New GED exam puts more focus on critical thinking, reasoning

jmink@macon.comJanuary 16, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- Michela Moore-Panza had a childhood dream. She wanted to be a doctor. She wanted to help people.

Now, she’s a step closer to realizing that dream as she prepares this year to take the GED -- a test that has changed for adults across the nation, with more advanced content and a computerized exam.

It’s a transition that initially makes some students nervous, but both students and teachers at Central Georgia Technical College say there is no reason to be apprehensive.

“It’s not necessarily harder; it’s just different,” said Moore-Panza, a Warner Robins resident who is taking GED preparation classes at Central Georgia Tech. “We have to motivate ourselves in order to understand.”

The curriculum change went into effect Jan. 2, placing more focus on critical thinking and reasoning. The exam has switched from mostly multiple choice to more essay questions to earn the high school equivalency diploma.

The test is more aligned to college and career-readiness standards, which measure the skills people will need for the current job market and college classes. The hope is that preparation for the new GED will decrease the number of adult college students who must take remedial classes, said Joi King, instructional coordinator for the GED at Central Georgia Tech.

“I think it’s going to be better all around,” she said. “It’s going to do a great job of measuring those critical thinking and problem solving skills -- those that are needed at technical colleges and four-year institutions.”

While the exam cost has changed in some areas across the country, locally it remains the same at $160.

Still, the changes are not out of the ordinary. In fact, to keep up with evolving job skill demands, the GED has transformed about once every decade. Its last transformation was in 2002, said Dorothy Ferguson, director of operations and GED testing administrator at Central Georgia Tech.

“The apprehensiveness most students feel, it was the same way when we did the GED (change) in 2002,” King said. “They felt scared, apprehensive, but once they got in the classroom, they were comfortable.”

Students who are taking a GED preparation class at Central Georgia Tech said they were nervous about the new exam, but the GED classes have relieved that pressure. Also, they said they understand the necessity of new standards.

“The world is changing,” said Freddy Taylor of Warner Robins. “If the test didn’t change, we would be stuck.”

Officials expect about 5,000 people to take the GED exam this year at Central Georgia Tech, which is on par with previous years.

Another major change is a switch from paper to computer tests. While the nation officially made that transition this month, Central Georgia Tech began using computer tests in July 2013.

Shona Smith, of Warner Robins, first took the GED in the 1990s, when both the content and the type of exam were different.

The computer test “seems like it might be a little more difficult for me, but I’m excited to try it,” she said.

The computer-based exam has its advantages. While students still must complete their exam at a testing site, registration has become easier and more convenient, Ferguson said. At first, officials were concerned that older adults, who are less familiar with computers, would have trouble with the new exam. But, according to recent GED data, the computerized test has an 88 percent pass rate, compared with 71 percent with paper tests, she said.

Additionally, students can get their test scores immediately instead of waiting two to three weeks.

And while the old test had five parts, the new test is separated into four sections. The reading and writing portions have been combined.

But for students, such as Moore-Panza, while the test has changed, the goal remains the same.

“This can help me with ... my childhood dream of wanting to be a doctor, wanting to help people,” she said. As she works with instructors to prepare for the GED, “they’re giving me back that dream.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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