Adult Ed
GED exams
Practice GED exams
Pursuing a Degree in Nursing
Teaching with a GED
GED Writing Test Requirement
Computer access and training
Re-taking the GED
Pre-employment skills

I teach a Saturday morning GED class, with our time devoted mainly to math and writing. Practice test scores in reading are not as high as they should be, with most of my students' errors in the area of fiction. What can I do in our short time together to help my students become stronger in that particular area?

A: In the best of all possible worlds, our students would read novels and short stories, which would lead to class discussion and appropriate assignments. You should encourage everyone to get a library card. Help facilitate that by providing them the locations and phone numbers or e-mail addresses of the branches in their area.

The GED Connection Language Arts: Writing & Reading Book would be an excellent text for your class. It is possible that many of your students come from other countries and are not familiar with contemporary literature. And others, who left school early, may never have taken a serious course in high school English. This book will give them an excellent orientation and much time to read selected fiction and to practice. Chapter 13 is devoted to fiction.

This statement taken from page 271 of the above-mentioned book puts it in a nutshell:

"The ability to read and understand fiction is important to your success on the GED Reading Test. Most important will be your ability to understand the characters in fiction, to identify a story's point of view, to appreciate the contribution of conflict and the setting to a story, and to identify themes and writing style."

You should try to reprint (for classroom purposes only) some short stories that you can assign for at-home reading and discussion as a group later on.

The following will aid you in introducing students to literary terms that will help them answer questions posed on the reading test: it is a comprehensive list of literary terms that your students will find useful while navigating through the reading of short stories.

Character Development: the change in a character from the beginning to the conclusion of the story.

Characterization: the ways a writer shows what a character is like. The way a character acts, speaks, thinks, and looks defines that person.

Climax: the turning point of a story.

Conflict: a struggle or difference of opinion between characters. Sometimes a character may clash with a force of nature.

Dialogue: the exact words that a character says: usually the conversation between two characters.

Foreshadowing: clues that hint or suggest what will happen later in the story.

Inner conflict: a struggle that takes place in the mind of a character.

Main Character: the person the story is mostly about.

Mood: the feeling or atmosphere that the writer creates. For example, the mood of a story might be joyous or suspenseful.

Motive: the reason behind a character's actions.

Narrator: the person who tells the story. Usually, the narrator is the writer or a character in the story.

Plot: the series of incidents or happenings in a story. The plot is the outline or arrangement of events.

Purpose: the reason the author wrote the story. For example, an author's purpose might be to amuse or entertain, to convince or to inform.

Setting: the time and place of the action in a story; where and when the action takes place.

Style: the way in which a writer uses language. The choice and arrangement of words and sentences help to create the writer's style.

Theme: the main or central idea of a story.

I am teaching a mixed basic education and GED class for people who are training to be health care workers in city hospitals and health facilities. We do have some required texts, but I am always looking for more engaging materials that touch on the subject of health and nutrition. Are there any TV programs that might touch on these subjects?

The Mysterious Human Heart has been aired recently on Channel Thirteen in three one-hour segments and most assuredly will be shown again. (Check your Thirteen or PBS listings) Even without watching, your students can use the Discussion Guide that accompanied the programs as an excellent learning tool. They will learn important and current information about cardiovascular disease, its effects on men, women and families and how to keep themselves healthy.

The guide contains challenging questions on pages 3, 5 and 7. One might use those questions for homework assignments, essay practice and class discussion. I sent the Guide to all of my distance Learning GED students with an assignment to write a response to any of the questions. Here's an example:

"I want to thank you for letting me watch this program. It was an eye opener…Lastly; I suggest that there should be more shows on this subject for little children in school. It would be a joy if all of us would understand that we don't have time to waste but need to make lifestyle choices right now for a healthier future."

You can use the guide successfully even if you and your class have not seen the programs. You will be able to use it for more than one class assignment, especially for your slower readers.

On page 13, you will find a comprehensive list of resources including free materials, available through websites and/or 800 phone numbers.

If you want copies of the guide for your class, please contact If there are none left, you can download it from the series Web site at You can also photocopy the guide.

I have taught in elementary schools for a long time and am now teaching GED preparation for the first time. I seem to have the required teaching materials but do not yet know how to gauge when it is appropriate to send people to take the real test. Can you give me some guidance?

The Official GED Practice Tests can help you and your students to decide if they are ready to take the actual test. Each practice test takes half the time and has half the number of questions as on the real test. These practice tests are a good barometer of test readiness, giving the student an idea of what subject to focus on and whether or not more study is required before submitting an application to take the exam.

According to the GED Information Bulletin put out by the General Educational Development Testing Service, the Official GED Practice Tests are similar to those on the GED Tests in "content, difficulty, and format."

When giving the practices, it is essential to time your students accurately so they can become accustomed to the pressure of a timed test.

At the present time, there are seven different complete Official Practice Tests available. They are the PA through the PG.

If your program does not order materials for you, you can obtain copies of the practice tests by calling the publisher, Steck-Vaughan Company at 1-800-531-5015. A package of five complete tests now costs $32.50.

GED exams

  I am concerned that some of my adult students are doing poorly on the Science GED Practice Tests; many of them fare better on the social studies and reading tests. What can I do to help them improve their scores?

My immediate response would be to focus on vocabulary.

Here are some practical suggestions:

If you are a classroom GED teacher, you can hand out a list of pertinent words related to the chapter or scientific theme that you are presenting. Some GED preparation books highlight pertinent vocabulary, while others contain a glossary of terms at the back of the book.

Try to get obtain a copy of a Pre-GED Science workbook to introduce the basics. For example, Contemporary introduces key words in a box at the beginning of each chapter, as well as a glossary at the end of the book. This is very helpful to older students who have been away from the subject for years, or who may never have taken any science classes at all.

The GED Connection Social Studies & Science workbook introduces each chapter with key points to think about and follows with vocabulary and simple definitions that will be covered in the chapter. Skills practices include fill-in exercises using those new words. The same vocabulary is highlighted in the text of each chapter reinforcing the terminology, yet again.

Many teachers require students to read articles in the Science Times, appearing every Tuesday in the New York Times. The November 11, 2003 issue entitled “Does Science Matter?” contains essential vocabulary and intriguing, highly readable articles including the brain, gravity, the environment, anatomy and nutrition to mention just a few.

Try assigning one pertinent article each week from the Times, or another scientific journal. It should not be overly technical. Ask students to look up unfamiliar words in the dictionary. Be sure to emphasize the importance of writing the definitions down. It aids retention of new material. This is an excellent home-work assignment.

Learning new scientific terminology has immediate benefits vis-à-vis the GED practice tests and the actual GED test. For your students, the increased comfort with this special technical language will connect them to the major breakthroughs in our world and the worlds beyond that command the headlines these days. Watching the news or special programs, e.g. Nova is exciting when your students and their families can watch and really understand. Ownership of this specialized vocabulary can be the bridge to enjoyment of these kinds of programs.

GED exams

 Do you know anyone in the literacy community who uses closed-caption TV (CCTV) programming as an aid in helping GED students?

  According to the research conducted for ESL Literacy Education, (Eric Digest EDO-LE-94-02), there has been increasing awareness of the potential of CCTV in the field and much data to back up its claims. Carolyn Parks documented the improved reading comprehension skills of ESL students in the Eric Digest bulletin cited above.

If this increasingly available and free learning tool works for ESL adult learners, it can be used as an ancillary teaching tool for GED students as well; a goodly number of our GED students are not native born and often find that vocabulary and lack of speed hinder their progress when preparing for the GED exam. That is also true of many of our adult students who have not made reading an essential part of their daily lives. learning

CCTV is now available on almost all new model television sets at no additional cost and is a useful piece of the technology that can help teachers help their students outside of class.

According to the data, those adults who have used captioned materials do improve in all aspects of reading comprehension and the attendant skills. Most importantly, the motivation to read increases!

When you suggest that students watch a TV program along with the closed captions, you should be aware that some programs are captioned verbatim while others are shortened for ease of reading while listening. Some follow after the spoken text, other programs (taped in advance) seem to be simultaneous even if they contain less of the spoken text. To be on the safe side, you should try watching a suggested program in advance of assigning it as a reading incentive activity.

Practice GED exams

 I teach a Saturday GED class in Brooklyn. I have the basic curriculum organized and some of the practice tests. What I need to share with my students are the specifics of the tests themselves. How long is each test and how many questions are there?

 If you take a practice test and double the number of questions and double the time limit, you will have the answer for each one. ( Language Arts Writing Part II is the obvious exception. Practice test essay and actual test essay allow 45 minutes.)

Yours is a very good question because it seems self-explanatory. In fact, the students need to hear the actual timing and number of questions every time you give a practice test so they will absorb the reality that the real test is two times the practice. You cannot emphasize this enough. You should try to find full-length practices to be given as homework assignments. The GED Connection workbooks, those that accompany the GED Connection TV series, give full-length pre and post tests for each of the five subject areas.

All of the commercial GED materials give practice tests to assess test readiness. Usually the number of questions reflects a full-length test; the time permitted is not always accurate. Encourage your students to practice these kinds of full length tests, using the permitted time limits until they feel as comfortable as they do when taking the half -length official practice tests.

Here are the five subject tests, the items and the time limits taken from the Information Bulletin published by the GED Testing Service, American Council on Education. This precise information is usually given in the preface pages of commercial GED books.

Part I - Language Arts 50 questions 75 minutes
Part II - Language Arts Essay 45 minutes
Social Studies 50 questions 70 minutes
Science 50 questions 80 minutes
Language Arts, Reading 40 questions 65 minutes
Mathematics, Part I
(calculator use optional)
25 questions 45 minutes
Mathematics Part II
(no calculator use)
25 questions 45 minutes

Pursuing a Degree in Nursing

 I have some incoming students who want to pursue nursing careers. How can I help them?

 They need to be tested and evaluated along with your other students for appropriate placement in classes. Having a GED diploma is a requirement for entry into an LPN program.

If you teach in a regular Adult Ed program, you have your assessment tools available in the form of the complete battery of TABE tests. Some GED teachers use practice GED tests to assess readiness for the GED curriculum. It is crucial for a student to be placed in a class where the reading is at his/her level. If it is too difficult, the student doesn't understand; if it is too easy, the student is losing valuable time needed to move ahead. A student may have to be placed in a pre-GED class until reading at the level required to enter the GED class.

Teaching with a GED

I was just wondering, if I go and get my GED, can I still be a teacher?

 Please take a glance at our response to the Current student's question. I am confident that you would be giving a similar answer if the question came up in one of your classes. I want to add a few suggestions, which may be useful to you as a classroom GED teacher.

If you are teaching GED preparation in a rural community, look into the closest community college to see what is offered. If possible, plan a trip with your class to see what kinds of opportunities there are, not only for potential teachers but also for all of your students. Arrange to have someone from that school come by and address your class or classes. The application process, financial aid, course choice are often scary ideas to many folks and these sessions help to demystify the process.

Here's a resource for students in New York City. CUNY admissions has a walk-in center at 101 West 31st Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues) on the 6th floor. It is open Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays from 9am to 5:30pm and on Thursdays from 10am to 5:30pm. Phone: (212) 290-5601.

The GED diploma is only the first step these days, as you know. If your program has any counselors who help advise students, have them visit your class to answer questions related to college. It is wise to begin that discussion now well in advance of February and June deadlines or whatever they may be at the schools in your area.

If you teach in a metropolitan area, there are usually many college fairs organized for adult students as well as high school juniors and seniors. If you are not in touch with those colleges directly, there are usually announcements made on the college websites.

GED Writing Test Requirement

Regarding the essay portion of the Language Arts, Writing, Part II:

We are noticing a discrepancy between the instructions given in the GED CONNECTION workbooks and the newly issued Practice Tests, (Form PA) for the GED 2002 Writing Test. The former indicate a 250- word requirement, the latter says, "Your essay should be long enough to develop the topic adequately." We want to be sure that there is no longer a word minimum. Please corroborate.

The above quote from the GED Practice Test is the same as the instructions given to the students taking the actual test. There is no word count in the directions for the essay. The test takers do have to develop their response to the topic adequately and have been given two lined pages for the final draft of their essay. This information has been received from John Reier, Writing Test Specialist at the GED Testing Services.

Caren Van Slyke, GED Connection Designer and Workbook Editor has added additional information, which may prove useful to teachers in preparing students to write successful essays.

1. Well-focused main points
2. Clear organization
3. Development and detail
4. Correct use of Edited American English (grammar, sentence structure, spelling, punctuation and capitalization)
5. Appropriate word choice

Computer access and training

Do you have suggestions for integrating computer literacy with ESL Level 2? We have no network and no Internet access. I would like to integrate MS Word into a class writing unit. Sixteen of our computers have Windows 95.

I like introducing students to the word processor, regardless of reading level and language ability. It is always exciting to watch students grow by learning the technology as they begin to write or improve skills in English.

I hope that your ESL students will be able to practice what they learn by meeting more than once a week. Otherwise, you may find yourself starting all over again the next session. If meeting once a week is your class's only option, be sure you review at the beginning of each session and during the week as well. Talk about what was learned when you are away from the computer. Perhaps you can make study sheets with sample instructions, appropriate to their reading ability. For example, "How do you start the computer? Where is the on/off button? How do you save your work?" It is a good idea to prepare students in advance for the next computer session. Appropriate computer vocabulary can be added to lists of words that you include in your lessons when you are away from the machines.

A word of caution: If you think you are proceeding slowly, try going even slower. Some students are often "hot to trot," while others may feel lost or discouraged if the pace is too rapid for them. The more advanced students can always help others. This is good reinforcement and takes pressure off the instructor. Students are learning the basics as they begin composing their words on the computer.

Here is a lesson that was a huge hit with a combined Basic Ed Two/ESL class. We introduced the group to computer basics through a drawing project using Paintbrush (a program included in Windows 95). The students first practiced turning the computer on and off. We spent as much time as was needed drawing lines and squiggles to make them feel comfortable using the mouse.

Each student was to create a simple pictorial story with some kind of explanatory text. Here is an example: What did the house you grew up in look like? Who lived there? This is an open-ended assignment. Students draw their houses or apartments and the inhabitants. They can provide the text for the story anywhere they choose. Examples include, "My brother and my sister lived in the house." It can be as simple as using the alphabet to spell the names of family members, pets, or farm animals. With your help, they can save the material, print it (assuming you have a printer), put it in their folder, and work on it the next session.

Something so simple can be very powerful. Your adult learners will be so proud of their efforts. The work can be displayed or compiled into a booklet that you print. (Students can make and design their own books or do a group project.) This kind of activity can be designed around your learning objective, and tailored to the ability of each student at the same time.

Another wonderful way to use the computer for your ESL students is to have them write letters to friends or family members in English. This again can be streamlined to fit your schedule and student needs. A simple "Dear Cousin" letter can be so satisfying -- especially so if there is a response.

Other simple writing projects using the computer can be designing letterhead, learning about fonts and type size, writing actual letters to a utility company, or creating greeting cards.


A most useful book is Antonia Stone's KEYSTROKES TO LITERACY, USING THE COMPUTER AS A LEARNING TOOL FOR ADULT BEGINNING READERS, National Textbook Company, Lincolnwood, Illinois, 1991. ISBN number is 0844206792. The book is available through the publisher at 800-323-4900 or through their Web site (

Another excellent resource is The Literacy Assistance Center. Its free publication, Literacy Update, is worth reading. Check out their Web site (

Re-taking the GED

How should I advise those students who have not passed their GED test which parts to retake? Are there strategies that I can pass on to them about good ways to approach a multiple-choice test?

A number of factors need to be considered when one is making suggestions to students and helping them to come up with a sensible strategy. Passing with a minimum score of 2250 is not always enough. Does the student need to get a higher score because of the entry requirements for a job or further education? Are the students aiming high enough to match their potential?

It is always advisable to encourage them to aim as high as they can and certainly to have higher numbers on their practice tests to leave a margin for error before they set a date to retake the test. Taking many timed practice tests is important as test time approaches.

Another factor to be considered is the length of the test. Some students do well, one test at a time. We always discourage people from trying to do it all in one sitting; that's a large order. It is often good to take one test in addition to the ones that have to be retaken. Doing well in a comfortable subject is very positive, and that positive feeling often carries over to the more difficult ones.

I find myself increasingly concerned about the quality of instruction before people take the test again. Most of them want to go on to higher education or some professional training program where many of the same skills are required as on the GED test but at higher-grade level. If it is not learned well before, the person, even with a GED, may be thrown into remedial classes and if there is tuition involved, this could become an added financial burden.

Strategies for taking the test itself should be practiced, especially if one of your students has not passed the first time around.

With multiple choice tests, time is of the essence, and dawdling over one question is time lost for questions later on that will be easier to answer. If unsure, jot down a little mark alongside the number. Then if there is time at the end of the test, the student can go back and think over the first answer.

Some people advise looking at the answers before reading the selection. Furthermore, some think it wise to figure out your own answer before looking at the choices presented.

By their nature, multiple-choice tests look for the obvious, quick response. Choose the closest answer, even if you think it isn't completely correct. Look for helpful clue words and be sure to read all of the answers before deciding on one.

Understanding the question itself is highly important. Sometimes the question is made up of several statements and the answer has to be true for all of them. Break down as much as you can into smaller segments. Also to find the exact question, begin at the question mark, go left until the beginning, which will have a capital letter. That is the main part of the question.

This is perhaps obvious but should be included in test taking preparation. Absolutes are to be avoided. If a question has every, always, never, all and none watch out! Tend to be, might, seldom, generally are safer words in a question.

When checking over your answers near the end of the test, be absolutely sure that all of the answers are in the correct place.

It is okay to change an answer if you can convince yourself that the new answer is the better choice. Sometimes, answering questions later on in the exam will give you clues about questions that came before.

Erase well those marks that are not the answer itself. Machine-graded tests pick up everything.

Fill in all answers, as the examiner is about to pick up your exam. There is always the possibility of picking up an extra point.

Pre-employment skills

I'm looking for ways to integrate pre-employment skills within my traditional ABE program. Most of my students are young adults from different backgrounds and cultural differences, which may get in the way of job retention. Any suggestions for Web sites, curricula, or programs to use will be greatly appreciated.

Your question is an important one. I would prefer to think of your student population as one that is unfamiliar with the workplace culture rather than placing the emphasis on its cultural differences. The need to prepare young people for the world of work exists across ethnic lines and my suggestions would be appropriate for any ABE class that is not already connected to a pre-vocational program or agency.

On e-mail

In addition to the Web addresses listed in our Useful Links section, the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education (AAAC) ( is a new listserv for adult educators. It provides a way for educators in the field of adult literacy to share information and resources. To subscribe to the list, send an e-mail message to the list request address: The subject of the message should be "Subscribe." Include your name and e-mail address and you should get a confirmation message back saying you have been subscribed.

If your classroom does not have computers or access to the Internet, you can plan a trip with your class to the local public library to have a training session on how to use technology. Most public libraries have excellent vocational resources to investigate.

In print

Another way to get information about pre-employment training is with printed resources. The following three publishers come highly recommended by colleagues working in job readiness programs that train young people for the working world:

Curriculum Associates: 1(800) 225-0248

Curtis Associates: 1(800) 658-4399

Jist Publishing, Indianapolis: 1 (888) 333-3460

Their catalogs offer workforce textbooks, videotapes, and materials, which can be woven into a curriculum. You might want to request review copies, to try them out on your students.

On your own

I like preparing my own materials, those that require students to participate actively and thoughtfully. One lesson which can be used as a writing experience, or a role-play activity, I gleaned from a list I found of common reasons why companies say "no" to prospective employees. I have chosen the ones that might be appropriate for your particular group. Everything in that list can be part of a single lesson or group activity or provide themes for the whole semester. The list covers the substance of workplace literacy, the definition of goals, and so forth. These issues have to be addressed and understood if your students are to find and keep meaningful jobs.

Companies reject candidates because of:
  1. Poor communication skills.
  2. Inability to articulate clear goals or future career direction.
  3. Lack of match between skills or academic background and position.
  4. Insufficient technical competence for job.
  5. Lack of relevant work experience, part-time or summers.
  6. Appearance - wanting in professional presence: dress, grooming.
As for job retention, which you posed in your question, employers cite these same reasons for letting people go. Lateness and calling in sick seem to win first prize. Not getting along with others or poor attitude come in second.

Most students can do the work, if they want to succeed. Other issues affecting job readiness would have to include childcare. Mothers looking for employment have to be sure their childcare is in place with alternative solutions before accepting a full-time job. Learning how to phone in if one cannot get to work is an essential job skill. Having a good alarm clock is an essential tool.


Your local public television station may offer the program WORKPLACE ESSENTIAL SKILLS, a wonderful series designed to help adults deal with work-related issues. (Check our ITV Schedule for showtimes in the New York metropolitan area.) It instructs the viewer how to write a resume and how to handle a job interview. I find it lively and appealing.

Suggestions, resume enhancers
  • Encourage your students who have no work history to begin to explore ways to get some. Volunteering at senior citizen centers, or day-care centers are wonderful experiences for young people and great confidence builders. There are internships in many companies for young people.
  • Try to arrange for visits to actual work sites so they can see them for themselves.
  • Invite professionals in appropriate fields to come and speak to your class.
  • Get in touch with your state or local department of labor, the state education department, department of human services, or the public assistance agency in your region. Students can even write these letters, exercising an important skill in the workplace. Many states now have workforce centers, which have programs for jobless young people. Some of these centers require that young people who receive public assistance attend their programs.
  • Try to include vocabulary of the work-a-day world in your reading and writing activities to help your students bridge the gap and catch up. They should be conversant with the language of computers and the special vocabulary of their career choice.