What is a GED?

The General Educational Development (GED) exam is an alternative to a traditional high school diploma. Many students who did not complete high school often wonder: 

  • What is a GED?
  • Should I get a GED?
  • What's the difference between a GED and a high school diploma?
  • What are the advantages of getting a GED?
  • How do I get a GED?

We will provide the answers to all of those questions below. 

Summary: Find out what the GED is and learn about other aspects of the GED. Try out our free GED practice tests for additional help.

THE GENERAL EDUCATION DEVELOPMENT (GED) TEST

WHAT IS A GED? - THE SHORT ANSWER

The GED is a credential you earn by passing an exam. A GED credential is an alternative to a traditional high school diploma. The GED was first designed to allow returning World War II veterans to receive a high school equivalency certificate to help them start a job or get into college. 

Although currently it is only referred to as "GED", previous terms included: General Education Diploma, General Education Development, and General Equivalency Development. 

The GED test is simply another way to earn an alternative high school diploma equivalency credential. The GED is readily accepted when applying for – 

  • Most employment or civil service opportunities, and/or
  • Acceptance to a post-secondary institution of higher education 

It is important to note that students can also take the HiSET or TASC which are other high school equivalency exams. However, the GED is the most common exam for students looking to obtain a high school equivalency certificate.

The GED, like the HiSET and TASC tests, has been crafted to determine if a test-taker’s academic skills match that of the average high school senior. The GED test is organized into four sections, all of which follow the traditional core academic areas that are taught in high school.

What is the Difference Between a GED and High School Diploma?

Many people want to know how a GED differs from a high school diploma. A high school diploma (or its equivalency credential) is generally regarded as the minimum educational level for most jobs, and for acceptance into post-secondary colleges and/or professional schools.

Typically, one earns a high school diploma while attending a public or private school, or, while being homeschooled. The coursework that must be completed to earn a high school diploma generally takes four years to complete. 

On the other hand, candidates who want to earn their GED can prepare for it in a couple of months. The test can even be taken by candidates who are past the standard high school age. 

When earned, a high school diploma or GED becomes a representation of one’s educational achievements - at least up until that point in time. And, in doing so, a high school diploma or GED acts as a stepping-stone that opens up a door towards one’s personal and professional future. 

Many people want to know how a GED differs from a high school diploma. To compare the two, consider these facts:

  • Over 20 million people have a GED credential
  • Over 500,000 people each year pass the GED exams
  • More than 60% of GED test takers are interested in pursuing additional education past their GED programs
  • 98% of colleges and employers accept the GED credential
  • GED grads earn approximately $9,000 more per year versus those who do not have a GED or high school diploma
  • Most GED grads spend significantly less time preparing for their GED than they would have spent in high school classes
  • 40 states currently recognize the GED credential

GED Diploma Certificate

GED Certificate Example - Source: Nichoxiii [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

GED Overview

The GED exam was overhauled in 2014. At that time, the GED was revised to include four subject areas – which is one less subject area than the GED’s previous version.  

However, the newly modified GED requires test-takers to apply deeper reasoning skills to complete the test’s questions. Most GED test-takers (remember, each state differs) have the option to complete each test section separately – in any order or, to take all the sections the same day. 

GED Test Sections

Section Time
Science 90 minutes - No Breaks
Mathematics 115 minutes - Scheduled Breaks
Social Studies 70 minutes - No Breaks
Reasoning Through Language Arts 150 minutes - Scheduled Breaks
45 minute essay
Total 425 minutes

GED Test Specifics

In addition to preparing for the GED, it is valuable to have a true understanding of the details of the GED test itself, if one is to optimize their test-taking performance. 

  • The questions on the test are multiple-choice type – except for an essay in the Social Studies and the Reading sections. There are written answers in the Science section.
  • Some state set forth time limits as to how quickly all four tests must be completed. 
  • GED scores are accessible about 24 hours after the exam. 
  • Test-takers are provided with two retests, without any retesting restrictions, should they not pass on their first attempt. A non-pass 3rd attempt requires a waiting period of 2 months. Note – The GED Testing Service waives its fees on retests; however, each state differs regarding their retest fees.
  • Passing the GED makes the test-taker eligible for federal student aid

GED Exam Fees

GED Testing Services, the company that manages the GED testing process, charges a fee of $30 per test subject. 

The GED Testing Services’ fee includes –

  • A Personalized GED Score Report
  • The Test Administration
  • The Transcripts & Diploma
  • Free Retakes – up to two per subject exam
  • Expedited Scoring 

GED Scores

Each of the GED's four subjects are scored on a scale of 100 to 200 points. To earn your GED credential you must score at least 145 on each of your subject tests.  The GED testing service also assigns scoring levels for each of the subjects as follows:

  • A 200 Score – A Perfect Score
  • A 175 – 200 – College Ready, plus potential for up to ten college credits earned!
  • A 165+ Score – College Ready
  • A 145+ Score – Passing Score

GED Exam Requirements

Each states’ GED exam requirements generally reference the following factors - 

  • Age –confirm age requirements for the relevant state 
  • Residency – some states require that the test-taker live in the state they wish to take the GED
  • Photo Identification – i.e., a passport or a driver’s license
  • Preparation Course Completion – confirm the state’s requirements regarding prep courses
  • Must Not Be Enrolled in High School – some states require students to be out of high school for a pre-determined amount of time

In addition to the above-noted guides, it is noted that several states do NOT accept the GED credential. Those states that have approved of the GED exam (or other high school equivalent credentials) include:

GED, HiSET and TASC Acceptance By State

State  GED HiSET TASC
 Alabama    
Alaska    
Arizona    
Arkansas    
California
Colorado
Connecticut    
Delaware    
Florida    
Georgia    
Hawaii  
Idaho    
Illinois
Indiana    
Iowa    
Kansas    
Kentucky    
Louisiana    
Maine    
Maryland    
Massachusetts  
Michigan
Minnesota    
Mississippi
Missouri    
Montana    
Nebraska    
Nevada
New Hampshire    
New Jersey
New Mexico  
New York    
North Carolina
North Dakota    
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon    
Pennsylvania  
Rhode Island    
South Carolina  
South Dakota    
Tennessee    
Texas
Utah    
Vermont    
Virginia    
Washington (state)    
Washington D.C.    
West Virginia    
Wisconsin    
Wyoming

States are continually updating which high school equivalency certificates they accept, please double-check your state’s GED policies here.

Preparing for the GED

In order for test-takers to maximize their GED score, it is critical to allocate sufficient preparation time prior to sitting for the actual test. This sage advice is especially true for GED test-takers who have not been a student in a long time. 

Studying for the General Education Development examination, like the HiSET test, is best accomplished by using resources readily available to you. Our GED practice exams are a great place to start - they are 100% free.

The amount of time required to appropriately prepare for the GED exam depends on the student, the subject material, and the amount of time out of school, among others.

The Take-Away

From a technical perspective, a high school diploma, a high school equivalency diploma, and a GED credential clearly differ from one another. For example, the HiSET test uses five subjects to assess the test-taker’s high school competency; while the GED uses only four subjects to generate a GED score. 

However, from a practical, real-world perspective, all three High School Equivalency (HSE) credentials are remarkably similar as each is widely accepted by most future employers, the military and institutions of higher education.

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