History of the GED® test

To date, there have been four generations of the GED® test: the original GED® test released in 1942, the 1978 series, the 1988 series, and the current series released in 2002. While the academic content areas in which candidates are assessed—English language arts (reading/writing), social studies, science, and mathematics—have not changed, the priorities and assumptions by which proficiency in these areas is assessed have evolved. Since the GED® test assesses academic skills and knowledge typically developed in a four-year high school education program, it is of utmost importance to GED Testing Service that the GED® test continues to evolve as secondary education evolves.


The first generation of tests, developed in 1942, reflected an industrial era, when a high school education was sufficient for many jobs. By the time this series was retired in 1977, more than 40 percent of test-takers took the tests for employment reasons—evidence that this level of education qualified people for many entry-level positions. During this period, 37 percent of test-takers indicated plans for further study. Content knowledge was assessed in a traditional manner. The English test focused on the correctness and effectiveness of expression, while success in social studies, science, and literature depended on interpreting reading material.


By the mid-1970s, the closing cusp of the industrial age, changes in secondary curricula and public attitudes toward education made necessary a review of the GED® test specifications. As a result, a second generation of tests was introduced in 1978. This series was characterized by a:

These tests retained an emphasis on high school outcomes, but introduced real-life contexts (such as work or home settings) and reading materials (schedules, newspaper articles) relevant to adults.


The release of John Naisbitt’s Megatrends in 1982 characterized a heightened awareness worldwide of the shift from an industrial to an information society—one characterized by a commonplace use of technology, global awareness, and participatory democracy. As these changes affected adults, the GED Testing Service initiated a five-year review that drew on the expertise of professionals from all sectors of adult education. Again affirming the GED® test's academic content areas, the panel recommended five changes:

In addition to the changes in the GED® test, there was also a shift in candidates’ reasons for taking the tests. More than 65 percent of candidates said they were taking the test for entry into postsecondary education, while 30 percent reported taking the test for employment reasons.


Today, a high school diploma remains the primary ticket to many entry-level jobs. In many cases, it’s also the prerequisite for advancement in employment, occupational training, and postsecondary education. Change is indeed sweeping education and the workplace. Content standards developed at the national and jurisdictional level form the basis for the changes that are part of the 2002 Series GED® Tests.

Learn more about ending the 2002 Series GED® Test.


Learn more about the new assessment that will launch on January 2, 2014 in all jurisdictions (except Canada).