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The Tests of General Educational Development, or GED® Tests, is a battery of five tests that, when passed, certifies the taker has American or Canadian high school-level academic skills. To pass the GED Tests and earn a GED credential, test takers must score higher than 40 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 GED is sometimes referred to as a "General Equivalency Diploma" or "General Education(al) Diploma ." These and other improper references to the “GED” trademark are not authorized by the American Council on Education, which develops the tests and sets the rules for their use. 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; and leaving high school early due to a lack of interest, the inability to pass required courses, the need to work, or personal problems.
More than 15 million people have received a GED credential since the program began inception. One in every seven Americans with high school credentials received the GED, as well as one in twenty college students. 70% 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 correctional facilities 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 Thomson Prometric.
- 1 History of the GED
- 2 Eligibility
- 3 Pretesting and registration
- 4 Test preparation
- 5 How the test works
- 6 Colleges, employers, and the GED
- 7 Criticism of the GED
- 8 Popular culture
- 9 Notable GED recipients
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Notes
- 13 External links
History of the GED
In 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.
By the 1970s, most jobs required a much broader understanding of academic subjects. Therefore, in 1972 ACE released a new series of GED Tests that reflected students’ need for knowledge and skills beyond the high school level. The 1972 Series GED Tests required more critical thinking than the 1942 edition, which mainly required students to recall general facts.
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%) were taking the test to continue their education beyond high school than to get better employment (30%).
The current series, introduced in 2002, covers more business-related topics and more adult-relevant questions and reading material than ever before. For example, while students don’t perform scientific experiments as part of the test, they must explain how to conduct one, interpret results, and apply information gathered. The current series also better reflects the cultural diversity found throughout the United States and Canada.
The future of the GED testing is uncertain. Research is being conducted relating to offering a computerized version of the test in 2009. Currently the paper/pencil test is only offered with an alternative audio-test in special circumstances. It is uncertain whether the traditional paper/pencil test will remain an option if the test becomes computerized. In order to maintain the integrity of the test, the GED will most likely never be offered online, unsupervised.
The American Council on Education sets the following eligibility requirements for GED testing. Details about local eligibility requirements may be obtained by calling (800) 62-MY-GED.
- Each State, Province, Territory, or other jurisdiction administers the GED Tests to any qualified adult who resides within that jurisdiction and who meets residency requirements.
- Educational Limitations
- Only persons who do not hold a traditional high school diploma nor have previously earned a GED are eligible to take the GED Tests. Persons who have been awarded a high school equivalency diploma or earned scores sufficient to qualify for a high school equivalency diploma are eligible to re-test under certain conditions.
- Enrollment Limitation
- The GED Tests are not administered to candidates who are enrolled in an accredited high school, including those accredited by regional accrediting bodies and also those approved by jurisdiction department/ministry of education.
- Age Limitation
- The GED Tests are not administered to persons less than 16 years of age. Most jurisdictions require a person to be 17 years and over.
- acceptance into a post-secondary school upon successful completion of the GED Tests
- employer has indicated that a GED credential is required for promotion/employment and the candidate is self-supporting
- a military recruiter has shown that a GED credential is required to enlist in the armed forces.
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.
A toll-free number sponsored by the GED Testing Service provides specific information about rules in effect at each Official Testing Center, as well as information on scheduling, hours of operation, and preparation classes: (800) 62-MY-GED. The web site also offers an online Testing Center locator.
Registration requirements vary widely by jurisdiction, but they typically include:
- 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 required.
In the United States, federal and state Adult Education programs have been in operation since the 1960s. These programs are governed by the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, which pledges to help U.S. adults complete secondary school.
Through Adult Education, free or very low cost classes are available in every state and territory. In adult education classes, students review familiar high school material. They also get formal instruction in the subjects that they haven’t covered. Students in these classes often use traditional high school textbooks, go to class, and complete homework assignments.
Individual tutoring is also available in some areas. Some commercial tutoring centers may offer preparation for the GED Tests. Students can also 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, currently 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 a remedial course in the failed area(s) before they can apply again to take the tests.
Regardless of how they prepare, students will study topics that may not come up on the GED Tests. For example, a student may learn much about medieval history, only to find that there isn't a question about that time period in their test booklet. Instructors and book publishers do not know exactly what will be on the test. It’s important each student truly understands all the topics covered in high school so that they are prepared to do well on the test, regardless of what subject matter comes up.
How the test works
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 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Local policies determine whether students must take all five tests in one day. Many locations divide the tests into two or more days, and testing sessions are not always consecutive. An individual can find out local testing policies and schedules by calling (800) 62-MY-GED.
Language Arts, Writing
The Language Arts, Writing testing portion is divided into two parts. Part I covers sentence structure, organization, usage, and mechanics. Test takers read text from business, informational, and “how to” 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 of the Language Arts, Writing test requires the student to write an essay on an assigned topic. Students have 45 minutes to complete the essay. Persons who finish Part I early may apply the remaining time to their essay. A passing essay must have well-focused main points; clear organization; 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 ones that do not require special knowledge. Examples include the influence of violent music on teenagers or the advantages and disadvantages of living without children.
In the Social Studies test, test takers read short passages and answer multiple-choice questions. Some passages come from documents like 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 are also covered.
The GED Science Test 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 can expect to see visual text such as tables, graphs, charts, or diagrams as well as written text of varying length.
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. The Science Test allows the test taker 80 minutes to answer 50 multiple-choice questions.
Language Arts, Reading
The GED Language Arts, Reading 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 is 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 “practical” texts such 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 a test taker 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. Candidates have 65 minutes to answer 40 questions.
The GED Mathematics Test has two equally weighted halves. Part I allows candidates to use a calculator. Part II does not permit the use of a calculator. The test taker must use the calculator issued at the testing center; no other calculator may be used.
Test takers have 90 minutes to answer 50 questions; 40 are multiple-choice. The remaining 10 use an alternate format. The alternate format requires the test taker to record answers on either a numerical or coordinate plane grid. Both halves of the test have alternate format questions. The test booklet offers a page of common formulas as well as directions for completing the alternate-format items, and using the calculator.
The Mathematics test focuses on four main mathematical disciplines:
- Number Operations and Number Sense
- Measurement and Geometry
- Data analysis, probablility, and statistics
- Algebra, functions, and patterns
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 according to very specific rules, and security measures is enforced. Breaks may be permitted between tests, depending on how many tests are being administered in a session. There may be restrictions placed on what a test taker may -- or may not -- 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.
Students with disabilities
People with disabilities 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, deafness, hard-of-hearing, or mobility impairments): Request for Testing Accommodations–Physical/Chronic Health Disability form.
- learning or cognitive disability (such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, receptive aphasia, or written language disorder): Request for Testing Accommodations–Learning and Other Cognitive Disabilities form.
- emotional or mental health disorder (such as bipolar disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, or 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 on an individual basis. 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, the following:
- Audiocassette edition Tests.
- Braille or large-print edition 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) he or she did not pass. Most places limit the number of times students may take each individual test within a year. Therefore, a student may encounter a waiting period before he can take the failed test(s) again.
The GED credential itself is issued by the state, province, or territory where the test taker lives.
Colleges, employers, and the GED
People who left high school without graduating often find that employers and post-secondary institutions will not accept them without showing some form of academic competency. Since adults often cannot or will not return to high school, receiving the GED allows them to demonstrate that they possess a skill level comparable to that of an average high school graduate.
Approximately 95% of colleges will accept GED graduates, though they will typically require them to take the SATs and/or ACT. Some admissions boards request extra letters of recommendation in addition to the standard number already required of applicants when reviewing GED applicants. (Homeschooled students who receive the GED are the main exception to this rule, since many homeschooled students may not receive traditional diplomas; they may thus want to finish their high school careers with the GED.) If a 4-year college will not accept a GED graduate, they can attend any community college in the United States, after which they can transfer to almost any 4-year school.
The main problem GED recipients encounter when trying to transfer from community colleges to 4-year schools is the lack of SAT and/or ACT scores, which GED recipients typically do not have. Due to this and other factors, most colleges do not require transfer students to submit such scores when applying beyond a certain point in their college careers, typically after one year or earning approximately 30 college-level credits. Many colleges, especially public institutions, also offer scholarships and other forms of financial aid specifically for GED recipients in order to help them finance their education.
Criticism of the GED
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For most purposes, a GED is considered to be the same as a high school diploma. Some feel the test is easier than it should be, and it is looked down upon by some employers as a lower form of degree than an actual 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. Some attribute this decline to the new test released in 2000 being too difficult.
The most common criticism is of the test battery's mainly multiple choice format. Others argue that the reading comprehension test is too simplistic, and that there are too many basic operations on the mathematics portion and not enough advanced algebra and geometry questions.
Supporters argue that the 70% rate of incompletion on the first try at taking the test shows that it is harder than commonly believed, although this can be attributed to the majority of the test takers being people who did not complete high school. They also point out that the test is administered to a representative sample of graduating high school seniors each year, and about 30% fail.
The criticism of the college level GED became so intense in the mid-1970's that it was abolished. Many persons are not aware that a college level GED ever existed now, that is how abolished it became.
In response to these criticisms, the test was revised in 2002 to make it more difficult to pass. One of the most important revisions was one which made it more difficult to guess correct answers from the choices provided. This greater degree of difficulty is achieved by demanding students to show the process for finding the correct answer to a question, as opposed to simply providing a result. For example, a typical mathematics question will not ask what the second leg of a right-angled triangle is when the length of only the first leg and the hypotenuse is given, but instead which formula should be used to find the correct answer. This requires the student to not only know the correct answer, but also 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 options such as "Not enough information given," "None of the above," and "No correction is necessary" as possible answers. These are found most frequently on the Mathematics and Language Arts, Writing: Part I tests.
- In the 2007 series of NBC's My Name Is Earl, Earl earns his GED credential.
- In one of his comedy specials, comedian Chris Rock referred to getting his GED as a "Good Enough Diploma." Additionally, on his song No Sex (In the Champagne Room), Rock spoofs Baz Luhrmann's "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)", in which Luhrmann addresses "the Class of 1999", by addressing "the GED class of 1999."
- In the Movie Stick It, main character Haley Graham (Missy Peregrym) said she got her GED when she was 15.
Notable GED recipients
- Main article: List of notable GED recipients
Some of the most famous GED recipients are:
- Eddie Guerrero, professional wrestler
- Bo Bice, singer
- Sanjaya Malakar, American Idol Season 6 Finalist
- Augusten Burroughs, writer
- Aaron Carter, entertainer
- Chad I. Ginsburg, entertainer
- Bill Cosby, actor, comedian, and television personality
- Jerry Garcia, Grateful Dead vocalist and guitarist
- Michael J. Fox, actor
- Paris Hilton, socialite and entertainer
- D.L. Hughley, actor and comedian
- Peter Jennings, ABC News anchor
- Waylon Jennings, singer and guitarist
- Brandon Lee, actor
- Ruth Ann Minner, Governor of Delaware
- Danica Patrick, Indy Racing League driver
- Mary Lou Retton, Olympic medal-winning gymnast
- Chris Rock, comedian
- Michelle Rodriguez, actress
- Robert T. Shanklin, IUEC Local 2 Executive Board
- Jessica Simpson, entertainer
- Christian Slater, actor
- Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy's Restaurant
- Mark Wahlberg, actor
- Bam Margera, professional skateboarder and television personality
- Jeffrey Stout, Telecommunications Program Writer
- Peter Billingsley, actor
- Tré Cool, musician, drummer for Green Day
- John Frusciante,musician, guitarist for Red Hot Chili Peppers
- T.J. Houshmandzadeh, professional football player in the NFL
A number of fictional characters have also received GEDs, including Earl Hickey and his brother from My name is Earl, Kim Bauer from 24, James Evans, Sr. from Good Times, Homer Simpson from The Simpsons, Cosmo Kramer from Seinfeld" and Mr. Hooper from Sesame Street - 1976
- 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 0-7398-2837-1
- 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) W
ashington, DC: GED Testing Service of the American Council on Education.
- Martz, Geoff. "Cracking the GED: 2002 Edition" (2001). pg 7. New York: Princeton Review Publishing, L.L.C. ISBN 0-375-76193-4
- GED Testing Service - Official GED Website
- Free GED Practice Test - Can you pass the GED?
- The GED Testing Program - by Linda Russell of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Tests Measurement and Evaluation.
- Locate an Official GED Testing Center
- GED Frequently Asked Questions Online
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