GED® Essay: Improving Your Writing Score

Many test-takers find essay questions to be especially difficult. Understanding what's expected in this section of the GED test or HiSET exam, can help you prepare. Below is a breakdown of all three major high school equivalency (HSE) tests and what they require for the essay. Before you start studying, find out which test is offered in your state.

The GED Test

The GED test calls its essay question the extended response (ER). There will be one ER question on the Reasoning through Language Arts subtest. The question will ask that you read a set of passages and write a response that requires you to evaluate what you've read. The passages are non-fiction, between 450 and 900 words long.

It should take you about 45 minutes to write your extended response. A passing extended response will have a clear main idea or argument, supported by details from the passage. You'll need to give specific evidence from the passages and explain the connection between the evidence and your main idea. Your response will need to be organized, with a beginning, middle, and end. Use multiple paragraphs, and expand on your main idea with supporting details.

The essay on the GED test is not graded separately. The grade becomes part of your Reasoning through Language Arts test score.

Here are some resources to help you with the GED essay test:

The HiSET Exam

The HiSET exam includes one essay question on the second part of its Language Arts – Writing test. You will read a passage and then write an argumentative essay in response to the reading. Passages will be either literary or informational and will be about 400 to 600 words long.

You'll have 45 minutes to complete the essay. Your work will be judged based on your ability to present, support, and organize an evidence-based claim (your main idea). Your writing should show good organization and use of accepted writing conventions.

The HiSET essay is scored separately, as well as contributing to your overall score on the writing test. You must score at least 2 out of 6 on the essay in order to pass the test, and your overall score on the writing test must be at least 8 out of 20.

Here is a sample to help you understand the HiSET essay:

General HSE Essay Requirements

While the HSE tests may differ in their scoring priorities, they are generally in agreement about what makes for a good essay. Ideally, your essay will:

  • Respond to the prompt. Your essay should remain focused on the topic.
  • Be organized. Your writing should have a clear beginning, middle, and end.
  • Have supporting details. You should provide examples from the reading and explain how they connect to the main idea.
  • Use correct grammar and punctuation. Your writing should be easy to read.
  • Use good word choice. Choose words that are specific and not repetitive.
  • Use good sentence structure. Avoid overly complex sentences, but vary your sentence structure.

The grammar and spelling doesn't have to be perfect. The most important measure is whether the essay is easy to follow, makes logical sense, and clearly answers the prompt. Prompts differ from test to test, cover a variety of topics, and are not released in advance. Be prepared to analyze and write about what you read. 

Preparing for the Prompt

So, what's the best way to prepare for an HSE essay? Practice! All three of the major HSE tests offer sample prompts and passages.

Third-party resources are also available, including online study programs. If possible,  your test prep should include essays scored by an instructor. This will help you see specific areas where you need improvement.

Once you have a sample prompt, try writing an essay in 45 minutes or less. Remember, you'll need to support your main idea with examples from the reading. You also want to be sure that your writing holds together in a logical way. Make sure your writing shows how the ideas fit together and support one another. If it's hard to write an essay in 45 minutes, start by taking more time. Then reduce your time until you can write faster.

Every sentence in your essay should relate to the topic or main idea. Start off your essay with a beginning paragraph that gives your main idea. Add two or three middle paragraphs, where you talk about specific points in your main idea. Use details like stories, descriptions, facts, and events to get your idea across. For your conclusion, revisit your main idea and try to leave the reader with an impression.

Finally, it helps to get an outside perspective. Once you write a few essays, ask someone for a critique and guidance. Ask how well your essay is organized. Ask whether it focuses on the subject, and whether it includes enough supporting details. You'll also want to know whether your grammar and language mechanics are sound. Is it easy to understand? Don't be discouraged if you hear criticism. This is how you improve!

You can pass the essay test, and improving your essay will help improve your overall writing score!


Titia Roberts, Educator


Prepare for the GED