July-August 2006 Selected Content -
The GED Option - Karen Kirkwood
GED Practice Tests
My daughters both recently passed the GED tests--even though we unschooled and used no formal curriculum. They were free to play dress-up for hours or curl up on the couch and read a book from cover to cover. Over the years, I occasionally reviewed the local
school district's scope and sequence to see how we measured up. We didn't.
There were huge gaps in my daughters' academic studies. But, of course, the school district objectives didn't cover cow-milking or donkey care. Jessica, now 19, quit studying math when she was in third grade. I knew it was over when she threw the book and screamed, "I hate math!" I had to dig deep into my belief of trusting the child to let that one go. When
she passed the GED math test, I let out a sigh I had been holding for nine years.
General Education Development (GED) certificate serves as a valuable stepping-stone for some homeschoolers. Three of my nephews also have
received GED diplomas. One recently started community college and another is working as a teller at a bank. The other one just finished his B.S. and is headed for a doctoral program. For homeschool students not planning to attend college, the GED diploma serves as a sign of accomplishment. I think there is some stigma around the program--many people think only "losers" take this route. That attitude is changing as more homeschoolers are passing the tests and using the accomplishment to demonstrate understanding of basic academic skills. The certificate tells employers the student can read, write and do basic math. It also demonstrates his or her willingness to complete a goal.
There are several paths for students planning to attend college. If students wish to enter a four-year institution, most schools require that they pass the Standard Aptitude Test (SAT) or another similar test. For students who want to start at a two-year college or a vocational/technical school, most schools only require the GED certificate. Once they have their two-year degree, they can transfer to a four-year school without having to take the SAT.
The GED tests and SAT are very different exams.
GED tests measure a student's ability to apply, evaluate, synthesize and analyze. The SAT consists of two parts. One section asks students to analyze and solve problems. The other area is fact-based and measures a student's mastery of knowledge in specific subject areas. For example, it has 60 knowledge questions specifically about biology. The SAT is much more difficult.
The GED program was created as a way for service members returning from World War II to demonstrate they had the knowledge and skills necessary for employment and higher education. It takes into account life experiences and varied educational experiences. That sounds "unschooly" to me. The test manual states that "Many adults have not completed a regular high school program of instruction. However, this fact does not mean that their educational growth and experiences ceased upon leaving school. People continue to learn through a variety of experiences." The manual says the program's purpose is "to provide a means by which learning acquired from such educational experiences can be evaluated and recognized."
Often, unschooled students have not had a formal set of courses that cover step by step all the information in a given subject. There are holes in their education and they may not have the necessary facts to do well on the SAT. On the other hand, many unschool activities encourage kids to practice the higher order thinking skills like those covered on the GED tests.
Most of the schooling in our home consisted of checking out books at the library for whatever subject the girls were interested in. Also, both girls participated in a writing/history/psychology class I taught once a week to a group of homeschooled teens. I emphasized process rather than grammar and punctuation rules, so I think most of my students overcame the fear of writing.
Now I teach GED writing at a community college. Most of my schooled students have never enjoyed writing and are sure they can't produce an essay. Few write for pleasure. On the other hand, many unschooled kids write journals, stories and poetry for the sheer joy of writing. They have worked on process without having to worry about grades.
Testers create the test by reviewing state and national academic standards. They identify the knowledge and skills that graduating seniors actually have and can perform, not what they should be able to know and do. "The passing standard has been set higher than that for graduations from high school. Approximately 42% of graduating high school seniors would be unable to pass the GED tests."
Many times unschooled kids think they're stupid or that they don't know as much as schooled kids. Jessica was terrified of the tests. However, she took a few practice tests and her confidence improved. She couldn't believe it when she not only passed four of the tests, but received high scores. Of course, she didn't pass the practice math test, but after some self-directed work at home and one quarter of pre-college math, she easily passed the test.
Patti, my 16-year-old, also passed the tests with flying colors. She was able to pass the math test because she had taken a math class in ninth grade and studied some on her own. Both girls passed the tests because they had taken responsibility for their education and worked independently. Their continual search for new information and to understand concepts in their chosen fields of study required higher-level thinking skills. Nothing was spoon-fed to them, so they developed these skills out of necessity.
The GED is divided into five areas--reading, writing, math, social studies and science. It is all multiple-choice except for an essay in the writing section and 20 % of the math problems where students need to generate numerical answers and use a grid to record their responses
If a student is a good reader, he or she can pass the reading, social studies and science tests. The manual says "Interpreting visual text is an important aspect."
Instead of being fact-based like other tests, they ask students to analyze information whether they have seen it before or not. "Candidates are assessed on their knowledge of broad concepts as well as their ability to use knowledge, information and skills to solve problems." Students don't need to remember scientific formulas or historical information. Even though we had never formally studied reading comprehension, social studies or science, the girls were able to pass the tests because they are avid readers and began pursuing understanding of information as soon as they could read. Because they only read what they wanted to, thinking about and applying the information was the goal, not memorizing.
If students have documented learning disabilities or other special needs, accommodations are provided. Many of my students have learning disabilities and are allowed extra time for each test.
Most students in our program at the college have difficulty with the math and writing tests. The math test is divided into two equally weighted parts. On the first part, a student uses a calculator provided by the test givers (Casio x-260). The second part tests mental math and estimation, so students may not use calculators. A math formulas page is provided as a reference for the student. The test covers basic math up to pre-algebra, so if your child has followed a curriculum up to about the ninth grade, he should be able to pass the test. If not, most two-year colleges offer math classes at the pre-college level. Students take a placement test and start at whatever level is needed.
The writing test consists of two parts, a multiple-choice grammar section and a 250-word opinion essay. The grammar piece mainly covers tense, subject-verb agreement, pronoun use, punctuation, organization of an essay and spelling. Students proofread paragraphs and are given choices to correct the errors. Students often miss questions about comma placement, especially following a conjunction, and subject-verb agreement involving prepositions (The dog next to the shiny, blue cars is fat.) The most important part of the essay is its organization. Can your student write a five paragraph, cohesive essay? Staying on topic is also important. Students often misread the assignment and even though the writing may be good, if they drift off topic, they will lose points. Punctuation and spelling are taken into account, but only if the number of errors makes the piece unreadable. Handwriting is not part of the evaluation because it has nothing to do with the content of the essay.
Students should prepare for the tests by taking the practice tests found online (Google GED practice tests) or found in the GED books at the library. Practice books usually have charts to help the students identify specific areas of needed study.
One of my students passed the GED as a step toward finding a better job. She likes to say that the letters GED stand for Get Er Done! Most of the homeschool students that pass through our program at the college have little trouble passing the tests. For our family, it has been another "proof" that unschooling works. But then, we knew that already.
The GED tests are updated every few years, so only use recently published books. Many books have a pre-test. Use it. The student doesn't need to study the sections s/he did well on, and this saves a lot of frustration and time.
The Barron's series is good. Barron's How to Prepare For the GED. Barron's GED Writing Workbook, by Katherine S. Hogan. Barron's Pass Key to the GED High School Equivalency Examination, by Murray Rockowitz (et al.).
The Cambridge pre-GED program books cover more basic skills for students not ready to study in-depth concepts or take practice tests. We use this series in our program at the college, and I find that students can pass the tests just using these books. Look for The Cambridge pre-GED . . .followed by in Reading, in Writing, in Social Studies, in Math, or in Science.
The Contemporary series by McGraw-Hill is excellent as well, and we use it at the college for more advanced students. For students headed on to college, this series prepares them more completely than general GED books (where all five tests are included in one book) or the Cambridge pre-GED books.
Of course, most of these books can be bought used through abe.com, eBay or Amazon. With both websites and books, the student should not only correct the work, but read the explanations and look at the questions missed. I have found they learn more from the explanations than the lessons themselves because they see the rules in practice. Plus, students can identify areas that need study and not have to cover lessons they already know.
GED Test Online Course Links
www.testprepreview.com/ged_practice.htm has an online course. Gedpractice.com, a free site provided by the textbook company SteckVaughn, has good practice tests and books.
litlink.ket.org is a PBS literacy site with tips for passing the tests.
www.acenet.edu/AM/Template.cfm, a website provided by the American Council on Education, has practice tests.
www.nelson.com/nelson/highered/ged/NEW-ged-pract.htm has the Canadian test information.
© 2006, Karen Kirkwood