The American Council on Education created the General Education Development exam in 1942 to provide non-high school graduates with equivalent credentials. Corporations and higher education institutions accept and often require a high school diploma or GED for employment and college admission. The GED transcript displays a standard score and percentile rank for each content area: reading, writing, social studies, science and mathematics. The combination of all standard scores, including a separate essay grade, constitutes the total GED score. A performance comparison of GED diploma candidates and high school seniors establishes the passing standards for the GED program.
Content Areas and Administration
The math, social studies, language and science sections contain 50 multiple-choice questions. The reading test includes 40 questions. Additionally, 10 math questions presented in an alternate word-problem format and an essay comprise all of the content for the GED exam. The entire test must be completed in seven hours. Most states offer free computer-based testing or paper-and-pencil testing at designated adult education sites.
The raw point scores for each content test are converted to a standard score on a scale ranging from 200 to 800. The average passing score is 450, based on the performance of 60 percent of high school seniors taking the GED exam. Test takers must score a minimum of 410 or higher on each section, resulting in a grand total of 2,250 to pass. The standard score determines if a GED candidate demonstrates comparable academic abilities as a high school senior taking the same exam in the same year.
The percentile rank consists of a number from one to 99. This number represents the percentage of graduating high school seniors earning a lower score as the GED test taker on each content area. For example, a percentile score of 80 means that percentage of students scored lower than the tester. Essentially, the GED tester performed better than 80 percent of students in that content area.
The essay receives scores from two expert reviewers, with one being the lowest and four the highest. Testers must earn a two or better to pass this portion of the exam. The two grades are averaged into one total score, which is converted and combined with the multiple-choice language score. The essay composes 35 percent of the total language score. Testers scoring lower than a two on the essay must retake the writing and language tests to receive a GED diploma.
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