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The General Education Development (GED) program was designed during World War II to allow returning veterans to finish their high school studies and certify that they had the skills to take advantage of postsecondary education benefits provided for in the GI Bill. The GED was soon made available to regular high school dropouts, and the number of GED certificates awarded annually increased dramatically. By 1959 most test-takers were civilians and in 2001 nearly 650,000 GED certificates were issued.

The GED test is administered in five sections:

  • Language arts, writing
  • Language arts, reading
  • Social studies
  • Science
  • Mathematics
The time allowed to complete each section varies from 45 to 90 minutes, with the total test taking over seven hours to complete. In order to attain a GED, those taking the test must score better than 60% of graduating high school students.

In 2002, the fourth-generation GED test was introduced to bring the test more in line with tougher high school academic standards. According to the General Education Development Testing Service, the 2002 Series GED Tests "reflect the impact of welfare-to-work legislation and the increased emphasis on academic standards in the K-12 community."

The GED is a potential second chance and steppingstone for dropouts to attain postsecondary education, and research has shown that GED holders benefit as much from completing their postsecondary education as those with regular high school diplomas. In fact, a majority of those seeking a GED report that pursuing postsecondary education is their ultimate goal and GED holders actually have similar grades to other students at the associate and bachelor's levels. Unfortunately, the majority of those earning a GED fail to enroll in postsecondary programs, and less than 3% earn a bachelor's degree.

The positive effects of earning a GED are most pronounced for those with very low academic skills, allowing those recipients to earn between 5% and 25% more than similar dropouts without a GED. However, this benefit does not appear immediately, becoming statistically significant only after five years, and does not appear at all for those who demonstrate higher academic skills.


Alice Ann Bailey and James R. Mingle. The Adult Learning Gap, Education Commission of the States, October 2003.

John H. Tyler. The Economic Benefits of the GED: Lessons from Recent Research, Brown University and the National Bureau of Economic Research, June 2002.

Southern Regional Education Board. Focus on the GED: Who Takes It and Why?, September 2002.

Alice Johnson Cain. Is the GED Valuable to Those Who Pass It?, Focus on Policy, April 2003.

National Center for Education Statistics. Digest of Education Statistics, 2003, December 2004.

General Education Development Testing Service.
2002 Series GED Tests


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