Development (or GED) tests are a group of
five subject tests which, when passed, certify that the taker has
American or Canadian high school-level academic skills.
An American GED Issued in the State of
GED is sometimes referred to as a General Equivalency
or General Education
To pass the GED Tests and earn a GED credential, test takers must
score higher than 60 percent of graduating high school seniors
nationwide. Some jurisdictions require that students pass
additional tests such as an English proficiency exam or civics
The American Council on
is the sole developer for the GED test. The test is
always taken in person and never available online. Jurisdictions
award a "Certificate of General Educational Development" or
similarly titled credential to persons who meet the passing score
Only individuals who have not earned a high school diploma
may take the GED
tests. The tests were originally created to help veterans
after World War
return to civilian life. Common reasons for GED recipients
not having received a high school diploma include immigration
to the United States or Canada,
, leaving high school
early due to a lack of interest, the inability to pass required
courses, mandatory achievement
, the need to work, personal problems, etc.
More than 15 million people have received a GED credential since
the program began. One in every seven Americans with high school
credentials received the GED, as well as one in 20 college
students. Seventy percent of GED recipients complete at least the
10th grade before leaving school, and the same number are over the
age of 19, with the average age being 24.
In addition to English
, the GED
tests are available in Spanish
, large print, audiocassette
, and braille
. Tests and test preparation are routinely
offered in prisons
and on military bases
in addition to more traditional
settings. Individuals living outside the United States, Canada, or
U.S. territories may be eligible to take the GED Tests through
private testing companies.
History of the GED
In November 1942, the United States Armed Forces Institute asked
the American Council on Education (ACE) to develop a battery of
tests to measure high school-level academic skills. These Tests of
General Educational Development gave military personnel and
veterans who had entered World War II
service before completing high school a way to demonstrate their
knowledge. Passing these tests gave returning soldiers and sailors
the academic credentials they needed to get civilian jobs and gain
access to post-secondary education or training.
ACE revised the GED Tests for a third time in 1988. The most
noticeable change to the series was the addition of a writing
sample, or essay
. The new tests placed more
emphasis on socially relevant topics and problem-solving skills.
For the first time, surveys of test-takers found that more students
(65%) reported taking the test with the intention of continuing
their education beyond high school, rather than to get better
employment (30%).A fourth revision was made in 2002 to make the
test comply with more recent standards for high-school
There was also a college-level GED test for those persons who had
satisfied all the requirements for such testing. One agency that
the test was offered through was the DANTES testing program. The
college-level GED was discontinued.
The American and Canadian Councils on Education sets the following
eligibility requirements for GED testing:
- Residency: Each state, province, territory, or other
jurisdiction administers the GED tests to any qualified adult who
meets that jurisdiction's criteria for residency.
- Educational limitations: Only a person who neither
holds a traditional high-school diploma nor has already earned a
GED is eligible to take the GED tests. A person who has been
awarded a high-school equivalency diploma or earned scores
sufficient to qualify for a high-school equivalency diploma is
eligible to re-test under certain conditions.
- Enrollment limitation: The GED tests are not given to
someone who is enrolled in an accredited high school, including any
of those accredited by regional accrediting bodies and those
approved by the jurisdiction's department/ministry of
- Age limitation: Test takers must be at least 16 years
of age. There may be additional requirements for minors depending
upon the particular state or province. Many states require test
takers to be at least 18 years of age in order to receive the
Pretesting and registration
Pretesting and registration requirements vary widely by locality.
Some jurisdictions require GED candidates to take a pre-test or
answer other questions.
Registration requirements vary widely by jurisdiction, but they
- Identity verification
- :Driver's licenses, valid passports, military IDs, or other
forms of national or foreign government-issued identification that
show name, address, date of birth, signature, and photograph are
all acceptable forms of identification. Jurisdictions may impose
additional requirements for verifying identity or determining
eligibility as deemed necessary for the sound operation of their
GED testing program.
- :Some jurisdictions require each potential test taker to
complete the Official GED Practice Test. This allows the
jurisdiction to determine each candidate's level of competency,
especially for those students under the age of 18.
- :Testing fees are determined by jurisdictions as deemed
necessary for the sound operation of their GED testing programs.
While a maximum fee is established, a minimum fee is not
Through Adult Education, free or very low-cost classes are
available in every state
In adult-education classes, students review familiar high-school
material and get formal instruction in the subjects that they have
not covered. Students in these classes often use traditional
high-school textbooks, go to class, and complete homework
Individual tutoring also is available in some areas. Some
commercial tutoring centers offer preparation for the GED Tests.
Students also can prepare for the tests on their own. Many
GED-preparation books on the market offer practice questions,
test-taking tips, and guidelines to help students determine areas
for improvement. In addition, the GED Testing Service produces the
Official GED Practice Tests, distributed through Steck-Vaughn
. Some jurisdictions require a
person to take and pass the Practice Tests before sitting for the
actual GED Tests. Persons who do not pass the Practice Tests often
must complete remedial courses in the failed areas before
re-applying to take the tests.
There are many excellent free websites offering instruction for the
GED. Students are encouraged to fully utilize the free local
classes or free sites before spending money to enroll in a paid
Regardless of how they prepare, students will study topics that may
not come up on the GED Tests. For example, students may learn much
about medieval history
, only to find
that there is no question about that subject in their test
booklets. Instructors and book publishers do not know exactly what
the tests will cover. Strong reading and critical thinking skills
are much more essential than studying specific content to pass the
How the test works
The five tests that comprise the GED test battery are "Language
Arts: Writing", "Social Studies
," "Language Arts: Reading," and
To ensure fairness, all GED Testing Centers must adhere to the
uniform testing standards specified by the American Council on
Education, including adherence to the provisions of the Americans with
Disabilities Act of 1990
or the Canadian Charter of
Rights and Freedoms
Local policies determine whether students must take all five tests
in one day. Some locations divide the tests among two or more days,
and testing days are not always consecutive.
Language Arts: Writing
The "Language Arts: Writing" test portion is divided into two
parts, of which the first covers sentence
, and mechanics.
Test-takers read text from business, informational, and
instructional publications and then correct, revise, or improve the
text according to Edited American
standards (or equivalent standards in Spanish and
French versions). Test-takers have 75 minutes to complete the 50
items in Part I.
This part of the "Language Arts: Writing" test requires the student
to write an essay
on an assigned topic in 45
minutes. Persons who finish Part I early may apply the remaining
time to their essays. A passing essay must have well focused main
points, clear organization, and specific development of ideas, and
demonstrate the writer's control of sentence structure,
punctuation, grammar, word choice, and spelling. There is no
minimum word count. The essay should be long enough to develop the
topic adequately. Assigned topics are always an opinion or
perspective that does not require special knowledge, such as the
influence of violent music on teenagers or the advantages and
disadvantages of living without children. Essays need not be true
or based in reality as long as they are developed around the
This test covers American
, world history
, and geography
; 70 minutes are allotted for the 50
In the "Social Studies" test, test-takers read short passages and
passages come from such documents as the Declaration of Independence and
U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
Many questions use graphs,
charts, and other images, such as editorial cartoons, along with or
instead of written passages.
Questions involving civics and government and economics rely
heavily on practical documents, such as tax forms,
voter-registration forms, and workplace and personal budgets.
Topics such as global warming
This 80-minute test of 50 multiple-choice questions covers life science
, and physical science
. It measures the
candidate's skill in understanding, interpreting, and applying
science concepts to visual and written text from academic and
workplace contexts. The test focuses on what a scientifically
literate person must know, understand, and be able to do. Questions
address the National Science Education Content Standards
on environmental and health topics (recycling
, for example) and science's
relevance to everyday life. Students should expect to see tables,
graphs, charts, and diagrams, as well as complete sentences.
Most questions on the "Science" test involve a graphic, such as a
map, graph, chart, or diagram. Subjects covered include photosynthesis
, and cell
Language Arts: Reading
This 65-minute, 40-question test examines a test-taker's ability to
read and understand texts similar to those encountered in
high-school English classrooms. The test has five fiction
and two nonfiction
passages, each about 300–400 words long. The fiction passages
include portions of a play, a poem, and three pieces of prose. The
nonfiction passages may come from letters, biographies, newspaper
and magazine articles, or such "practical" texts as manuals and
forms. Each passage is followed by questions that assess reading
comprehension, as well as the test-taker's ability to analyze the
text, apply the information given to other situations, and
synthesize new ideas from those provided.
Questions do not require test-takers to be familiar with the larger
piece of literature from which the excerpt is taken, the author's
other works, literary history, or discipline-specific terms and
This 90-minute, 50-question test has two equally weighted parts,
the first of which allows candidates to use calculators, while the
second forbids their use. Test-takers must use the calculators
issued at the testing center, no other.
Forty of the 50 are multiple-choice; the other 10 use an alternate
format, requiring the test-taker to record answers on either a
numerical or coordinate-plane grid. Both portions of the test have
questions of both types. The test booklet offers a page of common
formulas as well as directions for completing the alternate-format
items and using the calculator.
The test focuses on four main mathematical disciplines:
There are more than 3,200 Official GED Testing Centers in the
United States and Canada. Testing centers are most often in
centers, community colleges
, and public schools
. Students in metropolitan areas
may be able to choose
from several nearby testing locations.
Official GED Testing Centers are controlled environments. All
testing sessions take place in person (not online) according to
very specific rules, and security measures are enforced. Breaks may
be permitted between tests, depending on how many tests are being
administered in a session. There may be restrictions on what
test-takers may bring into the testing room.
There are approximately 25 different editions of the GED Tests that
may be in circulation. This measure helps catch test-takers who may
. As with any standardized test
, the various editions
are calibrated to the same level of difficulty.
The test taker must pay for the cost of the test. However, the fees
are often quite low. For example, in 2008, the test fee at North
Carolina's community colleges was $7.50. By contrast, test takers
in California may have to pay more than $100 for the test.
Furthermore, some states may offer the test completely free of
charge. For example, at the present time, there is no charge to
take the tests in Arkansas. However, test takers must first pass a
practice test in person at the office before becoming eligible for
official testing. The most reliable and up to date information
regarding the area's current testing costs and policies may be
found by contacting the local testing center.
Students with disabilities
Disabled persons who want to take the GED Tests may be entitled to
receive reasonable testing accommodations. If a qualified
professional has documented the disability, the candidate should
get the appropriate form from the Testing Center:
- physical disability and chronic-health disability (such as blindness, low vision, hearing impairment, and
mobility impairment): "Request for Testing
Accommodations—Physical/Chronic Health Disability" form.
- learning or cognitive
disability (such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, receptive aphasia, and written-language disorder): "Request
for Testing Accommodations—Learning and Other Cognitive
- emotional or
mental-health disorder (such as
bipolar disorder, Tourette's syndrome, and schizophrenia): "Request for Testing
Accommodations—Emotional/Mental Health" form.
- Attention-Deficit /
Hyperactivity Disorder (inattentive type, hyperactive–impulse
type, or combined type): "Request for Testing
Accommodations—Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder" form.
The candidate should return the completed form to the GED Testing
Center. Each request is considered individually. If accommodations
are approved, the local GED testing examiner will conduct the
testing with the approved accommodations. Accommodations are
provided at no extra charge.
Accommodations may include, but are not limited to,
- Audiocassette tests
- Braille or large-print tests
- Vision-enhancing technologies
- Use of video equipment
- Use of a talking calculator or abacus
- Use of a sign-language interpreter
- Use of a scribe (a person who writes down the test-taker's
- Extended testing time
Passing the GED testing battery
The maximum score a person can earn on an individual test within
the GED battery is 800. The minimum score is 200. A score of 800
puts the student in the top 1% of graduating high school seniors.
ACE sets a minimum passing score. However, jurisdictions may
require tougher standards if they choose.
In most jurisdictions, students must earn a minimum score of 410 on
each of the five tests, as well as an overall average of 450 or
above. Many jurisdictions also set score requirements for earning
diploma. Some districts
ceremonies for GED Tests
passers, and award scholarships
If a student passes one or more but not all five tests within the
battery, he or she need only retake the test(s) not passed. Most
places limit the number of times students may take each individual
test within a year. A student may encounter a waiting period before
being allowed to retake a failed test.
The GED credential itself is issued by the state, province, or
territory in which the test taker lives.
Many government institutions and universities regard the GED as the
same as a high school diploma with respect to program eligibility
and as a prerequisite for admissions. The United States military,
however, has explicitly higher requirements in admissions for GEDs
to compensate for their lack of a traditional high school diploma.
Likewise, economic research finds that the GED certification itself
(i.e. without further postsecondary education or training) does not
create the same labor market opportunities available to traditional
high school graduates.
Some believe the test is easier than it should be, and some
employers look down on it as a form of degree lower than a
high-school diploma. Others believe the GED is harder than it
should be; according to GED Testing Service statistics from the
2003 GED Statistical Report
, the number of candidates who
tested, completed, and passed the tests declined in 2002 and 2003.
This decline is attributed to the new tests being more
The most common criticism is of the test battery's mainly
multiple-choice format. Others argue that the reading-comprehension
test is too simple, and that there are too many basic operations on
portion and not enough
The 70% rate of incompletion on first taking the test seems to show
that the test is harder than commonly believed. The test is
administered to a representative sample of graduating high-school
seniors each year, about 30% of whom fail the test.
In response to this criticism, the test was revised in 2002 to make
it more difficult to pass. One of the most important revisions made
it more difficult to guess correct answers from the choices
provided. This greater degree of difficulty is achieved by
requiring students to show the process for finding the correct
answer to a question, rather than simply to provide a correct
result. For example, a typical mathematics question will not ask
what the second leg of a right-angled triangle
is when the lengths of the first leg and
the hypotenuse are given, but instead will ask for the formula that
should be used to find the correct answer; this requires the
student not only to know the correct answer, but also to explain
how to find it; it also uses both algebra and geometry, as opposed
to just one discipline of mathematics.
A number of the questions also contain such options as "Not enough
information given," "None of the above," and "No correction is
necessary" as possible answers. These are found most in the
"Mathematics" and "Language Arts: Writing: Part I" tests.
While GEDs tend to earn more than drop outs and less than high
school graduates, economist James
has found that this is primarily due to preexisting
differences in the characteristics and backgrounds of GEDs. When
controlling for other influences, he finds no evidence that, for
the average taker, the GED as a creditial improves an individual's
economic opportunties above those for other drop outs. However,
on-going academic research shows that the minority of takers with
high levels of both academic ability and characteristics of
persistence and motivation potentially benefit greatly from
obtaining a GED. This benefit, however, is contingent on use of the
GED as a means of seeking post-secondary education which then
confers the much greater economic opportunity.
- CHSPE, a similar California standardized
test aimed at high school students
- Martz, Geoff. "Cracking the GED: 2002 Edition" (2001). pg 7.
New York: Princeton Review Publishing, L.L.C. ISBN
- Heckman’s research shows non-cognitive skills
- GED Technical Manual, 2nd Edition. (1998). Washington,
DC: GED Testing Service of the American Council on Education.
- Northcutt, Ellen [et al.]. Steck-Vaughn Complete GED
Preparation (2002). Austin: Steck-Vaughn Company. ISBN
- Rockowitz, Murray [et al.]. Barron's How to Prepare for the
GED High School Equivalency Exam (2004). New York: Barron's
Educational Series, Inc. ISBN 0-7641-2603-2
- Mitchell, Robert. McGraw-Hill's GED: Science (2003).
New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. ISBN 0-07-140704-9
- Larry Elowitz [et al.]. GED Success: 2003 (2003).
Lawrenceville, New Jersey: Peterson's. ISBN 0-7689-0906-6
- Who Passed the GED Tests? 2005 Statistical Report. (2006) Washington, DC:
GED Testing Service of the American Council on Education.