Is the CHES Exam Worth It?

Published on: Nov 20, 2023

If you are a student in an undergraduate or graduate public health program, you have likely heard of the CHES exam. But what does that stand for? And how will it help your public health career? The Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) exam is a national certification test that reflects one’s comprehension in health education practice. The exam measures the possession, application, and interpretation of knowledge in the 8 areas of responsibility for the health ed specialists1. People who obtain the CHES certification have a competitive edge in the job market3.

The CHES exam is administered by the National Commission of Health Education and Credentialing, Inc., or for short NCHEC1. NCHEC was founded in 1988, and is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization which creates and administers national competency-based examinations to entry and advanced-level health education specialists1. The organization is dedicated to sustaining the highest level of competence in the health education workforce. NCHEC administers two exams: CHES and MCHES, which stands for Master Certified Health Education exam. Both certifications are the national and international standard for the health education workforce, who work at both the entry and advanced levels. For purposes of this article, we are focusing on the CHES exam, which individuals should and who should not consider sitting for this exam, and review some helpful study tips from previous test takers1.

The CHES exam is offered in the United States and internationally. Candidates can take the exam via computer-based format or through Live Remote Proctoring from the comfort of your home. The Exam is offered in both the spring and fall (April and October) for a period of ten days1

Exam Topics and Job Opportunities with the CHES Exam

Overall, the focus of the exam is health promotion and health education. It’s meant to distinguish people who have completed it for excellence in health promotion and health education and serve as the preeminent national standard for health education credentialing. If you’re considering a career in health education or health promotion, this exam would be a good fit for you. Job titles that might be a good match for someone who took the CHES exam include health education specialist, health educator, community outreach coordinator, and community health worker. As you’re considering whether to take the exam, take a look at the job descriptions for roles like this and see if they mention that applicants with this certification are preferred. They may also say that someone needs experience with health promotion and having this certification can be a great way to demonstrate that. 

Another option for demonstrating your interest in public health is by taking the Certified Public Health (CPH) exam. Often considered the counterpart to the CHES, the CPH exam has a broader focus and includes topics like evaluation, health equity, policy and ethics.

Why Should I Take the CHES Exam?

There are numerous advantages to holding the CHES certification. Most notably, there is above average employment growth for health educators in the past 10 years5. CHES professionals work to inform the public about health issues – which we have all seen how crucial this is in the past 3 years. Specialists are also able to construct health education programs3. There are various job settings, across the nation and internationally, where holding this certification is incredibly beneficial, such as patient educators, health education teachers, trainers, community organizers, and health program managers. Furthermore, it can be useful in healthcare/hospital, government, university, business, nonprofit/community, and school settings1.

Who Is Eligible?

Not just anyone can sit for the CHES exam. There are eligibility requirements based exclusively on academic qualifications. You must have a bachelor’s, masters, or doctoral degree from an accredited institution of higher education. The minimum eligibility is a bachelor’s degree, OR an associate’s degree level course work that has been accepted by a four year or higher degree granting university can be counted toward eligibility for this exam2

Applicants should have at least 25 semester hours or 37 quarter hours of coursework (with grades of C or better) with specific preparation addressing the 8 areas of responsibility and competency for health education specialists2..This means you should have taken somewhat extensive coursework in public health, especially with a focus on health education and health promotion. Applicants will also need to provide an official transcript (including course titles) that clearly shows a major in health education, which includes health education, community health education, public health education, health and wellness promotion, school health education, etc.

Do I Have to Wait to Graduate? What If I Graduated Years Ago?

There is a 90-day eligibility option for students scheduled to graduate within 90 days of an exam date. The student must be enrolled in an accredited institution of higher education and submit a transcript showing at least 25 semester hours relating to the area of responsibility. They will also need to provide written recommendations from faculty advisors confirming the student will complete all degree requirements within 90 days of exam date2.

If you’ve been in the workforce for a while but are looking for a career change, taking the CHES exam can be a great way to show potential employers your commitment to public health. Since the CHES exam has the above requirements for public health coursework, you’ll need to pursue continuing education options to be eligible. Taking classes at a community college could be a great way to meet the academic eligibility requirements for the exam.

So, at this point, you are wondering, if I do not fall in the above categories, should I still consider the CHES Exam? The answer really depends on your career goals. Those who are not interested in health education, or plan to teach or manage health education programs, should not pursue the CHES exam. Again, it all depends on your career path, and if health education is in your future plans2.

What is the general structure of the CHES Exam?

The CHES exam consists of 165 multiple choice questions - 150 scored and 15 pilots – pretest items, which do not contribute to the final score on exam2. While taking the exam, the test taker will not know which items are being scored, and which are pilot questions. The content of the exam consists of the 8 areas of responsibility created by the HESPA II 2020 (Health Education Specialist practice analysis), which consists of the following test sections:

  • Area I: Assessment of Needs and Capacity

  • Area II: Planning

  • Area III: Implementation

  • Area IV: Evaluation and Research

  • Area V: Advocacy

  • Area VI: Communication

  • Area VII: Leadership and Management

  • Area VIII: Ethics and Professionalism (2)

The exam is in a computer-based format and can be taken at more than 400 PSI test centers worldwide. There are 3 hours to complete the examination, and the allotment estimations are: 

  • Introduction and tutorial ~ 10 minutes

  • Exam ~ 180 minutes

  • Satisfaction survey/completion notice ~ 10 minutes

Are there any CHES exam study tips?

Everyone studies differently, so it’s imperative to discover an effective way to study material that will be on the exam. Some tips for studying are to review the material that will be covered and understand the format of the exam. All questions are in multiple choice format, so take time to do the easy questions first, and go back to the difficult questions later4. Test takers have 180 minutes to complete 165 multiple choice questions, so be aware of the timing on exam day. NCHEC has numerous textbooks available to study for the CHES exam, which you can find at this website: any examination, it is always good to plan and create a study plan with small goals to keep you on track to review and study all material4.

Your study plan can include practice tests and practice questions. This will be one of the best ways to feel more comfortable on the day of the exam. If you can practice answering questions and practice taking the test several times in advance, on the day of the exam you’ll be comfortable with the setting and format. This means you’ll be able to jump right in with answering questions and won’t waste time getting a feel for the structure. 

While NCHEC recommends a series of textbooks for test preparation that cover the concepts of the CHES exam, there are companies that offer practice exams and practice flashcards

CHES test day tips:

  1. Use your break wisely: Test takers have one optional 10-minute break during the exam. This is your chance to use the restroom, take a quick walk around the exam area to get your blood flowing - whatever you need to gear up to complete the exam. It must be noted that the exam clock will continue during this time, so make your break efficient2.

  2. Eat and sleep well: Fitting for an exam on public health and health promotion, you’ll want to take care of yourself leading up to the exam. Make sure to get a few good nights of sleep in the days beforehand and eat a good breakfast. You don’t want tiredness or hunger to be a distraction. 

  3. Dress in layers: Along those lines, you want to be as comfortable as possible taking the exam. Make sure to dress however you’ll be the most comfortable and not distracted by being cold. 

  4. Stay in your lane: There are going to be a lot of people in the room with you. As much as possible, try not to pay attention to what anyone else is doing or how quickly you think they’re finishing. You’re there to become certified and that’s all that matters!

Next Steps for the CHES exam

All in all, the CHES certification provides individuals with a competitive edge in the marketplace, as well as tools to create, manage, and evaluate health education and promotion programs. This distinction is an essential step for those interested in pursuing any sort of health education career in various work settings. You must prepare accordingly and review the NCHEC study guides and textbooks. If you’re still on the fence about taking the exam, focus on what career goals you are looking to achieve, and how you want to contribute to the public health workforce. 

This certification will only make you stand out among your peers and help propel you towards those goals!

About the Authors

Written by:

Melisa Gebizlioglu, MPH

Melisa Gebizlioglu, MPH, is an experienced project manager at a nationally ranked Accountable Care Organization. Her current work focuses on seamless integration of electronic health records (EHR) to enhance care quality for patients. She has previously worked in health systems in the Greater Philadelphia area on numerous quality improvement and population health initiatives. She received her Master of Public Health degree from Drexel University. Prior to her work in the population health space, she worked as a certified Exercise Physiologist at fitness and wellness centers, and obtained her certification from the American College of Sports Medicine.

Opinions and information published by the author here on are of my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of my employer or other organizations for my designated roles.

Melisa Gebizlioglu portrait photograph

Melisa Gebizlioglu, MPH

Education: Drexel Dornsife School of Public Health

Reviewed by:

Katherine Paul, MPH

Katherine Paul, MPH is a senior project manager at a leading medical communications and publications organization. She supports multidisciplinary teams handling large-scale accounts, the deliverables of which improve health outcomes and patient well-being. Ms. Paul holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree in Health Promotion from Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health and passed the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) shortly after graduation. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from Dickinson College.

Ms. Paul previously worked at a public health non-profit where she managed all aspects of diverse health-related projects, including the implementation of a randomized controlled clinical trial on sexual health for teens with developmental disabilities, as well as the evaluation of a statewide tobacco cessation program with more than 20,000 annual cases. She has developed and delivered posters and presentations at national conferences including the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting. 

Opinions and information published by the author here on are of my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of my employer or other organizations for my designated roles.

Katherine Paul

Katherine Paul, MPH

Editorial Lead

Education: Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health

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