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High school dropouts face tougher GED exam with more real-world applications

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) _ Test-takers tackling the GED face a new challenge _ a revised, tougher exam that its designers say is more reflective of what is being taught in the nation's high schools.

The General Educational Development test, updated for only the third time in its 60-year history, was revised to get test-takers to apply their knowledge to real-life situations, said Joan Auchter, executive director of the private, nonprofit GED Testing Service in Washington, D.C.

``We're saying that secondary schools have changed in the year 2002 and beyond, and we have to do the same thing,'' she said.

The new test, which went into effect Jan. 1, includes more graphs and charts, and questions about business documents such as memos and job applications. The science section includes questions about setting up experiments and analyzing their results. Test-takers will also be able to use calculators provided by the testing centers on part of the math test.

``It's more higher-order thinking, more deductive reasoning skills. It's closer to what high school students should look like when they graduate,'' said Lori Fair, director of adult education and development studies at Harrisburg Area Community College.

Some of the questions test-takers might face include:

_ If you have 50 foot square of land, and you're building a 4-foot-wide, 6-inch-thick concrete walkway around its perimeter, how much concrete will you need?

_ What makes soldier Carter Druse in Ambrose Bierce's short story ``A Horseman in the Sky'' fire upon enemy soldiers?

_ Why are balloons filled with helium, and not hydrogen?

Some test instructors question whether the changes indeed make the exam more difficult. Sylvia Mace, coordinator for the regional Board of Cooperative Educational Services in Cortland, N.Y., said students who took the test earlier this month told her it wasn't much different from the old version.

``The GED always was a reading and thinking test,'' Mace said. ``In some ways, modernizing the test has made it easier _ social studies, for example. If you keep up with current events, you should do well.''

The first GED tests were given in 1942 to returning World War II veterans who had to leave high school when they were drafted. Civilians began taking the tests in 1947, and the exams were updated in 1978 and 1988.

According to the testing service's most recent survey, 512,000 adults worldwide received equivalency diplomas in 2000, and nearly 861,000 completed one or more sections of the test. Americans accounted for 500,520 of the diplomas awarded in 2000, a 3.1 percent decline from 1999.

Most states require students simply to pass the test in order to receive the equivalent of a high school diploma. Five states require either job-skills courses, civics classes or passing separate tests on English as a second language. Passing the exam in Utah only gets the recipient credits toward a high school diploma.

Most test-takers _ 53 percent _ are women and their average age is 25.

The 2000 census survey found 34 million Americans 18 and over lacked a high school diploma. Allen Foley, a 39-year-old carpenter at a Lexington, Ky., racetrack, was one of them.

Foley dropped out of school at age 16 after failing two English courses. He attends prep classes twice a week to get ready for the exam in March. Under a statewide incentive program, the racetrack receives up to a $1,250 tax credit for allowing him to take time off during the workday to take the classes.

``The reading is a little hard, but it's more about learning where the commas go, and the punctuation, and keeping the sentences together,'' Foley said. ``I'll just keep trying for it until I get it.''

Robert Stewart, who dropped out of school five years ago to work for his father, recently took the exam for the third time in as many years. Stewart, 24, said he wants to get a college degree in criminal justice and become a juvenile counselor someday.

``I'm doing this because I want to be something,'' he said.
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