Understanding the GED® Test

By Mario Baird-McDaniel, Educator

If you're planning to take the GED test soon, you'll have some questions. How does the test work? What’s on it? How can I pass and get a high score? An online free practice test can help you build a study plan, and here’s some information to get you started.

About High School Equivalency Diplomas

There used to be only one test you could take to get your high school equivalency (HSE) diploma: the GED test. Today, there are three tests: the GED test, the HiSET exam, and the TASC test. Which tests you can choose depends on your state because your state government will award your HSE diploma.

The three HSE tests are similar. They are made up of four to five subtests in math, reading, writing, science, and social studies. The GED test has four subtests, since it combines reading and writing into one Reasoning Through Language Arts test.

To take your HSE exam, you’ll need to find a local official testing center. HSE exams can be taken on a computer, but only at a test center. It’s important to prepare for your high school equivalency test. Good preparation is the key to passing.

What’s on the Math Test?

Math is the test that worries most test-takers. But it just requires some study and practice. Each HSE exam has a math test. During part of the test, you’ll be able to use a calculator.

The math tests are mainly multiple choice, but you will find some other types of questions. For example, you may need to mark or click the correct point on a graph. Or, you might need to drag bars onto a chart in the correct place.

The exam will test your understanding of numbers and basic math, algebra, geometry, statistics, and probability. While each of the three tests has a different emphasis, they all cover similar skills.

If your math skills aren’t strong, focus on basic math. Understand numbers and different ways they’re shown (fractions, decimals, exponents). Become an expert at multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. Learn to solve word problems. With good explanations and time to practice, you can master these skills. They underlie all questions on the math test.

Once you’ve thoroughly learned the basics, get some practice with more advanced math. You don’t need to get every question right to pass the test, so focus on mastering the easiest areas first.

  • In algebra, learn the basics of equations, expressions, and inequalities. You should be able to easily solve simple equations.
  • Learn the basics of what a function is and what you can tell by looking at a graph.
  • In geometry, learn perimeter, area, surface area, and volume, using different types of shapes.
  • In statistics, learn a bit about data. Be able to read and understand charts and graphs. Learn about mean, median, and mode, and how to interpret data.
  • Learn how to calculate probability.

As you study, you should take periodic practice tests. Find out how much you need to improve your score and what you still need to learn. Math can be challenging to learn on your own using books or free online courses. There is a lot to study, and a program specifically made for your high school equivalency exam can be quicker and easier. Consider affordable online study programs specifically made for the GED test, HiSET exam, and TASC test that include online practice tests.

What’s on the Reading Tests?

All three HSE tests have reading and writing sections. On the HiSET exam and TASC test, reading and writing are separate tests that you can take at different times. On the GED test, they are combined in one Reasoning Through Language Arts test.

The reading portion of all three tests will be similar. You will read a passage and answer several questions about what you’ve read. The passages will include portions of literary works: novels, short stories, and essays. They will also include nonfiction writing, such as articles and workplace documents.

Most questions will be multiple choice. The questions will measure whether you can understand what you’ve read, and whether you can analyze and interpret the meaning. You’ll need to look at structure, style, tone, and author’s purpose. You may also need to compare tests and apply information to the world.

Some reading questions on computer-based tests will be alternate computer formats, such as drag-and-drop questions. You may need to organize information visually in a graphic organizer, for example.

Reading is an important element on your HSE test, since you’ll use many reading skills in science and social studies as well. A reading study program for the GED test, HiSET exam, or TASC test can help you prepare.

What’s on the Writing Tests?

After math, writing is the biggest concern for most test-takers. All three tests have two sorts of writing questions: language questions and an essay.

Language Questions

Most of the language questions ask you to revise or edit text to correct errors, improve language, or improve organization. For these questions, you’ll need to understand organization, grammar, word use, sentence structure, clarity, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization.

On the GED test, most language questions will be drop-down questions, where you need to complete a sentence with the best choice. On the HiSET exam, all these questions will be multiple choice. You’ll need to evaluate an underlined portion of a passage and choose the best change. On the TASC test, you’ll also have multiple choice questions, but you’ll also need to answer short answer questions. You may need to write a sentence to complete a paragraph, combine two sentences correctly, or correct a sentence.

The Essay

The essay is what most test-takers are concerned about. Each HSE exam asks you to write an essay. For the essay portion, you’ll need to read a passage or passages and write an essay that answers a prompt. For your essay, you’ll need:

  • A main idea that answers the prompt and that’s stated clearly in the first paragraph.
  • Good organization that connects ideas and stays on topic.
  • Middle paragraphs that cite evidence from the passage that supports your main idea. (You should clearly explain how the evidence supports the main idea.)
  • Enough evidence to support the main idea well.
  • A concluding paragraph that sums up your ideas.
  • Clear writing that is as free from errors as possible and easy to understand.

The GED essay is called the Extended Response. It’s not scored separately from the rest of the Reasoning Through Language Arts test. Instead, it’s added to your total score. This essay will ask you to compare arguments and draw conclusions about the passages.

The TASC essay will either ask you to write an informative essay or an argumentative essay. In an informative essay, you’ll inform the reader about the passage. This type of essay is often analytical and may draw on your skills in reading analysis. In an argumentative essay, you’ll state an opinion about a topic as your main idea. Then you’ll need to support that opinion with evidence and respond to opposing ideas. The TASC essay is scored separately (in addition to adding to your total score). You’ll need to score 2 out of 8 on the essay to pass the test.

The HiSET essay will ask you to read two texts. You’ll write a response that uses evidence from the text as well as your own experience to support a main idea. You need to score a 2 out of 6 on the essay to pass.

Most students need preparation to be successful on the essay portion of the test, but you can improve quickly with a good study program.

What’s on the Science and Social Studies Tests?

For the science and social studies tests, many questions measure your ability to understand and apply what you read.

  • Most questions will be multiple choice, but some may be drag-and-drop or other special computer-based questions.
  • Most questions will include a passage, diagram, chart, graph, or picture.

For science, you’ll need to understand some basic science ideas, especially understanding experiments and experimental data. Be able to evaluate an experiment and understand evidence and conclusions. Develop background knowledge in science so that you can easily read about:

  • Life science (such as cells, DNA, body systems, ecosystems)
  • Physical science (such as chemistry, friction, states of matter, light, electricity, atoms)
  • Earth science (such as the solar system, volcanoes and earthquakes, the water cycle)

For social science, you’ll need to be able to read and understand maps, historic pictures, political cartoons, charts, and graphs. Social science covers history, civics and government, geography, and economics. Familiarity with historical documents such as the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence will help.

On both tests, you’ll use your ability to comprehend what you read or see. You’ll need to:

  • Distinguish facts and opinions.
  • Understand evidence and support.
  • Recognize the author’s intentions and arguments.
  • Judge conclusions and the evidence for those conclusions.
  • Compare data and the reliability of sources.

The ability to understand information and apply reasoning skills is valuable for these tests. These abilities, along with common sense and judgment, are more important than just memorization.

Preparation is the key to scoring well on the entire HSE exam. A good preparation program will:

  • Give you as much time as you need to study.
  • Explain in an easy-to-understand way.
  • Focus on reasoning and understanding, not memorizing.
  • Provide multiple practice tests for each exam.

Learn more about online preparation. With a good study plan, you’ll be surprised how fast you’re ready to earn your high school equivalency diploma!

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Understanding the GED® Test by Mario Baird-McDaniel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United Stated License, redistribution of this article is allowed under the following terms outlined here.