Since 1942, the General Education Development (GED) test has served as a way for those who didn’t complete high school to obtain academic recognition before moving on to college or into the work force. Originally designed by the American Council on Education (ACE) with veterans returning from war in mind, the test has gone through a number of overhauls, each time in order to comply with newly implemented educational standards. The latest iteration — issued by both the ACE and for-profit testing service Pearson — has raised eyebrows across the academic world for one simple reason: it may be too hard.

Updated in order to comply with Common Core standards, the 2014 iteration of the GED has been criticized by some as being significantly harder than the previous version, issued in 2002. In 2014, just 58,524 people passed the GED. In 2013, when the 2002 version of the test was still in use, that number was 540,535, amounting to a nearly 90 percent year-over-year decline. At The Daily Beast, Ivy League graduate Matt Collette recounts his surprise when he learned just how difficult the new test was, writing, “I spent nearly seven hours taking the test, wracking my brain for details I haven’t thought about since 2005, when I graduated from high school. When it was all over, I felt exhausted and dumb.”

In Collette’s post, he speaks with GED Testing Service spokesman, CT Turner. According to Turner, in the years leading up to the overhaul, the value of a GED was plummeting, noting that a GED alone was unlikely to increase one’s earning potential. The new version of the test is meant to more closely measure modern high school equivalence, restoring the test’s credibility and value.

In an interview with NPR, ACE vice president Nicole Chestang acknowledges the reasoning behind the most recent changes, defending the harder exam, saying, “I think we’re doing people a real disservice if we don’t raise the bar so they are positioned for today’s jobs.”

While attempting to buoy the test’s worth would seem to be a positive step for both testtakers and administrators, the heightened difficulty could present more challenges for testtakers looking to improve their financial situation (which is a big reason why people take the test in the first place). If the test is harder to pass, people without a solid income may be less inclined to risk spending the money to take it, particularly if they’ve failed it once already. Based on the 2002 version, 85 percent of those who failed the test did not re-take it. Given that the new version is both harder and more expensive (Oh yeah, did we forget to mention the 2014 test is significantly more expensive than its predecessor in a number of states?), there’s little hope that the 85 percent figure will improve anytime soon.

Regardless of these changes, it seems that the GED’s era of dominance may be coming to a close. In 12 states, those looking to receive high school equivalency accreditation have the option to instead take the aptly-named High School Equivalency Test (HiSET), and in nine states, students can take McGraw-Hill’s Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC). Advocates for GED alternatives argue that the lower-cost options made available through HiSET and TASC are simply a fairer option. Additionally, some have raised concern that the GED’s for-profit shift incentivizes failure, as partner Pearson will then be able to cash in on test-prep courses and books. It was this concern that sparked the GED alternative movement, leading the nonprofit organization, ETS, to team with the University of Iowa in creation of HiSET.

Whether you plan to take one of the high school equivalency exams, learn a new language, pick up a new hobby, learn to play piano, or just generally do something new and awesome, self-improvement is always a great thing; it’s just a shame that at least one of these outlets is becoming increasingly inaccessible to those who need it most.

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