Regents Examinations

Regents Examinations

Regents High School examinations, sometimes shortened to the Regents, are mandatory in New York State through the New York State Education Department, designed and administered under the authority of the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York. Regents exams are prepared by a conference of selected New York teachers of each test's specific discipline who assemble a "test map" that highlights the skills and knowledge required from the specific discipline's learning standards. The conferences meet and design the tests three years before the tests' issuance which includes time for field testing and evaluating testing questions. The font in which the exams are written is Caledonia (typeface).



On July 27, 1864, during the American Civil War, the New York state legislature passed an ordinance creating the Regents examination system. This ordinance included the following provisions for assessment of students: "At the close of each academic term, a public examination shall be held of all scholars presumed to have completed preliminary studies. . . .To each scholar who sustains such examination, a certificate shall entitle the person holding it to admission into the academic class in any academy subject to the visitation of the Regents, without further examination."[1]

A careful reading of the ordinance illuminates much about the legislature’s intent in establishing the Regents examination system. The central idea of the legislation was to create an educational control system that could be used to regulate the flow of funds to the well established academy system of schools that existed throughout the state of New York. This goal would be accomplished by: 1) creating a Regents examination system, which would measure student achievement through process of examination; and 2) creating a new and privileged class of students in the secondary schools of New York. The new class of students would be called the “academic class,” and those students who qualified for admission to it by sustaining a process of examination would be known as “academic scholars.” Academic scholars, and the institutions with which they were affiliated, would receive recognition and privilege under New York’s school funding formula.[1]

The focus of the ordinance was on assessing student achievement in the preliminary, or elementary curricula. In essence, the examinations were being positioned in the primary role of gatekeeper between the primary and secondary schools of the state of New York. The need for a gatekeeper examination system was due in part to the state’s 1864 school funding formula, which allocated public funds to private academies based on criteria that included the number of enrolled students. Typically, the academies used money distributed from the state literature fund to offset operating expenses, and any expenses in excess of funds received from the State were passed on to students and their families in the form of “rate bills.” Under this system, individual academies could realize economic advantages by lowering academic standards and enrolling less qualified students. In 1864, during a time of war, the New York legislature became concerned about this issue of who was and who was not qualified to be enrolled in the common, mostly private academies of the state and also in the rare, public high schools of the state. The timing of the legislature’s concern and actions in 1864 may have been related to two conditions that existed during the Civil War: the military’s need for young men of fighting age and a period of fiscal austerity in school funding.[1]

The first Regents examinations were administered in November 1866. In 1878, the Regents examination system was expanded to assess the curricula taught in the secondary schools of New York. From the original five exams (algebra, Latin, American History, natural philosophy, natural geography), the State Education Department expanded the Regents Exams offerings to forty-two tests in 1879; tests were administered in November, February, and June. Throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s vocational education Regents Exams were approved and administered. These included, but were not limited to, agricultural science, costume draping, and salesmanship.[2] By 1970 the number and types of Regents Exams changed to reflect the changes in high school curriculum: vocational exams were discontinued, and the sheer number of exams were either dropped or consolidated as the curricular emphasis trended toward comprehensive examinations rather than the singularly focused tests of the past. Today there is a distinct mixture of comprehensive style exams (English Language Arts, and Foreign Languages) and the “older” singular style exams (Social Studies, Sciences, and Math).

2010 Changes

Due to budget cuts, the Board of Regents voted to cancel 7th Grade regents (Integrated Algebra, Geometry, and Living Environment) who were in 7th grade Honors/Accelerated Programs in Math and Science.

2011 Changes

On May 16, 2011, in the face of an $8 million budget gap, the Board of Regents voted to reduce the number of tests administered. There will no longer be any Foreign Language exams. Furthermore, there will no longer be any tests administered during the month of January; only 6 Regents exams are being offered in August 2011, plus some RCTs - see the NYS August Exam Schedule.

In August 2011, Bloomberg and 5 other private donaters donated enough money to keep the regents administered in January 2012. All other exams set to be canceled (such as the 3rd and 8th Grade Social Studies exams, Foreign Language regents, etc.) are back to being administered. What will happen in the future is unknown.

Exam protocol

The exams themselves are administered according to strict and specific instructions: printed on the cover of each exam booklet is the date and time when the examination is to begin, and the proctor is required to follow specific regulations for administering the test — e.g., regulations for students leaving the room during the tests, the prohibition of cell phone use by students during a test, and the handling of the test papers. Students are required to answer the regents in pen, with the exception of graphs, which must be done in pencil. Proctors are required to sign an oath stating that they have followed the regulations, and students also sign an oath stating that they have not received assistance or otherwise cheated on the test. If a student's cell phone (or any other electronic device) makes noise, the student's test will become void, and he/she must retake that exam at a later time.

Diploma eligibility

To graduate with what is called a "Regents' diploma", students are required to have earned appropriate credits in a number of specific subjects by passing year-long or half-year courses, after which they must earn a score of 65 points or better on the Regents' examination in that subject area. This expectation is in addition to passing the courses themselves, the passing grade of which is based on an individual teacher's or school's own tests and classwork.

Diploma honors

The New York State Board of Regents offers the following honors to students with exemplary academic performance: - A student that earns an aggregate score of 90 or better (without rounding) is eligible for a Regents Diploma or Advanced Regents Diploma with Honors. - A student that earns a score of 85 or better on all of the required mathematics Regents examinations is eligible for an annotation on their diploma that states that the student has mastery in mathematics.

Required exams

To receive a regular high school diploma, students in New York State must pass, with a score of 65 or higher, five Regents Exams: Integrated Algebra (or Math A), Global History and Geography, U.S. History and Government, Comprehensive English, and any one science regents. To receive an Advanced Regents Diploma, students must also pass an additional Regents science exam, (Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry, or Physics), one or two additional math exams (Geometry and Algebra 2/ Trigonometry if they've taken Integrated Algebra, or a choice of Math B or Alg2/Trig if they've taken Math A).[3]


Most Regents exams are three hours long. The exceptions are the Earth Science exam and foreign language exams. Earth Science consists of a 41 minute (approximate) laboratory component usually given up to two weeks prior to the three hour written exam. The format of the Earth Science laboratory component is presently changing. Several of the foreign language Regents have oral exams which are administered before the written test and are not part of the three hour time limit.

Most Regents exams are structured in the following format:

  • A multiple-choice section (Part I), which is usually between 30 to 50 questions, and,
  • a long-answer/essay section (Part II), which consists of either a selection of detailed questions for which the work must be shown (for math and physical sciences), or a set of essay topics, of which one or two must be written about in detail (for the social sciences).

In 2005, the Board of Regents began modifying the Mathematics curriculum. An integrated approach that taught topics in geometry and algebra during each of three years, with exams normally taken after a year and a half and again after three years, was replaced by a curriculum that divides topics into Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II and Trigonometry. Each of these take the form of a one-year course with a Regents Examination at the end of the year. The "Math A" and "Math B" exams are thus being eliminated and replaced by "Integrated Algebra", "Geometry", and "Algebra II and Trigonometry".

English Language Arts

The English Regents required four essays, each structured differently. Combined, they are intended to assess students' abilities to read, write and listen for:

  • information and understanding,
  • literary response and expression,
  • critical analysis and evaluation, and
  • social interaction,

as per the state's standards for English Language Arts.

The exam was administered in two three-hour sessions, usually on different days. There are four separate parts:

  • Task I-A: A passage is read aloud to students twice, from which they may take notes. They must then answer six multiple-choice questions and then write a persuasive essay, following several guidelines for a specific audience based on information in the passage. For the 2011 exam, the essay was removed and two multiple-choice questions were added for a total of eight questions.
  • Task II-B: Students must follow guidelines to write another persuasive essay, and answer 10 multiple-choice questions, incorporating information based on two documents. One is a written passage typically almost two pages long, the other is usually a chart or table, but can also be a graphic. The graphic was replaced by another passage for the 2011 exam. In addition, there are now 2 sets of 6 questions for each passage, totaling 12 questions.
  • Task III-A: Students again develop an essay on a general theme from two different documents, one prose, the other a poem. There are also ten multiple-choice questions. For the 2011 exam, the essay was simplified into two paragraphs in which students write about the theme seen in both passages and then explain about one specific literary element from one passage.
  • Task IV-B: The final section is the "critical lens" essay. Students are provided with a brief quotation, the critical lens, which they must then use as the basis for an essay interpreting two literary works of their choice, often ones they have read in class. There are no multiple-choice questions on this section. This was the only section not to be changed for the 2011 exam.

As of 2011, the ELA Examination will be shortened to include only the Task IV paper. However, the other tasks will still be included in limited form; no essay will be required of them, but they will still be present. The examination will be geared to focus more on reading comprehension rather than writing.

Earth Science Laboratory Practical

The format of the laboratory practical for Earth Science was changed in 2008. Currently, it consists of 3 sections, each with a time limit of nine minutes. While administering the test, there are multiple stations for each section. Each station uses different data, but the same task. For example, each section 1 station may have different rocks and minerals, though the task will be the same.

  • Section 1: Students must identify a mineral by testing various properties, using a provided flowchart. Students must also classify two rocks as igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic, and give the reason why.
  • Section 2: Students must find the epicenter of an earthquake. Using a provided map, one must triangulate the location of the epicenter using data from three seismograms.
  • Section 3: Students must draw an ellipse and compare it to the orbit of a planet in our solar system.
  • A Chemistry and Physics Lab Practical is still being decided upon.

Exemptions from the Regents Exams

During the 1990s, some alternative assessment schools, similar in character to charter schools, were founded in parts of New York in an attempt to provide a way for students to graduate from high school without taking any Regents Exams. Usually, the substitute graduation assessement involved would consist of the review and grading, by a panel of teachers, of an academic portfolio — a collection of the student's best work from all his or her years at the school. From such a "portfolio examination" would be issued a "Regents equivalency" grade for the areas of Math, English, History, and Science, and a "Regents Equivalency" diploma would be awarded to the student at commencement.

However, by the end of the 1990s most, if not all, of these self-labeled "alternative schools" have been forced to adopt some or all of the standard Regents Exam, and can no longer use portfolio examination criteria as the sole basis for graduation from the school. A notable example of this progression from full portfolio-based assessment to the use of an integrated Regents Exam based assessment portfolio assessment is The Beacon School although students only have to take the ELA regent.

Though all public schools are required to follow either the Regents Exam system or some form of alternative assessment, private schools may or may not follow either of these systems. The vast majority of private schools actually do use Regents exams and award Regents diplomas, but some especially academically prestigious private schools do not. These schools' argument is that their own diploma requirements exceed Regents standards. Schools run by the Society of Jesus, such as Canisius High School, Fordham Prep, McQuaid Jesuit and Regis, and the Society of Mary (Marianists), such as Chaminade and Kellenberg, have not used Regents exams for decades. Additionally, some other schools like The Masters School, The Ursuline School, The Hackley School, The Harvey School, Long Island Lutheran Middle & High School, and Nichols School not associated with those groups do not use the Regents system. Private schools that do not participate in the Regents system set academic assessments and graduation requirements that exceed those of their Regents peers.

Additionally, in some schools, individual students whose native language is not English can sometimes be exempted from taking the Regents Examination in Languages other than English (RE-LOE) if they complete a sequence in Art/Music, Business, and Technology (usually composed of five credits).

Successfully completed Advanced Placement exams are another example through which a student may become exempt of the Regents examination for that subject (e.g., AP American History in place of the U.S. History and Government Regents).

Regents Competency Test (RCT)

Regents Competency High School tests, or simply The RCT's,[4] are exit exams given to identified special education students with Individualized Education Programs or students with a 504 plan seeking a high school diploma but cannot pass the standard Regents exams. This is given through the New York State Education Department, designed and administered under the authority of the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York.

The RCT's can be taken before a student fails the corresponding Regents exam if this will help them be less stressed when taking the Regents, so they know that graduation does not hinge on a Regents exam. However there are some RCT exams that must be taken after a student fails the corresponding Regents exam. The RCT's are available for students until they graduate or when they turn 21. If they still cannot pass all of the RCT exams, an IEP diploma is awarded instead. An IEP diploma is not the equivalent to a high school diploma. This is a certificate given to students who complete the twelfth grade but do not pass required testing. It is sometimes referred to as a certificate of attendance. This diploma can be given to special education and general education students.

  • Ninth grade
    • Students take the Math and Science RCT in June. This is done in case the students fail the Math and Living Environment Regents or Earth Science Regents which can be taken in 9th or 10th grade. Some students, however, can take Regents in 8th grade.
  • Tenth grade
    • Students take the Math and the Living Environment Regents or the Earth Science Regents in June. Students will also take the Global Regents as well. Students can take the Global RCT if they failed the Global Regents.
  • Eleventh grade
    • Students take the Reading RCT in January. In June, students take the English and U.S. History Regents. Students can take the U.S. History RCT if they failed the U.S. History Regents.
  • Twelfth grade
    • Students take the Writing RCT in January if they have failed the English Regents.

There are 6 RCT's that are administered. They can be taken in January, June and August. The Global and U.S. History Regents are the only exception that does not allow students to take the RCT tests before students fail the corresponding Regents exam.

Current Regents Exam list

List of exams

The following New York State Regents Exams are administered:

  • Mathematics
      • Integrated Algebra I
      • Geometry
      • Algebra II and Trigonometry
  • Science
    • Earth Science/The Physical Setting
    • Biology/The Living Environment
    • Chemistry/The Physical Setting
    • Physics/The Physical Setting
  • Social Studies
    • Global History and Geography
    • United States History and Government
  • English Language Arts
    • Comprehensive English

Regular Regents

Subject Regents Credits Required Exam(s) Grade in which exams are usually taken (may vary, particularly in accelerated programs; most are normally taken in June, unless otherwise noted)
English 4 English Language Arts Grade 11
Social Studies 4
Mathematics 3 Math A/Integrated Algebra I
Science 3 Living Environment or Earth Science are usually completed to meet the requirement Grade 8/9 or upon completion of coursework
Foreign Language 0 Discontinued by the Board as of July 2011.
Art, Music (combined) 1
Health 1/2 The exam is a local exam. Grade 10 - Some schools throughout the state only allow students to take health in grade 11 and 12.
Physical Education 2
Electives All finals are local Grades 9-12
Required Exams Minimum Regents Diploma Grades for Graduation
English Regents 65
Math A Regents 65
Global History Regents 65
U.S History Regents 65
One Science Regents 65

For students entering in 9th grade in 2008 and beyond, local diplomas will no longer be available, so all students must get a 65 or above on all required Regents exams.

Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation

Subject Regents credits Required Exam(s)
English 4 English Language Arts Grade 11
Social Studies 4
  • Global History and Geography
  • U.S. History and Government
  • Grade 10
  • Grade 11
Mathematics 3
  • Math A/ Integrated Algebra I
  • Math B/ Geometry

(As of 2010, Algebra II/ Trigonometry)

  • Grade 8( Only qualified students)
  • Grade 9
  • Grade 10
  • Grade 11
Science 2 as of 2010
  • Living Environment (required)
  • Earth Science or
  • Chemistry or
  • Physics (Students must take Living Environment course, then one of three other courses of their choice.)
Grade in which they take the course. (i.e. Living Environment, Grade 9 ;Earth Science Grade 10 ; Chemistry Grade 10 or Grade 11; Physics Grade 11 or 12) (In some cases students take Earth Science in 8th grade, Living Environment in Grade 8/Grade 9, Chemistry in Grade 10, and Physics in Grade 11) (Some school districts may decide to "skip" Earth Science)
Art & Music (combined) 1
Health .5 The exam is a local exam. Grade 10
Physical Education 2 11th and 12th graders who are involved in sports may be exempt from the course during the quarter in which they are playing the sport. The sport they play will count as a credit.
Electives 1.5 All exams are local. Grades 9–12.

Minimum grade required for a regents w/ advanced designation to graduate: Same grades as required for a Regent's Diploma.


Guidelines for grade level classification are based on this table.

        8 credits                      10th grade standing
        8 credits                      11th grade standing
        8 credits                      12th grade standing
       __                              __
       24 credits                      Total


  1. ^ a b c Watson, Robert S (2010), Stability and Change in New York State Regents Mathematics Examinations, 1866-2009: a Socio-Historical Analysis, Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Dissertation Publishing, pp. 1-3, UMI 3433796 
  2. ^ NYSED, 1987
  3. ^ College Now CUNY: High School Graduation Credit and Regents Requirements,, retrieved June 15, 2008 
  4. ^ RCT exams, accessed May 15, 2009

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