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Although the "GED" initialism is frequently mistaken as meaning "general education degree" or "general education diploma", the American Council on Education, which owns the GED trademark, coined the initialism to identify "tests of general educational development" that measure proficiency in science, mathematics, social studies, reading, and writing. Passing the GED test gives those who did not complete high school the opportunity to earn their high school equivalency credential, in the majority of the United States, Canada, or internationally.
The GED Testing Service is a joint venture of the American Council on Education. Pearson is the sole developer for the GED test. The test is taken on a computer and in person. States and jurisdictions award a Certificate of High School Equivalency or similarly titled credential to persons who meet the passing score requirements.
In addition to English, the GED tests are available in Spanish, large print, audio, and braille. Tests and test preparation are also offered to persons incarcerated 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 Pearson Vue testing centers.
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 gave military personnel and veterans who had enrolled in the military 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 education.
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 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 three to six GED test forms in circulation at any time. This measure helps catch test-takers who may be cheating. As with any standardized test, the various test forms are calibrated to the same level of difficulty.
The cost of the GED test for test-takers varies depending on the state. Currently costs can be as low as $45 as is the case in Maryland, but the typical fees are $120 for all four tests, or $30 for each of the four subject tests. The most reliable and up-to-date information regarding any given area's current testing costs and policies may be found on the GED Testing Service web page.
Disabled persons who want to take the GED test 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, which are provided at no extra charge. Accommodations may include, but are not limited to:
Possible scores on an individual test within the GED battery, like those on an individual section of the SAT, range from a minimum of 200 to a maximum of 800. A score of 800 on an individual test puts the student in the top 1% of graduating high school seniors. ACE issues recommendations for what constitutes a minimum passing score for any given sub-test (currently 410) and for the test as a whole (currently 2250—i.e., an average of 450 per test across all five sub-tests). Although most GED-issuing jurisdictions (for the most part, Boards of Education of U.S. states) adopt these minimum standards as their own, a jurisdiction may establish higher standards for issuance of the certificate if it chooses. Many jurisdictions award honors-level equivalency diplomas to students meeting certain criteria higher than those for a standard diploma in a given jurisdiction. Some districts hold graduation ceremonies for GED Tests passers and/or award scholarships to the highest scorers.
Colleges that admit based upon high school grades may require a minimum score on the GED test for admittance based upon the test. For example, Arizona State University requires an average sub-test score of 500 in addition to the certificate.
If a student passes one or more, but not all five tests within the battery, he or she needs only retake the test(s) s/he did not pass. 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. Tests must be completed by the expiration date, which is generally every two years on the last day of the year.
Many government institutions and universities regard the GED test credential as the same as a high school diploma with respect to program eligibility and as a prerequisite for admissions. The U.S. military, however, has explicitly higher requirements in admissions for GED test takers to compensate for their lack of a traditional high school diploma. The test is administered to a representative sample of graduating high-school seniors each year, about 30% of whom fail the test. That only 70% of these students pass the test may show that it is harder than commonly believed.
The GED certification itself (i.e., without further post-secondary education or training) does not create the same labor market opportunities available to traditional high school graduates. While people who have earned the GED test credential 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 GED test graduates. When controlling for other influences, he finds no evidence that, for the average taker, the GED test credential improves an individual's economic opportunities above those for other dropouts.
However, ongoing 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.[clarification needed]
On January 2, 2014, GED Testing Service unveiled a new test for all jurisdictions (except Canada and International). The new assessment continues to provide the opportunity to earn a high school credential, but it also measures career- and college-readiness skills. The new test also has four content areas—literacy, mathematics, science, and social studies—that measure a foundational core of knowledge and skills that are essential for career and college readiness.