow an IEP because of special needs or students with a 504 plan can also take a different set of exams that are allowable substitutes.
The Regents Competency High School tests (RCTs) are available options for students who are under 21 and still in school, and they allow students who may not be able to take the Regents to complete exams with similar qualifications.
There are only six RCTs (math, science, reading, US History, Earth Science, Global History and Geography) that are offered three times per year. Performing well in these exams will result in a high school diploma, assuming all the other high school requirements for the proper number of credits, subjects taken, etc., are also met.
The best plan is to talk to your high school counselor about allowable substitutions, just because the requirements can change from year to year. That way, you can plan out a set of AP courses that can get you exempted from taking the Regents, and still get a good course foundation before applying to college.
WHAT TYPES OF DIPLOMAS OR HONORS CAN STUDENTS ACHIEVE?
The key reason for taking the NYSED Regents Exams, aside from meeting school requirements, is for students to graduate with a Regents Diploma.
There are a few different types of diplomas, as well as extra honors that students can achieve with high Regents scores. For the Regents Diploma, students need to achieve a passing score—65 or higher—on five different exams. The required exams are:
- • Global History and Geography
- • US History and Government
- • Comprehensive English
In addition to these three exams, students must choose one of three math exams (Integrated Algebra, Geometry, Algebra 2 and Trigonometry), as well as one of four science exams (Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry, or Physics).
Achieving passing scores on these five exams, along with the general high school requirements students fulfill through their coursework in their particular school, will result in a Regents Diploma.
For students who choose to take more exams, there is a different diploma available.
In addition to the three required exams above, students who take all three math exams, two science exams, and one foreign language exam created by the student’s high school are eligible for a Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation.
Passing scores on these eight Regents plus the school’s foreign language exam will result in this diploma.
There are also a few additional honors that students can achieve, particularly on the basis of high scores. Students who score 90 or above on their required exams will get their respective diploma with Honors.
Any student who achieves 85 or more on all three of the math exams will achieve the mastery in mathematics designation on his or her diploma. Similarly for science, students who achieve 85 or more on at least three science exams will receive the mastery in science designation.
These additional types of honors can help students who are applying to college, because students have the opportunity to list special Regents honors on their college applications.
HOW DO STUDENTS PREPARE FOR THE NYSED REGENTS EXAMS?
Self-study with test prep books, group test prep classes, school-sponsored review sessions, and private tutoring are all ways to prepare for any of the NYS Regents Exams. You can also work with other students at your high school to prepare for the exams, or you can choose to get tutored online, using Skype and whiteboards. Each method can work best for different students, so take a look at each method to determine the best type for you. To learn more about different types of methods, review previous articles on our Origins Tutoring blog about different ways to prep for standardized tests.
Our test prep approach emphasizes bringing high-quality prep to teens, and we strongly believe that private tutoring can be a powerful way to increase your readiness for the NYS Regents Exams. One-on-one attention with a private tutor means that you can work with a qualified professional to practice test-taking skills for the three-hour exams, or brush up on lab skills for the Earth Sciences component. It can also be incredibly helpful to have this individual attention if you need to brush up on specific areas before the test: sometimes one concept might be harder than another, but there might not be enough time in math class or English class to fix this learning gap. Individual tutoring can help fill in these knowledge holes and get you comfortable with any of the NYSED Regents Exams, and that can pay off on test day.