How Hard Is the HiSET High School Equivalency Test?

Multiple choice test
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Comparing the three high school equivalency exams, the HiSET program from ETS (Educational Testing Service) is most similar to the old GED (2002) in its format and content. Like the old GED, the questions tend to be straightforward--reading passages are short, and essay prompts are open-ended. However, the HiSET is based on Common Core State Standards and test-takers must have the previous content knowledge to score well, just like the current GED (2014) or the TASC.

The fact that the HiSET resembles the easier old GED doesn’t mean that it’s easier to pass than other high school equivalency exams. Like other high school equivalency exams, students who pass the HiSET are proving that they have academic skills that are within the top 60% of recent high school graduates.

To pass the HiSET, test-takers must score a minimum of 8 out of 20 on each of the five subjects and must have a minimum combined score of 45. So you cannot pass the exam by simply scoring the minimum in each subject.

Also, if you have ever wondered if you are ready for college-level courses, a score of 15 or higher in each subtest means that you have met HiSET’s College and Career Readiness Standard. You will see the marks--either yes or no--on your Individual Test Report.

HiSET Study Tips

There is one essay prompt for the writing section and all other questions are multiple-choice. Note that answering any question may involve content from more than one category.

The breakdown of content categories for each subject is as follows:

Language Arts-Reading

Duration: 65 minutes (40 multiple-choice questions)

  • 60% literary texts, 40% informational texts.
  • The texts generally range in length from 400 to 600 words.
  • Questions may involve one or more of these skills:
  1. Comprehension
  2. Inference and Interpretation
  3. Analysis
  4. Synthesis and Generalization

Duration: Part 1: 75 minutes (50 multiple-choice), Part 2: 45 minutes (1 essay question)

The essay is scored separately from the rest of the writing section. You need to score at least 8 on the multiple-choice AND 2 out of 6 on the essay to pass the writing test.

  • Part 1 measures a candidate’s ability to edit and revise the written text.
  • Part 2 measures a candidate’s ability to generate and organize ideas in writing.
  • The essay response is evaluated on development, organization, language facility, and writing conventions.


Duration: 90 minutes (50 multiple-choice questions)

  • The use of a calculator is an option.
  • Some formulas appear with the questions that need them.
  • Content will come from these four categories in similar proportion:
  1. Numbers and Operations on Numbers
  2. Measurement/Geometry
  3. Data Analysis/Probability/Statistics
  4. Algebraic Concepts


Duration: 80 minutes (50 multiple-choice questions)

  • Life Science (50%)
  1. Organisms, Their Environments, and Their Life Cycles
  2. The Interdependence of Organisms
  3. The Relationships Between Structure and Function in Living Systems
  • Physical Science (25%)
  1. Size, Weight, Shape, Color, and Temperature
  2. Concepts Relating to the Position and Motion of Objects
  3. The Principles of Light, Heat, Electricity, and Magnetism
  • Earth Science (25%)
  1. Properties of Earth Materials
  2. Geologic Structures and Time
  3. Earth’s Movements in the Solar Systems

Social Studies

Duration: 70 minutes (50 multiple-choice questions)

  • 45% History
  1. Historical Sources and Perspectives
  2. Interconnections Among the Past, Present, and Future
  3. Specific Eras in the U.S. and World History, including the people who have shaped them and the political, economic, and cultural characteristics of those eras.
  • 30% Civics/Government
  1. Civic Ideals and Practices of Citizenship in a Democratic Society
  2. The Role of the Informed Citizen and the Meaning of Citizenship
  3. Concepts of Power and Authority
  4. The Purposes and Characteristics of Various Governance Systems, with particular emphasis on the U.S. government, the relationship between individual rights and responsibilities, and the concepts of a just society.
  • 15% Economics
  1. Principles of Supply and Demand
  2. The Difference Between Needs and Wants
  3. The Impact of Technology on Economics
  4. The Interdependent Nature of Economies
  5. How the Economy Can Be Affected by Governments
  6. How That Effect Varies Over Time
  • 10% Geography
  1. Concepts and Terminology of Physical and Human Geography
  2. Geographic Concepts to Analyze Spatial Phenomena and Discuss Economic, Political, and Social Factors
  3. Interpretation of Maps and Other Visual and Technological Tools
  4. The Analysis of Case Studies
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Noh, Jinhee. "How Hard Is the HiSET High School Equivalency Test?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Noh, Jinhee. (2021, February 16). How Hard Is the HiSET High School Equivalency Test? Retrieved from Noh, Jinhee. "How Hard Is the HiSET High School Equivalency Test?" ThoughtCo. (accessed June 18, 2021).