Back in our high school days, we often fantasized about ditching the classroom routine in favor of taking the GED test. (This daydream was usually strongest during double-period Calculus AB, by far the dreariest educational experience on the planet.) But the fantasy was always short-lived, in large part because of some negative stereotypes. The folks we knew with GEDs weren’t the most impressive lot, and the buzz was that having the letters “GED” on your resume virtually guaranteed that your glass ceiling would consist of a managerial position at Jack in the Box.
We admit those anti-GED feelings were rather wrongheaded—if Famous Amos and Mary Lou Retton can achieve A-plus success with GEDs, the educational alternative can’t be all bad. But we’ve also recently been wondering: How hard, exactly, is the test? And could we pass it tomorrow, without a single jot of study?
Last year’s GED stats (PDF) claim that the test’s failure rate is 27 percent. That makes it just a few percentage points harder than actually earning a four-year high school diploma; at last count, 30.8 percent of enrolled high schoolers fail to graduate.
Looking at practice GEDs, we were struck by how little specific knowledge the questions required. The science questions, for example, struck us more as brain teasers or reading-comp challenges than measures of material learned. Likewise, the math section focuses on spatial recognition and logic—along with one’s adroitness at punching keys on a Casio FX-260.
And that’s probably a good thing. As we’ve noted before, we’re firm believers in the theory that the majority of book knowledge acquired in classrooms seeps out of the brain within five years. (C’mon, how much do you really remember about the Thirty Years War, other than it had to do with Catholic-vs.-Protestant rivalry?) So the GED, for all of its seeming simplicity, strikes us as a pretty good measure of a test-taker’s ability to find their way in the world.
Think you could pass the GED tomorrow, perhaps with a hangover? Try your luck.