Is the GED test too hard now?

The GED, the test that substitutes for a high school diploma, isn’t what it used to be, NPR reported this morning. And for many people, that’s the problem.

  1. Listen NPR: A ‘Sizable Decrease’ In Those Passing The GED

    January 9, 2015

In about a dozen states every state, the old GED was replaced with a tougher one. And in many states, the pencil-and-paper version was shifted to a computer. It was the first overhaul in the test in the United States since 2002.

Cleveland Scene reported that about about 300,000 fewer Americans will pass the GED.

The problems are myriad. Many think this test is too hard, too focused on algebra and essays, too much analysis of history instead of knowing historical facts. But the main issue is: Who is the GED test for and what should it measure? Should it be geared toward determining if someone has the skills to make it in college, or the skills necessary to be employed and to move up to a better job? The GED has always struggled with servicing both groups; but right now, most GED test teachers feel the test has moved too far into measuring college preparedness.

“Raising the standards was an important thing to do, but without adequate teacher training and a significant investment in current technology, it left adult and correctional education students even further behind in educational achievement,” says Stephen J. Steurer, executive director of the Correctional Education Association, the largest prison educational organization in the country. “It is a national tragedy that will continue to have repercussions for years.”

The old test was about 25 percent algebra; the new one is more than half algebra.

What sort of challenge is the test now? Here are some sample questions via the GED testing service.

Question 1: The government of a country may restrict the number of immigrants allowed to enter that country. These restrictions on immigration are most likely based on what belief?

An economy can support unlimited numbers of people.
The “push” factors justify most immigration.
Immigrants enrich the culture of a country.
A country has a limited number of jobs and services.
A government should not interfere with the migration of people.

Question 2: Based on the information, which is an opinion rather than a fact about immigrants to North America? Immigrants…

traveled long distances to find a better life
migrated to find employment
learned to live in a foreign culture
escaped from political persecution
found a better life

Question 3: Clay soil forms a fairly effective barrier against the movements of water. It also swells and shrinks significantly as its water content changes. Sandy soil, in contrast, allows water to move freely and does not change shape as the water content varies. In which statement is the appropriate soil selected for its intended site?

Sandy soil would make a good lining for a toxic waste site.
Clay soil would work well in a drain field.
Clay soil would be a good foundation for a large building.
Clay soil would form a good liner if a person built a pond.
A sandy lake bottom would prevent water from seeping out of the lake.

Question 4: A cook decides to recover some table salt that has been completely dissolved in water. Which of the following processes would be the most effective method of extracting salt from the solution?

spinning the solution in a mixer
boiling away the water
pouring the solution through cloth
dripping the solution through a paper filter
bubbling oxygen through the solution

Question 5: Last month, the balance in Tisha’s checkbook was $1219.17. Since then she has deposited her latest paycheck of $2425.66 and written checks for $850.00 (rent), $235.89 (car payment), and $418.37 (credit card payment).
What is the current balance in Tisha’s checking account?


Question 6: Byron purchased a $5,000 certificate of deposit (CD) at his local bank. The CD will pay him 7% simple interest. How much INTEREST, in dollars, will Byron have earned from his CD at the end of a 2-year period?

Find the answers here.

  • John

    I hate meaningless numbers. If 300,000 fewer people will pass the GED, how does that compare to the total number of people taking the old vs. new GED? If 400,000 people took the old one, and 1,000,000 people are trying to pass the new one, maybe 300,000 more people failing is expected (i.e. what’s the percentage who failed before vs now?)

    I think adding more math and more interpretation is perfectly justified. I’m also almost entirely as over-educated as I can be in science.

    An anecdote: When I was in grad school, I ran to grab a sub from the local sub shop. The cash register was broken, and the kid behind the counter (who was a college student) couldn’t figure out what I should have to pay, because he couldn’t do the taxes on a calculator. That’s a life skill people. His excuse: “I’m a journalism major.” (sorry journalists, that’s no excuse). I figured it out in my head (too much math in my life), and gave him enough to cover the rounding errors I might have made.

    So, a college student who can’t do simple math? How’s he going to balance his check book or get by? He should have been expected to know that when he left high school. Just because his high school failed him, doesn’t mean the GED should be easy.

    • The numbers are fully explained at the Cleveland Scene link.

      • John

        I’m sure. I also usually just bop through here when I have a few minutes of down time. Unfortunately, I rarely have time to go read the source material. Also, unless there is a really, really large number of people taking the GED, the 300,000 number is likely to be significant. Just feeling a little pedantic this morning, I guess.

  • Brian

    Planet Money included an interview with an economist once who said something to the effect of: If the GED is really equivalent to High School we should all just study for and take the GED and save ourselves 4 years. (I can’t find the episode right now)
    Also, do we really expect high school students to know the difference between simple and compound interest? They should obviously be able to work with the numbers if given the definition (or after looking it up in the real world), but I think you lose the ability to test whether they can do the math when you are testing their memory at the same time.

    • Al

      I would love to see high school students learn about simple and compound interest given that, with my high school, undergrad, and grad degrees, I just confused the two.

      • Brian

        Oh, I agree that interest is an important topic to learn and should be taught in High School (and then tested on the GED). I guess my point is, asking a question where it is easy to confuse compound and simple interest doesn’t really test whether a persion can deal with interest or not. It also obviously isn’t a great test of whether your should have graduated from High School.

        • Al

          I agree–it’s not. Maybe it should be.

        • tboom

          in my opinion, knowing the definitions of compound and simple are basic to understanding how interest works.

    • Kevin

      I agree. I think I am rather financially literate, and I was unsure what was meant by “simple interest”. I guessed, correctly as it turned out, but I don’t think it’s a super-common term. I’d expect maybe “non-compounding interest” instead.

  • dpsours

    Got ’em all right. I’m ready for your Friday News Quiz!

    • Chris

      Me too. Nice to have “confirmation” that I am actually thinking again.

  • Kassie

    50% being algebra seems like too much. That the test puts way too much importance on it. When I think about high school, I had six periods a day and only one was math. One might think that if Math was what was most important, I would of had two or three periods of math.

    Quickly checking graduation requirements for MN, it says a student needs:
    4 credits of language arts
    3 credits of mathematics
    3 credits of science
    3½ credits of social studies
    1 credit in the arts
    7 elective credits

    Again, if math was so important, why isn’t it emphasized more in real high school?

    • The mortgage crisis of the last decade and the number of lottery tickets sold each week pretty much prove that kids don’t get enough math.

      • Gary F

        Kids entering Dunwoody don’t have enough geometry to be a carpenter or sheet metal worker and not enough simple algebra to figure basic electrical loads.

        • Dave

          My grandpa went there. There was a reason he called it “Dimwitty.”

      • Kassie

        I took through calculus in high school. Took calculus and statistics in college. Took another year of statistics in grad school. I also buy lottery tickets and have been through foreclosure. Those things have very little to do with math education.

        • Then you’re buying lottery tickets PURELY for entertainment. I suspect most people aren’t.

          • Gary F

            I can’t afford lottery tickets.

        • Dave

          Have to agree with Kassie. The mortgage crisis and lottery tickets have more to do with money and risk management than with math. A couple of my friends were way better than me with math, but manage their money like children.

          • How do you calculate risk without math?

          • Kassie

            In project management, you can do both quantitative and qualitative risk assessments. Qualitative risk assessment is often done by asking two questions: what is the chance it will happen (high, medium or low) and what will the impact be if it does (high, medium or low.) Then you choose the ones that look risky to plan risk responses.

            Most quantitative risk management is done using computer programs and other tools, so you don’t actually need to know the math yourself, just how to read the outputs.

          • Dave

            I think their (mortgage bankers) problem is that they didn’t obey the math because someone else would assume the risk.

    • jon

      Algebra was two of those math credits.

      I had algebra, geometry, algebra 2 and then precalc and calc via PSOE in college.

      Technically I don’t think I needed pre-calc and calc to graduate.

    • Guest

      50% of the math section is algebra, not 50% of the entire test.

  • Robert Moffitt

    I learned a lot about the GED from this piece, which has aired on Bob’s station several times. Iowa and WW2 were both big factors in the creation of what is now our “second chance diploma.”

  • Dave

    Is it just that I’m dim?

    Question 6 seems screwy. It does not specify the length of the CD. The answer according to their pdf is $700, so I guess they’re assuming interest is paid once a year, and on the original principal only (i.e., simple interest as noted). But I don’t know how you could arrive at the correct answer.

    Also, is there such a thing as a CD that pays only simple interest?

    • Brian

      This is just a guess, but I bet they chose simple interest to avoid asking a question involving exponents (as compound interest would, using the standard formulas anyway). There were probably already enough exponent questions (or they needed a “story problem” that included simpler arithmetic).

  • MikeB

    A GED should mean something but it is counterproductive to raise standards without the requisite resources and training.

    There is a need for financial education is high school but it goes beyond calculating interest. Making Rent vs. Buy decisions, Whole vs. Term insurance, that lottery tickets and casino trips are entertainment, etc.

    But how many school board members want to face local realtors and insurance agents saying “don’t hurt my business”?

    • tboom

      >> There is a need for financial education in high school but it goes beyond calculating interest. <<

      True, financial education should actually begin in middle school, should be strongly math based and also include an analysis of decision making. I would also recommend an analysis of the following youtube segments, observation by George Carlin and Jerry Seinfeld on the value we get from our purchases:

  • Kevin

    Questions (1) and (2) are supposed to be answered after reading the passage missing here (but visible if you click on the link).

    What’s more, if you read the passage, there isn’t anything there about whether immigrants learned to live in a different culture. I’m not sure how you could conclude that it is “a fact based on the information”. Maybe I’m just too literal, but question (1) just seems too vague and open to misinterpretation.