In order to be considered for college admission, students are almost always required to possess a high school diploma or the equivalent (a few community colleges make exceptions). What exactly is the equivalent of a high school diploma, though? As it turns out, there are three high school equivalency exams: the GED, the TASC, and the HiSET. Certain states offer only the GED, which was the only high school equivalency exam offered until 2014. Others, however, will give you a choice between two or three of the exams. This section will elaborate on the differences between the three equivalency exams and describe which is offered where.
Equivalency Exams 101
There are any number of reasons why a student wouldn’t complete high school on schedule, and many more reasons why he or she would want to go back to school and earn a college degree after time has passed. A census report about education in 2012 showed that people over the age of 25 who did not complete high school made an average of $1,686 monthly, while people who completed high school made $2,552 over the same period of time. Once a person has at least an associate’s degree (which takes an average of two years to attain), average monthly earnings surpass $3,300 and continue to climb.
In order to go to college, though, students must have a high school diploma or the equivalent. For students who didn’t complete high school as teenagers, there are three options: the General Equivalency Diploma (GED), the Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC), and the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET). (After passing one of these high school equivalency tests, students who wish to pursue higher education at a four-year college will need to start thinking about taking either the SAT or the ACT since one of these college entry examinations is likely required for admission.)
Before 2014, the only equivalency test was the GED. However, it was changed to reflect the new Common Core Standards Initiative (the curriculum required for all primary and secondary school students) and became more difficult. Forty states still offer the GED, but the TASC and HiSET are gaining popularity. Click on your location in the map below to learn about which tests are offered where you live and to reveal a link to your state's testing website beneath the map.
High School Equivalency Exam Map
High School Equivalency Overlay
|Length||425 minutes||445 minutes||425 minutes|
|Eligibility||Students must be:
||Students must be:
||Eligibility varies by state. Learn more here.|
|Scoring||Each subject is graded out of 200. Students must receive 145 to pass each subject, meaning they must receive at least 580 to pass the GED overall.||Students must score at least 500 out of 800 on each subject test and receive a 2 out of 8 on the writing portion of the test to pass.||Students must score at least 8 out of 20 on each subject test and at least a 2 out of 6 on the writing portion of the test. In order to pass, a student’s overall score on all subject tests must be at least 45.|
The GED is a 425-minute test taken in sections on a computer at a testing center. It encompasses four subject areas: reasoning through language arts, math, science, and social studies. The cost differs in each state; in some areas, the cost may be nothing, while others charge upwards of $120.00. You can look up your state's policies online or check your state’s Department of Education website for the cost. The breakdown of the test is as follows:
- Reasoning through language arts: This 150-minute section aims to test a student’s ability to comprehend, write, and edit using the English language. There are three subsections of language arts.
- Reading comprehension: In this subsection, students typically receive an excerpt of a text and answer questions about the main idea, meaning, and inferences.
- Writing: This subsection tests a student’s ability to construct a valid argument using information given in a text, but it also tests knowledge of word processing since the exam is administered on a computer.
- Language: This subsection measures a student’s ability to edit text and use grammar properly.
- Math: The 115-minute math section of the exam is broken down into two parts. One allows the use of a calculator, while the other does not. Students must use the calculator provided on their computers for the calculator portion of the test. Outside instruments are not allowed. The entirety of the math section is intended to gauge a student’s comprehension of quantitative and algebraic problem-solving through a variety of question forms including fill-in-the-blanks and multiple-choice questions.
- Science: This 90-minute section tests a student’s knowledge of life sciences (40%), physical sciences (40%), and Earth and space science (20%). Students are expected to analyze and draw conclusions from data and text as well as to answer questions about specific topics.
- Social studies: This 70-minute section tests students on their knowledge of civics and government (50%), U.S. history (20%), economics (15%), and geography (15%). Students may need to analyze text or visual data or answer questions that require problem-solving and content knowledge.
How is the GED scored?
A perfect score on a GED subject test is 200, with a 145 being required to pass. There are three levels of passing. The passing score, which is the equivalent of a high school diploma, ranges from 145 to 164. The “college ready” score, which indicates that students are ready to enroll in college courses, ranges from 165 to 174. The “college ready plus credit” score, which indicates that students may qualify for college credit hours, ranges from 175 to 200.
If a student fails one of the subject tests, he or she is eligible for up to two discounted retakes, regardless of the cost of the GED test in that state. These retakes must be used within 12 months of receiving the initial failing score. There is no waiting period for retakes unless a student has failed the same subject three times. Then, a student must wait 60 days before retaking the subject test. Once students have passed all four subject areas, they will receive a [glossary_exclude]GED transcript[/glossary_exclude] and diploma via email. This can be sent directly to prospective schools and employers as proof of high school equivalency.
When are scores available?
At the completion of the test, students will immediately receive their scores.
How should I study for the GED?
The GED website offers official study materials: practice tests, subject-specific study guides, exercise books, smartphone-compatible study guides, and materials for Spanish-speakers. Prices range from over $100.00 to less than $10.00, depending on what you are purchasing. Official practice tests costs $6.00 per subject. Peterson’s offers both practice tests and a guidebook for prospective GED takers, Kaplan books, which are available online and in stores, may run slightly cheaper than official GED materials.
The most important thing when you’re picking out study materials is to purchase something that you will actually use. Flip through the pages of a book if you’re at a brick-and-mortar store, or read through reviews if you’re thinking about buying online. Having good materials is one of the keys to success.
The TASC Test debuted in 2013 as a cheaper alternative to the GED. It is currently offered as an option in 15 states, three of which exclusively use TASC Test as their high school equivalency test. The cost of the TASC Test varies by state, so students should contact their local testing centers for an accurate price. The test consists of five separate sections totalling 445 minutes. These sections (reading, writing, math, science, and social studies) are described below.
- Reading: This 75-minute section tests a student’s ability to pick the main idea out of a given text and to find the key details that support the main idea. Also, students may need to compare and contrast two different texts and determine their arguments and style. Given texts may be fiction, nonfiction, or poetry.
- Writing: This 105-minute section consists of multiple-choice questions that assess a student’s knowledge of the English language. There is also a writing prompt that is based on one or two given texts. Students should be able to construct an argument and defend their points of view while demonstrating proper grammar and spelling.
- Math: This 105-minute section covers algebra, geometry, statistics, and probability. Students will be allowed to use a calculator for part of the test and will receive a formula sheet. The majority of the math questions will be multiple-choice.
- Science: This 85-minute section covers physical science, life sciences, and Earth and space science in relatively equal proportions. Topics covered may include matter, energy, waves, cellular life, ecosystems, evolution, geology, meteorology, oceanography, and astronomy.
- Social studies: This 75-minute section covers U.S. history, world history, civics and government, economics, and geography. The TASC Test mostly emphasizes U.S. history, civics and government, and economics.
What are passing scores for each section of the TASC?
The passing score for each section is 500. The writing prompt within the writing section is scored from 1 to 8, with a 2 being required to pass. Once students pass all sections, they have passed the TASC Test. Students who do not pass the TASC Test on the first try may retake up to two sections for free. The test is graded so that students end up with knowledge equivalent to the top 40% of all graduating high schools seniors. Students can then go on to apply for college or jobs requiring a high school diploma.
When are scores available?
Depending on how a student takes the test (on a computer or on paper), scores can be available anywhere from three hours to 10 days after completion.
How should I study for the TASC Test?
Though the TASC Test is relatively new, there are still materials that you can use to prepare for test day. The TASC Test website should be your first resource, since the test-makers manage the site and offer an inside look at questions and test format. They also provide their own study materials for prospective TASC test-takers, as well as a list of outside resources that might be helpful. Students who are interested in taking a practice exam can contact their TASC Test testing center to sign up for a time slot.
Students who prefer to purchase a book from which to study might consider the Trivium TASC Test Preparation or the McGraw-Hill TASC Test Preparation book. Look for the newest edition of each book to ensure that you’re studying the right subjects for the test. Mometrix.com also offers free videos and practice questions for each of the five subject areas covered on the TASC Test.
Like the TASC, the 425-minute HiSET offers students another alternative to the GED. It is intended as a low-cost alternative to the GED, but costs do vary by state. Students can purchase all five subjects at once (and receive two free retests within a 12-month period in case of failure) or purchase subjects individually and pay for each retake. Students should check with the Department of Education in their states or their testing centers for detailed information about fees. The HiSET covers the same five content areas as the TASC.
- Reading: This 65-minute section gauges a student’s ability to comprehend and analyze given texts. The content of each text is different, and the forms of delivery may be different as well. Students can expect to see poems, memoirs, essays, or editorials, among other texts.
- Writing: The 120-minute writing section contains two parts: a multiple-choice section and an essay. The multiple-choice questions address a student’s ability to determine the best way to revise a sentence, using correct word choice, organization, and grammar. The essay focuses on how students create, organize, and develop their own writing.
- Math: Unlike the GED and TASC, the HiSET allows students to use calculators for the entire 90-minute duration of the math section. Students should be able to answer questions on algebra, probability, and measurement, and they are also expected to interpret data.
- Science: This 80-minute section draws on multiple scientific fields, including health, astronomy, and physics. Students must answer questions about aspects of experimental design and the scientific method and may be required to interpret data presented in visual formats.
- Social studies: This 70-minute section may draw on a student’s knowledge of history, geography, government, and economics, as well as psychology and anthropology. This makes it more encompassing than the GED or TASC. Instead of primarily answering content questions, students must interpret data, timelines, posters, and passages and answer questions about what they read or see.
How is the test scored?
Each section is scored from 1 to 20, and in order to pass an individual section, students must score at least an 8. The writing section has an additional essay component, scored from 1 to 6. A 2 is passing. In order to pass the writing section, both the essay and multiple-choice scores must be high enough to pass. To pass the HiSET overall, students must score at least a 45. This means that although an 8 is passing for a particular subject, if a student only receives grades of 8, his or her overall score will be 40. Therefore, students must exceed the minimum in at least one section.
When are HiSET scores available?
The availability of official scores depends on the type of questions within each section. Those consisting of multiple-choice questions are available online within three days, while those that include essay questions take five days. Unofficial scores are released immediately after the test, provided students take the test on a computer, but this is only for multiple-choice sections.
How should I study for the HiSET?
Like the TASC Test, the HiSET is relatively new, so there isn’t an overwhelming number of options when it comes to choosing study materials. The HiSET website offers tips for preparing, including a study guide with question types and what to expect and practice tests. It also offers a list of materials that are available to students willing to pay. There is an official HiSET guide available online for students who would prefer to use a book instead of online materials. Mometrix.com also offers a paper study guide for HiSET-takers for a small fee.
Page last updated: 12/2018