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Contemporary's GED Language Arts, Writing
Ellen Carley Frechette
Tim Collins

Test Information

The Language Arts, Writing Test comprises two parts. Part I examines a test-taker’s knowledge of the conventions of written English, and Part II evaluates a test-taker’s ability to write a well-developed essay.

Part I: Editing


Part I of the Language Arts, Writing Test contains 50 multiple-choice items that require error recognition and correction. All items are at the application level and are drawn from the following content areas and skills:

Content Area/Skill BreakdownSample Error
Text divisionA paragraph contains two main ideas.
Topic sentenceA paragraph does not contain a topic sentence.
Unity or coherenceA sentence in a paragraph does not have the same tone as the rest of the paragraph or does not relate to the main idea of the paragraph.
Complete sentenceBecause it was a holiday.
Run-on sentence or comma spliceHe left early, we met him at the train.
Wordy or repetitive sentenceI went to the grocery store to buy some milk, and I went to the grocery store to buy some eggs.
Coordination or subordinationComputers are easy to use, so people are afraid of them.
ModificationSitting in front of the television, her eyes became glassy.
Parallel structureThe report is intended to inform, amuse, and being instructional.
USAGE (30%)
Subject-verb agreementJim and Raoul was at the meeting today.
Verb tense or formTomorrow, the fun was just getting started.
Pronoun-antecedent agreementEveryone should bring their driver’s license.
CapitalizationThe country of south africa is South of the equator.
Comma usageWhenever we see each other we are surprised.
Spelling of homonyms, possessives, or contractionsThey took they’re film to the convenience store.

Source: Guidelines for GED Item Writers, Language Arts, Writing, 2000


Test items appear in sets. Each item set is based on a 200–300 word passage that contains errors derived from the four content areas. Not all sentences in a passage contain an error, and there is never more than one error in a sentence. In some cases, test-takers must locate and correct a specific grammatical error, such as an incorrect verb tense or a misplaced comma. In other cases, a sentence may not contain a specific error but is simply unclear, illogical, or poorly written. Test-takers must correct these errors by rewriting the sentence, moving it to another place within the passage, or removing it from the passage entirely. Test-takers may also have to divide a paragraph or join two paragraphs to correct the structure of the passage as a whole.

In each item, the sentence to be corrected is repeated and five possible answer options are presented in the order in which they occur in the sentence. One option may be “no correction is necessary” or “no revision is necessary.” In many of the items, the answer options may relate to several or all of the four content areas.

In accordance with the test’s emphasis on preparation for the workplace and higher education, the passages on Part I of the Language Arts, Writing Test reflect three types of “real life” documents:

  • Business documents (such as letters, memos, meeting notes, reports, executive summaries, and applications)
  • Instructional documents (such as how to secure a job, write a resume, or lease a car)
  • Informational documents (such as position papers, critical evaluations, or support papers)

The subject matter of these documents also reflects the experiences and interests of adults from a variety of different backgrounds.


There are three types of items on Part I of the Language Arts, Writing Test—sentence correction, sentence revision, and construction shift. The following are examples of each type:

Sentence Correction Items (45 percent of the questions)

Sentence 1: Mr. Anderson, why does all the files need to be printed now?

What correction should be made to sentence 1?

(1) remove the comma after Anderson
(2) change does to do
(3) insert a comma after files
(4) change need to needed
(5) no correction is necessary

In this item, several different types of errors are suggested in the answer options. Test-takers have to decide whether there is an error in organization, sentence structure, usage, or mechanics, or no error at all. Sometimes the fifth option, no correction is necessary, will be the correct answer. Not all items, however, will have that option. The correct answer for this item is option (2).

Sentence Revision Items (35 percent of the questions)

Sentence 2: Several improvements have been made to our office, it’s a more pleasant place to work.

Which is the best way to write the underlined portion of the text? If the original is the best way, choose option (1).

(1) our office, it’s a
(2) our office it’s a
(3) our office, but it’s a
(4) our office, in fact it’s a
(5) our office, so it’s a

In this item, the focus is only on one part of the sentence—the underlined part. The first answer option is always the same as the original sentence; the other four options present alternative versions. In this item, the correct answer is option (5).

Construction Shift Items (20 percent of the questions)

In these items, the sentences are not incorrect. Instead correcting errors, test-takers must combine or rewrite sentences.

Sentence 3: We left the house so that we would be on time for the conference, but we arrived late for the conference.

If you rewrote sentence 3 beginning with

Although we left the house

The next words should be

(1) on time for the conference, but we
(2) we arrived late for the conference
(3) so that we would be on time, but we arrived
(4) on time, we arrived late for
(5) on time for the conference, we arrived late for the conference

In this item test-takers must choose the best revision of the sentence that preserves the meaning of the original sentence. The correct answer in this item is option (4).

Part II: The Essay


Part II of the Language Arts, Writing Test, presents a single essay topic that asks test-takers to present an opinion or an explanation regarding an issue or situation. Topics can be answered based on general knowledge and are chosen with the interests of the writer and reader in mind. No specialized knowledge is required in order to respond to a topic. The following is an example of a typical essay topic:


What is the best decision you’ve ever made?

In your essay, identify that decision and explain why it was the best decision. Use your personal observations, experience, and knowledge to support your essay.

Test-takers should set aside 45 minutes of the 120 minutes allotted for the Language Arts, Writing Test to write on their assigned topic. The test directions encourage them to use a writing process to plan and organize before writing and to revise and edit afterward. An answer sheet booklet with scratch paper and two lined pages is provided for prewriting and drafting. While there is no length requirement, essays should be long enough to develop the topic adequately (approximately two pages). Essays should also be neat and legible. If test-takers finish the essay portion in fewer than 45 minutes, they may go back to work on Part I of the test.


Each essay is scored holistically on a four-point scale by two readers. Readers are trained to evaluate each essay based on its overall effectiveness rather than by breaking it down into specific criteria and errors. They are also trained to recognize and overcome the influence of personal bias on their ratings so they can score as objectively as possible.

The four-point scale used by the readers ranges from 1 (inadequate) to 4 (effective). While each essay is scored holistically, readers do consider five general criteria when evaluating overall effectiveness.

  • Response to the prompt focuses on whether an essay answers the essay topic. In order to receive a high score, an essay needs to provide substantial information that is about the topic and avoid information that is off-topic.
  • Organization focuses on whether an essay is clearly thought out. An essay should have an overall pattern of organization that is followed throughout the entire essay. This includes having clear introductory, body, and concluding paragraphs.
  • Development and details refer to the support for ideas presented in an essay. To receive a high score, an essay should contain ideas that are backed up with plenty of examples and support.
  • Conventions of EAE (Edited American English) include mechanics, spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure. While these errors will not be marked by the reader, they will affect an essay’s score if they interfere with the reader’s understanding of the essay.
  • Word choice refers to the variety and precision of the vocabulary in an essay. A good essay should have appropriate tone and diction, avoid excessive repetition of words, and use words correctly.

Each reader refers to these criteria in terms of the GED Essay Scoring Guide when evaluating an essay. Once each reader has read an essay and awarded it a score of 1 through 4, the two readers’ scores are added and averaged to produce a final score. If the two scores differ by more than one point, the essay is scored by the Chief Reader, who determines the final score.

Combined Scores

To produce a final, standard score for the Language Arts, Writing Test, the essay score is combined with the multiple-choice score. A score of 2 or higher is necessary to pass the essay portion of the test. If a test-taker does not pass the essay portion, he or she will be required to retake the entire Language Arts, Writing Test.