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About the GED Exam

GED Test Information

General Educational Development

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General Educational 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. The GED is sometimes referred to as a General Equivalency Diploma or General Education Diploma.

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 test.

The American Council on Education is the sole developer for the GED test. The test is always taken in person and never available online.[1] Jurisdictions award a "Certificate of General Educational Development" or similarly titled credential to persons who meet the passing score requirements

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 II return to civilian life. Common reasons for GED recipients not having received a high school diploma include immigration to the United States or Canada, homeschooling, leaving high school early due to a lack of interest, the inability to pass required courses, mandatory achievement tests, 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, French, 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.[2] 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.[2] 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 education.[2]

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 education.
  • 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 GED.

How the test works

The five tests that comprise the GED test battery are "Language Arts: Writing", "Social Studies," "Science," "Language Arts: Reading," and "Mathematics."

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

Part I

The "Language Arts: Writing" test portion is divided into two parts, of which the first covers sentence structure, organization, usage, and mechanics. Test-takers read text from business, informational, and instructional publications and then correct, revise, or improve the text according to Edited American English standards (or equivalent standards in Spanish and French versions). Test-takers have 75 minutes to complete the 50 items in Part I.

Part II

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 assigned topic.

Social studies

This test covers American history, world history, civics and government, economics, and geography; 70 minutes are allotted for the 50 questions.

In the social studies test, test-takers read short passages and answer multiple-choice questions. Some 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 and environmental law also are covered.


This 80-minute test of 50 multiple-choice questions covers life science, earth and space 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 and focus on environmental and health topics (recycling, heredity, and pollution, 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, weather and climate, geology, magnetism, energy, and cell division.

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 conventions.


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:

  • Number operations and number sense
  • Measurement and geometry
  • Data analysis, probability, and statistics
  • Algebra, functions, and patterns

Test administration

There are more than 3,200 Official GED Testing Centers in the United States and Canada. Testing centers are most often in adult-education 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 be cheating. As with any standardized test, the various editions are calibrated to the same level of difficulty.


The cost of the GED for test-takers varies depending on the state. The most reliable and up-to-date information regarding any given area's current testing costs and policies may be found by contacting the local testing center.

In some areas, there is no charge to students who wish to receive the GED. In Arkansas, for example, there is no charge to students who pass a practice test[3]. In Connecticut, veterans and students under 21 take the test for free; depending on their local GED board, students can also take preparation courses for free and/or receive a free copy of the official preparation textbook.[4]

In other states, the test-taker must pay for the cost of the test. Fees in 2008 ranged from $7.50 at North Carolina's community colleges[1] to more than $100 in California.[5]

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:

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 answers)
  • 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 an honors diploma. Some districts hold graduation ceremonies for GED Tests passers, and award scholarships to the highest scorers.

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.[6] 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.[7]

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 difficult.

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 the mathematics portion and not enough advanced algebra and geometry questions.

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.[8]

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 providing 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 mostly in the "Mathematics" and "Language Arts: Writing: Part I" tests.

While GEDs tend to earn more than dropouts and less than high school graduates, economist James Heckman 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 credential improves an individual's economic opportunities above those for other dropouts. [7] 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.[9] 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.

See also

  • CHSPE, a similar California standardized test aimed at high school students


  1. ^ a b Goldstein, Zac (February 17, 2008). "GED test scams on the rise. Official: Actual test not offered online". . http://www.dailyadvance.com/local/content/news/stories/2008/02/17/0217fakeGEDsZG.html. 
  2. ^ a b c "History of the GED Tests". http://www.acenet.edu/Content/NavigationMenu/ged/about/history.htm. Retrieved December 3, 2008. 
  3. ^ "Arkansas GED - Frequently Asked Questions". http://dwe.arkansas.gov/ged/faq.htm. Retrieved June 2, 2009. 
  4. ^ "Connecticut State Department of Education: GED Welcome". http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/cwp/view.asp?a=2620&Q=320688. Retrieved December 14, 2009. 
  5. ^ "How is the Test Scheduled and What is the Cost? - General Educational Development Test (GED)". California Department of Education website. http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/gd/gedcosts.asp. Retrieved December 3, 2008. 
  6. ^ "Joining the Army". http://www.us-army-info.com/pages/enlist.html#ged. Retrieved September 15,2009. 
  7. ^ a b Cameron, Stephen V and James J. Heckman (1993). "The Nonequivalence of High School Equivalents". Journal of Labor Economics 11 (1). 
  8. ^ Martz, Geoff. "Cracking the GED: 2002 Edition" (2001). pg 7. New York: Princeton Review Publishing, L.L.C.
  9. ^ Heckman's research shows non-cognitive skills promote achievement.

Further reading

  • 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.
  • Rockowitz, Murray [et al.]. Barron's How to Prepare for the GED High School Equivalency Exam (2004). New York: Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
  • Mitchell, Robert. McGraw-Hill's GED: Science (2003). New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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