Changes to the GED that begin in January have given new meaning to cramming for the test, as students work to complete their high school equivalency degrees before the end of the year.
Those who have passed some parts, but not all five, of the GED by then will have to start over when the new test is rolled out. The change could affect about 1 million people nationwide, The Associated Press reported.
In Beaufort County, more than 400 people could be affected among the local programs.
The Beaufort County School District's adult education program is helping students finish preparation courses and pass the tests before time runs out.
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"Most of our students are really focusing on trying to complete the current test before 2014, so their hard work isn't lost," district director of adult education Juanita Murrell said. "But they've been very successful and doing what they need to do and getting that extra help and working online at home to get this done."
Nicole Chestang, executive vice president at GED Testing Service, told The AP the rush was expected. In 2001, the year before the last upgrade, there was a 30 percent increase in test takers nationwide, most toward the end of the year, she said.
The GED, which stands for general educational development, tests adult students on knowledge and skills that are taught during a typical high school education. The current test covers reading, writing, math, science and social studies.
It now costs $80 to take and is administered as a paper- and-pencil test, GED Testing Service spokesman Armando Diaz said.
The new test will cost $150 and be offered only on computer at authorized testing sites. The last paper test in the county will be Dec. 7, Murrell said.
The GED Testing Service is overseen by a public-private partnership between Pearson VUE, which makes educational materials, and the American Council on Education.
The Beaufort County program's main site at the district office in Beaufort became a Pearson VUE testing location in July and began offering the current test online for students, Murrell said.
The test has been offered every Friday since August to give students multiple opportunities before the end of the year to complete it. The program will offer the test every weekday during the beginning of December as the deadline draws near, she said.
About 10 to 15 people have been coming in for the test each week, Murrell said.
"The district's extra help is a good thing," said Dorothy Middleton, a student in the program who has one test section left to complete.
"This way you know what you need to do and that you have to pick up speed and finish with the time they give you, but once you get on the computer, you can learn what you need to and then you can finish in a breeze," she said.
This is Middleton's third attempt at earning her GED. She had to stop her studies two times before for reasons involving a family move and job hours. She's confident she will finish this time, but would start the series again if need-be.
Diaz said the changes to the test will be the most dramatic since it was released 70 years ago.
In addition to moving to the computer, the new GED will be reduced from five parts to four, with reading and writing sections combined into one language-arts reasoning section.
Perhaps the biggest change will be the test's rigor, which Diaz said will be aligned with Common Core standards and require more critical thinking. Common Core standards are designed to be consistent nationwide to ensure students in every state are ready for college or work.
The GED Testing Service will also launch a new website in December to help students prepare for the new test, take it, and prepare for the next step, whether it's college or a career. Students who have completed the current test will still be able to access the site for its "after the test" section, Diaz said.
Murrell said the new test will prepare students for real-world expectations. She said instructors in the program have started training to prepare students for the new test, and the program will begin to offer some classes on the new GED in December.
A S.C. Department of Education spokesman said the move to a computerized test will help future GED candidates.
"We live in a technology-driven society, and the new computerized GED test reflects this cultural change," Dino Teppara said. "We want to empower those seeking a GED to take control of their career."
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.