Guide to High School Equivalency Exams

ASO Staff Writers
Updated January 4, 2024
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A Guide to the HiSET, TASC, NEDP and GED

Not having a high school diploma can hinder an individual’s future potential earnings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, someone with a high school diploma has median weekly earnings of $679, while those without one come in at $494. And because a high school diploma or its equivalent is necessary for college or other forms of postsecondary education, lacking one puts limits on earnings growth.

There are approximately 27 million adults in the United States who don’t have a high school diploma, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for them to advance their careers and education. Approximately 43 percent of those who get their GED (General Educational Development or General Equivalency Diploma) will enroll in a postsecondary program within six years, putting them on the path for more career options and higher earnings.

This guide examines the various high school equivalency exams available and offers tips to help students decide which one is right for them.

What Are High School Equivalency Exams?

High school serves as a prerequisite for many professional and education opportunities. Most jobs require at least a high school diploma, as does entrance into most colleges. But due to a variety of reasons, from family problems or lack of interest at the time, many students don’t finish high school as teenagers. High school equivalency exams bridge the gap so adults can get the background they need to succeed.

High school equivalency exams test students in subjects they would’ve learned in high school. They provide an opportunity for those who didn’t finish high school to prove they possess the same level of knowledge as a graduate. Most are offered in multiple languages, such as English, Spanish, French and Braille.

Until 2014, the GED was the standard high school equivalency exam. Since then, however, alternate options have been introduced, such as the HiSET and TASC, giving students the opportunity to choose the test that best showcases their knowledge and uses their skills. But how can you choose the right one? Some states offer only one exam, so students may have little choice. Beyond that, it comes down to understanding your particular style of learning and test-taking, and then matching those to the appropriate test.

“Students should assess what kind of learner they are with the help of their instructor,” says educator Johnna Ithier. “If students have begun taking one exam or the other, they should continue as the test modules are not interchangeable.”


The HiSET (High School Equivalency Test) is a high school equivalency exam that covers the academic subjects taught in a typical high school curriculum. Introduced to the market in 2014, the exam is for anyone who wants to receive their high school equivalency credential, including those still under the age of 18. However, minors wishing to take the HiSET must check with their respective state’s requirements to confirm eligibility.

Quick Tip:

Except for one essay, the HiSET is composed entirely of multiple-choice questions, so learn the strategies for eliminating wrong answers as well as choosing the right one. Many of the choices include negative words like “except” and “least” to prompt the test taker to identify which of the answers are incorrect. “When studying for multiple-choice questions make sure you’re able to distinguish between a good answer and the best answer,” advises Ithier.


Like the HiSET, the TASC (Test Assessing Secondary Completion) is a relatively new high school equivalency exam that provides another GED alternative. Those under the age of 18 are usually able to take the TASC, as long as they meet other eligibility requirements.

Quick Tip:

The TASC has a reputation for being the most difficult of the three high school equivalency exams, and if you take this one, it’s a good idea to brush up on your math skills. It’s only permissible to use a calculator on half of the math questions, so proficiency with mental math and pencil-and-paper calculations is a plus.

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The NEDP (National External Diploma Program) is unique in that it’s not an exam and doesn’t provide a high school equivalency credential. Instead, it’s a self-paced program that results in the issuance of a high school diploma from the state’s respective education department.

Because the program takes place largely online and is self-paced, the time to complete it will vary based on the participant. The typical time to completion is between six and 12 months. Part of the NEDP requirements include applying knowledge to professional and life contexts, so participants can use their life experiences to meet program requirements. All these characteristics make the NEDP great for adults seeking a traditional high school diploma.

Quick Tip:

Learn how to leverage what you already know and be able to apply academic learning to real-world tasks. A large portion of the NEDP tests participants on their level of practical knowledge, such as being able to engage in comparison shopping to find the best deal or gauging the impact of different interest rates among financial products.


The GED (General Educational Development or General Equivalency Diploma) exam is the most well-known and widely accepted high school equivalency exam. It’s the most popular way to obtain a high school equivalency credential, with the vast majority of postsecondary schools and employers accepting it.

Quick Tip:

The GED includes lots of different styles of questions, including multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, short answer and extended response (essay), so get comfortable with each format. The language arts portion of the exam requires the most complex essay response, asking test takers to read two differing viewpoints on a topic and write an essay that explains which one was best and why. Students can familiarize themselves with this style of writing by reading persuasive essays and articles and picking up strategies for evaluating arguments.

Study Strategies

No matter which test you take, preparation is key. Develop a plan to choose which test will likely emphasize your strengths, give yourself ample time to study for it, and be ready when you walk through the door (with your ID)! Here, we offer some tips for gearing up in the months leading up to the test, as well as how to handle the exam itself.

Getting Ready

Taking the Test

Which Exam Is Right For You?

Just a few years ago, the GED was pretty much the only game in town. Now, there are several high school equivalency exams available, so it may be difficult to decide which one to take. Deciding on the best one will depend on several factors, including the personal traits of the person taking the exam.

Additional Resources

For more information about studying and taking a high school equivalency test, check out the following resources.

CareerOneStop – High School Equivalency: Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, CareerOneStop provides comprehensive information to individuals interested in advancing their professional careers, including taking a high school equivalency exam.

IXL: IXL offers learning help over a comprehensive array of school subjects from kindergarten through 12th grade. Some resources are available only to paying members, but there are still many subject area practice materials available for free.

HiSET: On the test’s official website, prospective exam takers can learn more about what’s involved, such as choosing a test center, exam practice materials and state-specific requirements.

CliffsNotes: CliffsNotes is in the business of selling test prep materials, but also has plenty of free information, including a detailed overview of the different sections of the GED.

GED Testing Service: This is the official website for the GED, which is offered jointly by the American Council on Education and Pearson VUE. Here, individuals can get comprehensive information about the GED, including test prep materials.

Quizlet: Quizlet offers free test prep materials and resources to students looking for study materials online, including some designed specifically for high school equivalency exams. Simply type the name of the desired test into the search bar.

Khan Academy: The Khan Academy is one of the leaders in free online education. Its website provides lessons in a plethora of subjects, many of which are included in high school equivalency exams.

Magoosh – GED Basics: Magoosh is a leader in online test prep, and while they charge for many of their detailed test prep services, individuals can obtain a wealth of free knowledge about high school equivalency exams, including the GED.

National External Diploma Program (NEDP): The NEDP is administered by CASA. Students looking for more information about the NEDP can find it here, including how to complete the program online.

National Literacy Directory: The National Literacy Directory provides a database for adult learners to find local tutoring on academic subjects and on preparing for high school equivalency exams. A free online database of videos where math experts explain a variety of math problems and concepts.

Purplemath: Purplemath is a free online study resource for those seeking additional practice with their math skills.

Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC): On the official website for the TASC, potential test takers can find out what the exam covers, where to take it and state rules.

ThoughtCo.: ThoughtCo. offers readers numerous articles about the various high school equivalency exams available, and tips on how to make the most of them.

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