The GED diploma has helped high school dropouts for decades get into college or find a job. Earning that diploma, though, is about to get a lot harder.
Starting Jan. 1, new General Educational Development exams will feature fewer multiple choice questions, more essays and tougher math problems. The tests will be closely aligned to federal high school graduation standards known as the Common Core.
With the changes set to kick in two months, GED testing centers in Minnesota and around the country are readying for a rush of test takers. The last time the GED changed was in 2002. The year before, more than 1 million people across the U.S. rushed to take the test, 200,000 more than the previous year.
"I expect there to be a long line for people to get into the testing room to get a seat" on Nov. 7 and Dec. 5, the next GED testing dates, said Craig Anderson, an adult basic education instructor for the Bloomington, Richfield and Eden Prairie school districts.
Word of the harder exam is sparking lots of interest in the GED, he added. "Every day we're seeing three or four people either coming in or calling us to find out about that change."
The General Educational Development test got its start after World War II as a way for GIs to get their high school credentials. Over the years, the national standardized test -- really, a group of tests that cover math, social studies, science, reading and writing -- has increasingly become an option for high school dropouts, older workers and immigrants.
Many are like Angela Rue, who dropped out of high school over a decade ago. Working recently through a practice GED at a testing center in Bloomington, Rue, 29, said she wishes she hadn't waited so long to start. "I just kept making excuses for myself, not wanting to go back," she said. "Finally, I decided I need to."
Most people don't sit down and take all of their tests at once, because it can take more than seven hours. Test takers usually piece their GEDs together over several weeks, or months or even years. But if students don't finish all of their tests within the next several weeks, they'll have to start all over again in 2014 with the new GED.
"Don't put it off I'm telling people, don't put it off," said Becki Hawkins, an adult learning coordinator who works with nearly a dozen school districts in south central Minnesota.
Most of the GED hopefuls she sees are 25 to 45 years old. Many have lost jobs and need a GED to find new work. Some have started their GED but still need to finish at least one test to complete the process.
"They're the ones that maybe started it and then got a job, had families," she said. "Life interfered and they didn't go back and finish."
Students will take next year's tests on a computer, so students will need the keyboarding skills to crank out a timed essay. People who aren't computer savvy should try to take the current pencil and paper version of the GED, Hawkins said.
GED testing centers in Minnesota are adding keyboarding classes to their GED prep classes next year, to prepare students for the new test.
Amy Stotzhin, who oversees GED testing at the Hubbs Center for Lifelong Learning in St. Paul, hopes word about the coming test changes get out faster, especially to the those students who've done some GED work already.
She estimates as many as 2,000 students who started taking the GED at the Hubbs center in the last decade have yet to finish.
Despite the urgency to finish the test before it changes, GED coordinators say for some students, waiting until next year may be a better option. For them, taking the GED before Jan. 1 just won't be possible, especially if they need more than a few weeks to brush up on their math and writing skills.
GED officials say while the new version is going to be harder, it will also be a better indicator that someone is prepared to go to college or start a career.