Trisha Smith of Kokomo dropped out of high school nearly 25 years ago when she got pregnant with her son, and now, even simple multiplication is difficult for her. She enrolled in GED classes recently through the Literacy Coalition of Howard County so she can make a better life for her and her family.
But by 2014, passing the Indiana General Education Development exam will be harder to do. The GED is undergoing major changes.
The new exam will be computer-based and have a new format, said Bob Stephenson, executive director of the Literacy Coalition.
It will focus less on multiple-choice questions and more on short answers and essays. The math section will be harder, and the social studies and science sections will require more background knowledge, Stephenson said.
It will also cost almost twice as much, Stephenson said. It will jump from $70 to $120.
"They've changed the whole nature of the test," he said. "It's moving toward a college-readiness test."
But not all GED-seekers want to go to college. For those who don't, the current exam has been sufficient, Stephenson said.
Smith said her goal is to pass the test and find a good-paying job. She's worried about how difficult it will be, though.
Right now, she struggles in both math and reading.
"They're both really hard on me," she said.
She has to master multiplication and division before she can even start preparing for the test. And her computer skills are limited — something that could pose a problem during the computer-based exam.
Stephenson sees that as one of the biggest problems for many of those working toward their GEDs now.
"The kids have keyboarding skills," he said. "The older adults don't. If you're a 40-year-old, single mom trying to get your GED and you don't have a computer at home, it becomes difficult. It was already difficult for them."
He said the exam includes a timed-writing portion. Test-takers have to craft an essay based on a writing prompt.
Stephenson said that was already the toughest portion of the exam for most people. Those who don't know how to type may not finish in the allowed time, he said.
The Literacy Coalition is preparing now for the 2014 changes. They are adding more computers at their facility, doubling up on tutoring sessions and encouraging GED-seekers to come in and practice their keyboarding skills.
"How do you teach those keyboarding skills?" he asked. "It's hard. Here's a whole other layer of instruction we have to deliver them."
They're also trying to get all current students through the GED test before the changes go into effect.
Stephenson said he knows that's not feasible. It generally takes 18 months or more to prepare.
For some, it's even longer.
Bryan Collins has been working toward his GED for about a year now. He said it could be at least another year before he's ready, maybe even longer once the changes take effect.
He's not looking forward to more difficult math questions. That's definitely his weakness, he said. He's been so focused on learning to read that he hasn't started studying math at all.
He really wants his GED, though.
"I'm hoping and praying to God that I pass this test," he said. "I've worked so hard at this. Without a GED, I'm not going anywhere."
Collins said he will do whatever it takes to get his GED, even if he doesn't pass the test the first time around.
"I don't care how long it takes me," he said. "I'll be here three years if I have to."
Unfortunately, some people may drop out of the program long before then, Stephenson said. Once the new test comes out, there will be people who just can't afford it.
He said $120 may not seem like much, but some people couldn't even afford the $70. The coalition tries to find donations to cover test costs when necessary, but it's not always successful, Stephenson said.
"The cost is tough on a lot of people," he said.
But not all of the test changes are bad, Stephenson said. He sees some obvious benefits that may come from it.
"This will definitely produce people who are more employment-ready," he said.
Especially now that the test is on the computer.
"Computers are an important part of the workplace," he said.