Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How the GED Test Works

        Culture | Schooling

Keep hitting the books for the GED test. If you do, there's a good chance you'll pass. That was the case for nearly three out of four people who completed it in 2011.
Keep hitting the books for the GED test. If you do, there's a good chance you'll pass. That was the case for nearly three out of four people who completed it in 2011.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

"A cook decides to recover some table salt that has been completely dissolved in water. would be the most effective method of extracting salt from the solution?" [source: GED Testing Service].

A lot of us might see that question and say, "Aha! I learned that in high school science class." And that's what you might think triumphantly, at least, before you realize you have forgotten the answer.

But about 750,000 people in the U.S. annually answer questions like this to earn their GED certificate, the equivalent of a high school diploma [source: Sanchez]. The test itself has evolved from a terminus of schooling to a stepping-stone to higher education, and its content and application have changed as a result. In 2011, the average age of a GED test taker was a little over 26, and only 24 percent had been out of school for a year or less. On average, testers are about eight years out of school [source: GED Testing Service].

Contrary to what you might think, GED doesn't stand for "general equivalency diploma." Rather it stands for General Educational Development, and it's a brand. Which means that GED isn't like a baccalaureate degree or a simple designation of educational assessment. Technically, it's a branded battery of tests that a whole bunch of colleges and educational groups have decided will be a fine measure of a high school equivalency in four core areas of language, math, social studies and science. Of those who took the test in 2011, about 72 percent passed [source: GED Testing Service].

GED Testing Service used to be a nonprofit controlled solely by the American Council on Education (ACE), which is an organization that represents American institutes of higher learning, as well as some for-profit and nonprofit education entities. However, in 2011, Pearson Education (a for-profit education publishing company) teamed with ACE, in order to provide some revenue to revamp the test. We'll get to the controversy about the test suddenly having a for-profit model, but suffice it to say for now that Pearson's acquisition and subsequent decisions have proven divisive.

By the way, you have to boil the water to extract the salt. If you weren't sure, don't worry; most of the real GED test is multiple choice, apart from a few math questions.


More to Explore