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High School Equivalency Exams: What Do We Know?

Authored By: 
Maren Holmen, Academic Liaison

Last year, I wrote a blog on the end of the GED exam in New York State and the start of the TASC.  While the format of both tests has now had a year to settle and become the norm, a recent article on NPR suggests that the options available for students not earning a high school diploma are becoming significantly more difficult.  But what about the tests that aren’t the GED?  How are they different?

As I mentioned in my previous blog, I only discovered the change from the GED to the TASC in New York when I was contacted regarding tutoring for the GED in January 2014.  A student from the UK was considering attending college in New York City without graduating from a British school.  There were inherent challenges in helping a student prepare for an exam which didn’t even have a prep book available for purchase until February 26, 2014.

As someone who has helped prepare students in locales in and around New York, I’ve done my research.  Here are a few quick facts:

  • Each state sets its own requirements for achieving a high school equivalency certificate.  These requirements were related to the overall score, the score for each section of the test, the age/level of school achieved, and residency.
  • In the five boroughs of New York City, there are about 25 test centers with test dates throughout the year.  The waiting list for first-time test takers is months—back in 2013, usually 4-6 months.  For candidates who had attended a prep course, this generally cut the time in half, but it was by no means instantaneous.
  • If you do not meet the minimum score requirements, either for the overall test or for any section in particular, each state (again) sets its own rules on when a candidate can retake the test (some require a waiting time of at least 30 or 60 days) and whether a candidate needs to retake the entire test or just a particular section.

For students who might be moving, the difference in requirements from state to state meant that being eligible to take the exam was something to take into account but was easily understood—you would take the GED just about everywhere you’d go.  However, the new GED (with its changed standards, necessary as they may be) now conflicts with the TASC or the HiSET, the two tests that have sprung up in states that don’t wish to adopt the new GED. 

The GED has lost its writing section and increased the level of knowledge required to pass the remaining four core areas.  The TASC is largely the same as the old GED, with plans to migrate towards the Common Core standards as they continue to be implemented—it has the same test sections and is similarly scored compared to the old GED.  The HiSET, however, is on a different score scale entirely and has 8 subtests over the five core areas.  If you thought that the differences between the SAT and the ACT were a hot topic, I encourage you to stay tuned for those who will debate GED vs. TASC vs. HiSET.