Is the GED Harder Than High School?

Is the GED Harder Than High School?

Are you wondering if a GED diploma is right for you? You aren’t alone: around 11% of U.S. adults don’t have a high school diploma or equivalent.

You can’t take full advantage of most employment and higher education opportunities if you lack a high school credential. A GED can help you fill this gap.

Is the GED test more difficult than graduating high school? Is it better to get a high school diploma or a GED?

The answer depends on you and your goals in life. It can be tough to make such an impactful decision. This complete GED guide has the info you need so you can determine the best options for your own individual future.

What is the GED?

GED formally stands for General Educational Development. Many states and other testing services use different references such as the General Equivalency Diploma, Graduate Equivalency Degree, or similar combinations. Ultimately, they all refer to the same test.

The GED goes back to WWII. Many military service members had enlisted before completing high school, so the American Council on Education (ACE) developed the GED as a solution in 1942.

A high school equivalency diploma meant these service members could still find jobs or pursue higher education. It was expanded in 1947 to include civilians.

Current GED Standards

Because it’s over 80 years old, you obviously won’t be taking the same GED test as WWII vets. It’s undergone several significant changes and revisions since then.

The last major revision was in 2014. The GED regularly changes other important factors like scoring, however. Many online resources are outdated, so make sure to use sites with the most current GED information.

GED Test Format

Publishing company Pearson, which administers the test, phased out traditional bubble sheet testing in the mid-2000s. The GED test is now in computer format only.

There are two places you can test:

  • Online

  • Official test-center

The GED was test-center exclusive until the COVID pandemic. The online test version was made available so students could still test during lockdowns and social distancing. Both testing methods are closed-book and proctored.

GED Test Material

The GED tests the academic benchmarks used in high schools. It’s divided into four main sections:

You can take each section separately at your own pace. For example, you may decide to take one exam every Friday until they’re all complete. You must receive a passing score in every section to earn your GED.

GED Availability

GED programs are managed at the state level. There are currently nine states who don’t participate in GED testing services:

  • Indiana

  • Iowa

  • Louisiana

  • Maine

  • Missouri

  • Montana

  • New Hampshire

  • Tennessee

  • West Virginia

These states use the HiSET (High School Equivalency Test) exam instead. The HiSET has a few important distinctions from the GED. Choosing between a HiSET and a high school diploma is comparable to the same process for a GED, however.

GED Test vs High School Diploma

Is the GED more difficult than high school? The answer depends on you and how you learn. Some people may find high school’s higher course load to be harder, while others may struggle to learn the GED material at such a fast pace.

The GED material itself is similar to the coursework you’d learn in high school. There are additional key factors that will affect which learning path is right for you.


One of the first steps is determining your eligibility. Like the GED, high school diplomas are managed at the state level. Some high schools can even differ by county, district, or individual policies.

Eligibility may limit you to one option over the other, regardless of other factors. If you cannot meet the requirements, you must either wait to become eligible or pick the currently available option.

1. GED Eligibility

General GED requirements can include:

  • 16-18 years minimum age

  • State residency

  • No high school diploma

  • Not currently enrolled in high school classes

  • Successful completion of pre-coursework and/or testing

State requirements can vary significantly. North Dakota, for instance, doesn’t require state residency and their minimum age is 16. There’s no required prep work either, but there is a mandatory Civics exam.

In Hawaii, by contrast, the minimum age is 18. There are no residency rules, but test-takers must complete at least 60 hours of additional instruction. You cannot receive your official GED diploma without meeting this minimum.

Generally, GED eligibility is easier to meet. You can take the GED at any age above the minimum. You can also use GED programs in situations where regular attendance isn’t an option, such as correctional facilities or long term care hospitals.

2. High School Diploma Eligibility

General high school requirements can include:

  • 20-21 maximum age

  • School district residency

  • No legal restrictions

  • Regular attendance

  • Successful completion of credit hours, extracurriculars, and/or exams

High school diploma requirements can vary more than the GED. There are many different types of high schools (public, private, charter, homeschooling, etc.) with their own conditions for eligibility and graduation.

Alternative high schools are a lesser-known option that can offer non-traditional instruction. This especially helps students who would not complete their credit hour requirements due to missed or failed classes. If you’re a current student struggling with issues like attendance or grades, check out alternative high school options in your district.


The GED and a high school diploma have similar academic material. This includes foundational benchmarks for reading, writing, and math.

The GED includes social studies and science. But it won’t have separate tests for elective subjects such as STEM, business, art, and foreign language.

It also won’t include extracurriculars such as music, drama, or sports. If you’re exploring college scholarships, the lack of extracurriculars and electives can affect some of your options (although a GED can open up other options).

High school classes will also have a much higher coursework load than a GED, even if your state requires prep courses. Standard coursework includes daily assignments, tests, and large projects. High schools also average up to 17.5 hours of homework a week.

Completion Time

Most public high schools have very limited options to skip subjects you already mastered. Even if your state requires prep work, a GED is generally much faster.

You may complete all your GED tests in one day. Standard public high schools require 3-4 years of instruction. Generally, you can only shorten this time if you are in a special program or taking flexible classes in an alternate form of schooling.


The GED consists of 4 main tests for each knowledge area. Each test has its own timer and score. GED prep courses may consist of pre-tests and post-tests that make sure you’ve mastered the material before taking the official tests.

High school will consist of numerous tests to help you learn. This means regular tests such as pop quizzes, practice tests, and exit exams. Many high schools also use midterms and final exams.

States also have their own assessment tests. For example, Texas uses the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) system to check student performance at grade level.


A high school diploma is universal. It’s considered the standard high school credential. The GED is accepted in most places, but acceptance can still come with caveats.

1. Education

The GED is considered valid by over 98% of colleges. Even Ivy League schools will accept admissions from GED candidates.

A GED can require you to take additional placement tests, however, or limit admission to certain programs. If you have a specific college program already in mind, verify they accept GED candidates or find out their conditions for acceptance.

2. Employment

A GED can also affect your employment in both private and public sectors. For example, the military caps GED holders to a certain percentage. They must also score higher on the ASVAB to be enlistment eligible.

Some branches are stricter on GED acceptance than others. The Army accepts the most, while the Air Force admits only around 1% of GED candidates. If you have dreams of being an Air Force officer, a GED can make this pathway more difficult (although still not impossible.)

How to Get a GED

The GED is more flexible to unusual life situations. It’s a valid alternative if high school isn’t a realistic option. There are even many successful celebrities, politicians, and athletes with a GED.

Most states offer the GED test at reduced or even free prices. Some private non-profits will pay test fees for certain candidates. If you decide to get your GED, there are lots of organizations that want you to succeed and can provide resources to help.

GED Prep

GED prep is very straightforward. Don’t pay hundreds of dollars to prepare for the GED test. There are numerous free guides and tools instead.

Union Test Prep offers free GED practice tests, study guides, and flashcards, for example. Studying for the GED test in advance will help you feel more familiar with the types of questions you will encounter on test day. Preparing can also save you time and money by avoiding retakes.

Official GED Test

Once you’re ready to take the official GED test, contact your state program. They’ll have the info you need about testing centers and qualifications.

You’re also allowed re-takes until you pass, so don’t stress! It doesn’t matter how difficult your journey to the GED was, all that matters is you pass it eventually and earn your high school credential.

This proves to employers and educators you can perform at the high school level, even if other factors have previously gotten in the way of your high school diploma. A GED may be all you need to start the college program and/or career of your dreams.

Get Started on Your Success Today!

The GED is for everyone, no matter their life situation. If a high school diploma isn’t practical for you, the GED test will keep your educational and employment options open.

Are you still searching for premium GED prep resources? Take advantage of all the free study tools our site has to offer! Create your free account today!

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