We’re now in the fifth year of the “new” GED® test. What a long way we have come since we first introduced the idea back in 2009 of a new test edition aligned with college and career readiness content! Since 2014, we’ve continued to enhance the GED program, introducing many new features to our MyGED portal, new products to help students prepare, and our GED College Ready and College Ready+Credit performance designations to help students take advantage of postsecondary education opportunities, just to name a few.

Although our test content and item types will remain unchanged in 2019, we will be enhancing the format of the Reasoning Through Language Arts (RLA) Extended Response (ER) item next year. The format change is something you will hear more detail about in the coming months (and at our GEDTS Annual Conference in July), and it is based on research with students that we have conducted over the past several years.  This particular research has focused on what format changes we might consider making to the ER item that would provide clearer instructions and make it easier for students to respond to the item. As a result, we’ll be introducing some format changes that we think both teachers and students will find helpful – here’s a brief summary of them:

  • Enlarging the ER response box. Since we launched the test, the response box for the ER has always been visually small, with most of the screen “real estate” taken up by the stimulus material on the left hand side of the screen, and the prompt itself on the top right-hand side of the screen. Even though we’ve always stressed the important of a response of 300-500 words, the small response box has given a strong visual cue that has subliminally encouraged students to write shorter, not longer, responses. Next year, we’ll expand the response space to take up about half of the total screen space – the entire right-hand half of the screen. In our research, students that had this format wrote significantly longer and better responses than students with the current small response box format.
  • Enhancing the instructions. In the current ER format, the instructions are located in two different places – some of the instructions are part of the prompt on the right-hand side of the screen, but the rest of the instructions are in an exhibit called “Answer Guidelines” that students need to click on separately to view.  Our research has shown that very few students actually click on the Answer Guidelines, and as a result, their responses often don’t meet the expectations we have for performance. In 2019, we will get rid of the answer guidelines and place all of the instructions on the left-hand side of the screen in a more clearly formatted presentation, that will help students understand how to best plan, write, and edit their response.
  • Removing the tabs from the stimulus material. When we first introduced our new test, our usability research showed that students had a great deal of difficulty with scrolling up and down to see the reading material that accompanies the ER item.  Because of this, we distributed the readings across several “tabs” on the left-hand side of the screen in order to minimize scrolling. However, our students’ use of technology has greatly increased over the past several years, and our current research has found that today’s examinees are more comfortable with scrolling (possibly due to the increased use of smartphones in which scrolling is a common activity). In 2019 our reformatting will present all of the instructions on an initial tab, but the entire reading passage or passages will be contained on a second tab that students will scroll up and down to read. Our studies have shown that students not only liked the scrolling format better, but the revised format also made it easier for them to locate specific evidence or details in the passage as they develop their argument in their response to the item.

This is just a brief overview of the changes, and we’ll provide you with examples of how the screens will look later this year as we get closer to implementation. It’s important to remember that these are only formatting changes, and the none of the requirements have changed, so teachers should continue to do the same type of instruction as has been in place. Watch this column for more details!

–Martin Kehe, Vice President of Assessment Services for GED Testing Service