On Jan. 1, Washington and most other states will switch to a new computer-based testing system with four segments instead of five. The results from old tests will be thrown away, even for students who have passed all but one of the required sections.
Some worry the new tests also will be harder, but Lou Sager, administrator for the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges' high school equivalency exam program, disagrees.
"I think it will be in some ways easier for folks," she said. The computer-based version of the current test is getting good reviews from students who say it's easier to focus when there's only one question to consider at a time, Sager said.
The new exams will also give test-takers almost immediate results and will allow for more frequent retakes than the paper version. The entire exam will have a $120 fee, down from the previous $150.
The main problem with the new exam is that it marks the end of one era of testing and the beginning of another and some people who has been working to get a GED do not know about the change, Sager and others from Washington state acknowledged.
An estimated 25,000 Washington residents started the GED sometime in the past five years but didn't finish. Some may have finished in another state, but Sager said her office doesn't have access to those records.
The number of people taking and passing the tests went up in 2103, according to Sager. In 2012, 7,000 took tests in October and 7,500 in November. In 2013, 10,000 took tests in October and 11,000 in November.
Passage and completion rates have also improved. The number of people finishing all segments of their GED increased from 1,000 in November 2012 to 2,100 in November 2013.
Nearly 200,000 Washington residents between the ages of 25 and 44 do not have a high school diploma, according to the Washington Student Achievement Council.
Sally Raftery, program coordinator and GED examiner at Bellevue College, worries about the more than 500 people who started taking the old GED exam at her center but never finished.
"It's really kind of a momentous change that many people aren't aware of," Raftery said.
The Bellevue College testing center will be open until Dec. 27 for people who want to try to complete their GED. Other centers around the state - mostly at community colleges - will stay open as long, but some will be closing next week.
Adults who started a test at one place can finish anywhere in the state.
Raftery notes that the essay part of the exam has an earlier deadline of Dec. 20 to allow for grading before the end of the year.
Things may get more complicated for people seeking a high school equivalency certificate in 2015, because the state will decide during this next year whether to continue on with the new GED, adopt one of the alternative tests on the market or let test takers choose their test.
Sager said he alternative tests and the new GED are all comparable and test takers will not face another hard deadline of finishing or losing their work.