The GED Math Tests:
What does it Take?
by Myrna Manly
This article appeared in the September/October 1991 issue of GED Items (ISSN 0896-0518; Volume 8, No. 4/5), published by the GED Testing Service of the American Council on Education. Myrna Manly is a mathematics instruction consultant and former Math Test Editor for the Tests of General Educational Development (GED Tests).
The GED Math Tests: What does it Take?
For the past few years (since leaving my position as the GED Mathematics Test Editor), I have been consulting with agencies across the country that want to improve their math instruction. From Maine to Iowa, I have conducted workshops for teachers and supervisors. In my workshops, I present ways to teach math that focus on problem-solving skills rather than on the rote strategies of computation.
To ensure that all participants are aware that the GED Mathematics Test is a test of problem-solving skills, I begin each workshop by asking them to take the test-one of the forms of the Official GED Practice Tests [published by Steck-Vaughn, 8701 North MoPac Expressway, Austin, TX 78759-8364; 1-800-531-5015]. In addition to finding the answers to the problems, I ask the participants to analyze the test and determine such things as how many of the problems actually require the traditional paper and pencil algorithms, how many involve fractions, and how much algebra and geometry are required.
Then when everyone has the real requirements of the test in mind, I make suggestions as to how they could teach these concepts without wasting a lot of the students' time.
Some of my suggestions are:
- Teach estimation skills.
- Use calculators in your classes.
- Integrate algebra as "generalized arithmetic" from the beginning of instruction.
- Encourage the use of common sense to solve problems.
Certain questions and "challenges" to my suggestions" always seem to arise during these workshops. The following is a sample of those questions and my answers.
- Q. How can you suggest that students use calculators in our classes when they are not allowed to use them on the actual GED Tests? Won't they become dependent on them and need that "crutch" during the test?
A. I recommend that all students have a calculator a their desks at all times to use whenever they want. This allows everyone equal access to the real stuff of mathematics-problem solving. the students learn to perceive the calculator as a tool to use whenever it is appropriate, not as a tool that will do everything for them. They learn that it is really appropriate only for problems that require tedious computation.
Q. Why doesn't the GED Testing Service allow the use of calculators on the test?
A. there are issues of test security and equity that need to be addressed satisfactorily before calculator use can be implemented. Speaking personally, I think that it would help to speed up consideration of calculator use if the GED Testing Service staff knew that the adult education community supports it. Perhaps we need to speak up on the issue.
Q. Many students come to our center for just a quick review of math, because they need to take the GED Tests within four to six weeks. What are the most important things to cover with these students?
A. the most common weakness in math skills is the inability to apply computation skills to real-life situations. Rather than reviewing computation, I suggest that you start with word problems. Help students analyze problems so they know when to add, subtract, multiply, and divide, and now to work through a multi-step problem. Also, Most students need to spend time learning how to write the problem in mathematical terms. This is especially important to prepare for the "set-up" items (those that require only the method of solution and not the actual answer) on the GED Mathematics Test. Since there are usually many ways to find and answer, students need to be able to recognize the correct answer choice even if it differs from their own method. Practicing this can be very beneficial, since 25% of the problems on each test form will be set-up items.
Q. Why is the test so tricky? The questions all seem to have a twist that confuses the student. Why don't they ask the questions straight out?
A. The test is not tricky. In fact, the GED Testing Service makes every effort to insure that the problems are straightforward, with one correct answer. However, the questions are more than routine. Remember, this is a test of problem solving, nor of rote procedures. Each item represents a problem that needs a solution, not merely a routine exercise to be performed. In this way, the test items measure the understanding of concepts, rather than the memorization of facts.
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