How the GED Test Works

World War II Spurs the GED

The GED test didn't come into existence so high school dropouts could get a leg up in the workforce, or to solve the pressing problem of how to get teenage pop stars out of high school classes for a world tour. The program was first established in 1942 so World War II veterans could efficiently finish high school and get a decent job in the civilian economy. In fact, it was only in 1947 that anyone outside the military could even take the test.

The test has gone through four iterations so far, with the latest taking place in 2002. A new one came out in 2014, but more on that later. The first set was the original 1942 series.

While the backbone has remained the same -- a focus on English language reading and writing, social studies, science and mathematics -- the tests have evolved. The 1942 series was evaluated traditionally. Basically, you had to read and correctly interpret content. At this point, the test was largely used to gain employment. Only 37 percent planned to continue study [source: GED Testing Service].

The organization revamped the tests in 1978. Instead of combining science and social studies with reading comprehension, it instituted a separate reading test and jettisoned traditional recall of content or facts. Test takers were asked to apply more conceptual evaluation, and now were presented with newspaper articles or examples from work or home life.

Another significant overhaul, designed to reflect a shift toward technological advancement and a more global outlook, occurred in 1988. An essay component made the cut, along with an emphasis on critical thinking skills. The tone shifted to accommodate the growing diversity of roles for adults, and takers were given more context to questions to better recognize themselves in the test. At this point, only 30 percent were taking the test for employment, while 60 percent of takers planned to continue on with post-secondary education after they passed the GED test [source: GED Testing Service].

The 2002 series was the last iteration and has been replaced by the 2014 assessment. Later, we'll explore how the 2014 series instated sweeping -- and controversial -- changes. But first, let's take a look at how the test itself works -- from prep to finish.