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What Is the HiSET? Expert Guide to the High School Equivalency Test

Posted by Ashley Robinson | Oct 7, 2019 9:00:00 AM

General Education

 

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Finishing high school the “traditional” way isn’t the right path for everyone. That’s why there are exams you can take to earn what’s known as a high school equivalency (HSE) credential in the U.S. The HiSET Exam is a test that allows you to earn an HSE credential if you discontinued your high school education but want the equivalent of a high school diploma. 

The HiSET isn’t the only high school equivalency exam option. (You’ve probably heard quite a bit about another HSE test, the GED.) We’re betting you have a lot of questions about how the HiSET works, what taking the exam will be like, and what you can do with the HiSET once you take the exam. 

That’s why we’re going to cover the following in this article to give you a full overview of the HiSET Exam: 

  • What the HiSET Exam is
  • Who can take the HiSET Exam
  • The four most important details to know before you register for the HiSET, including how much the exam costs
  • What to expect when you take the exam, including the length of the exam, exam format, and its contents 
  • Four key differences between the HiSET Exam and the GED
  • Four resources to help you learn more about and prep for the HiSET Exam

We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get moving!


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What Is the HiSET Test? 

HiSET stands for “HIgh School Equivalency Test.” The HiSET is an alternative to getting a high school degree and is similar to other high school equivalency tests, like the GED and the TASC. In other words, the HiSET is an exam specifically designed for people who didn’t get a U.S. high school diploma but would like to show that they’re capable of earning the equivalent of one!

While the HiSET is every bit as viable as the GED, it is a much newer exam option for receiving an HSE credential. The HiSET was created by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in 2014. If the ETS sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s the same company that develops and administers the GRE. 

Though the HiSET is still pretty new, many states in the U.S. have adopted it as an official high school equivalency testing option. In fact, in some states, the HiSET is now the only high school equivalency testing option. The states that only offer the HiSET for high school equivalency are Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, and Tennessee. 

Taking the HiSET is a way for adults to demonstrate that they possess the same skills, abilities, and competencies as high school graduates. When you pass the HiSET, you receive what’s known as a high school equivalency credential (HSE), which essentially stands in for a high school diploma. In order to receive an HSE credential, you have to pass five subject sections of the HiSET, called subtests. These five subtests test you on language arts reading, language arts writing, math, science, and social studies. 

We’ll explain the format of the test in more detail, but before we do, let’s talk more about who should take the HiSET. 

 

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Who Should Take the HiSET? 

In general, all high school equivalency exams are designed specifically for youth and adults who are not currently enrolled in school and don’t have a high school diploma. The HiSET is a good fit for young adults and adults who discontinued their high school education prior to receiving a degree but would like to receive the equivalent of a high school diploma. That’s one of the best things about the test: if you pass the HiSET, you receive a High School Equivalency (HSE) certification that’s worth just as much as a diploma or a recognized equivalent, like the GED. 

People who pass the HiSET and receive their high school equivalency credential are able to show employers and colleges that they have the same career and college readiness as high school graduates. Most employers in the U.S. are looking for employees who have a high school degree or equivalent, and college admissions offices require the same. In other words, if you want to take a step forward in your education or career but were unable to finish high school, the HiSET could be a good alternative for you. 

Having said that, there are some eligibility requirements for taking the HiSET. These eligibility requirements are based on state standards (which vary by state!), so you’ll need to look into the HiSET requirements by state or jurisdiction. In most states, eligibility requirements include the following: 

  • Age: Many states have a minimum age requirement to take the HiSET--usually 17 years old--although some states have exceptions to this rule. 

  • Residency: There may also be a residency requirement. Some states require you to show proof that you live in that state before you can register for the HiSET; other states don’t have a residency requirement at all!

  • School Enrollment Status: Most states require that you be withdrawn from high school when you register for the HiSET. Some states also require that you be enrolled in an alternative education program like Options, Youth Challenge, Job Corps® or other similar program before you can take the exam.

  • Identification: You’ll need to present proof of identification on the day that you take your exam. 

  • Practice Test or Instruction: A few states require that you take a practice exam or complete an instructional course prior to taking the HiSET. 

These are details you’ll want to look into more thoroughly before you register for the exam since they vary from state to state. Be sure to check the HiSET website and/or your state’s Department of Education website for more information. 

 

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The 4 Most Important Things To Know Before You Sign Up For the Exam

Deciding whether taking the HiSET is right for you requires a lot of research and reflection. To help you make the decision that’s right for you, we’ve put together a list of the top four things you need to know before you sign up for the HiSET Exam. 

 

#1: Every State Has Its Own Rules for the HiSET (And Not Every State Offers the HiSET Yet)

Before you sign up to take the HiSET exam, one of the first things you need to do is find out what the eligibility requirements are for the HiSET in your state or U.S. territory. The HiSET website offers a list of each state and U.S. territory that currently offers the exam, and if you don’t see your state on this list, it may not offer the HiSET exam yet. 

If you do see your state or jurisdiction listed, you can click on the name of your state/jurisdiction to view the HiSET Exam requirements specific to where you’re from. At present, the following 28 states and U.S. territories offer the HiSET Exam: 

California
Missouri
Tennessee
Colorado
Montana
Texas
Hawaii
Nevada
Wyoming
Illinois 
New Hampshire
American Samoa
Iowa
New Jersey
Guam
Louisiana
New Mexico
Marshall Islands
Maine
North Carolina
Northern Mariana Islands
Massachusetts
Ohio
Palau
Michigan
Oklahoma
 
Mississippi
Pennsylvania
 

 

Each state also has its own rules for how much the HiSET Exam costs, which we’ll talk about next!

 

#2: How Much The HiSET Exam Costs

There are two main things you need to be aware of as you try to calculate how much taking the HiSET Exam will cost: the cost of the exam varies by state and exam format, and there are additional fees you’ll have to pay to take the exam. 

When you register for the HiSET Exam, you have the option to register for a computer-based exam, or a paper-based exam. In most states, the computer-based HiSET is $10.75 per subtest, and the paper-based HiSET is $15 per subtest. Since there are five subtests on the HiSET, you’d likely pay $53.75 for the entire computer-based exam and $75 for the entire paper-based exam. 

However, the exam fee itself isn’t the only fee you’ll have to pay in order to take the HiSET Exam. Many states apply a state administrative fee and/or a testing center fee per subtest. These fees vary by state, so you’ll want to make sure you check to make sure you know what additional fees you may have to pay in your state and how much they’ll total. In total, your cost for taking the HiSET Exam could conceivably range from $80 to $125, but that number could be lower (or higher) depending on your state’s policies. 

In fact, policies for payment method, when payment is required, and refunds also vary by state--and sometimes even vary by testing center within a single state--so it’s important to check your state’s requirements page on the HiSET website. Scroll to the bottom of your state’s page and read the FAQs listed under the “Additional Policies” section to gather all the info you need about paying for the exam. 

 

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#3: The HiSET’s Level of Difficulty 

Passing the HiSET Exam proves that you have academic skills that fall within the same range as that of 60% of recent high school graduates. Therefore, it stands to reason that the content the HiSET tests you on would be as difficult as the content that U.S. high school students are tested on in language arts, math, science, and social studies. 

That’s pretty much how we’d describe the difficulty level of the HiSET Exam: the content of the HiSET Exam is going to be as hard as the content you’d encounter on exams in high school. That’s because if you pass the HiSET, you’re receiving the equivalent of a high school diploma, so you need to show the same skills, abilities, and competencies as high school graduates! 

You could also think about how difficult the HiSET Exam will be in terms of your strengths and the format of the exam. We’ll talk more about this later, but the HiSET exam tests you on language arts (reading and writing), math, science, and social studies. Most of the exam is multiple choice, but there is one essay section. Some of the difficulty of the test comes from how prepared you are: if you study hard and take advantage of any prep classes your community offers, then the HiSET will probably be much easier than if you don’t. 

If you’re interested in looking at comprehensive information about the content you’ll be tested on in each subject area of the HiSET exam, check out the “What’s On the HiSET Exam?” page on the HiSET website. You can also download the “HiSET Test-at-a-Glance PDF,” which provides all the info you could ever want about the skills and abilities that are measured by the exam. 

 

#4: Where The HiSET Is Accepted

Passing the HiSET Exam and receiving an HSE credential shows one thing for certain: you have the same skills, knowledge, and abilities as a graduating high school student. This means that if you are applying for a job and the highest level of education required is a high school diploma, you’re just as qualified as other applicants who graduated from high school or earned a GED. 

But different scores on the HiSET Exam indicate different things, and a higher passing score may be interpreted differently by college admissions officials or employers than a lower passing score. There are two types of passing scores on the HiSET: a passing score and a college- and career-readiness score. A passing score is just like it sounds: you pass the test and earn your HSE. A passing score on the HiSET Exam is at least an 8 out of 20 on all five subtests, and a 2 out of 6 on the essay portion of the exam

But if you score a 15 out of 20 on any of the subtests and at least a 4 on the written essay, you’ve shown college and career readiness. The college and career readiness score shows that you’ve scored at the 75th percentile of graduating high school students and should be able to take on credit-bearing course work at the university level. If you’re trying to earn an HSE so you can go to college, it’s a good idea to earn the college- and career-readiness distinction. 

Having said that, if you achieve a score that’s categorized in the passing range, but not the college and career readiness range, that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t go to college. It just means you might want to do some additional preparation or enroll in remedial courses for content categories you didn’t score as well on. Taking these measures is meant to ensure that you find success once you do enroll in college courses!

While taking the HiSET and earning an HSE credential isn’t the only thing you need to do in order to get admitted to a college or university (you’ll need to take either the SAT or ACT as well), it is an important first step toward achieving that goal! 

 

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The HiSET exam can feel like a maze. But we're here to show you the path to success! 

 

What to Expect When You Take the HiSET Exam

There are many resources you can use to prepare for the HiSET, but we want to give you an idea of what you can expect in terms of the length of the exam, the format of the exam, and what skills are tested on the exam to help you get an idea of what it will be like!

The first thing you need to know is that the HiSET consists of five subtests (and you have to take all five in order to pass the entire exam). These subtests cover the following subjects: 

  • Language arts/reading
  • Language arts/writing
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Social studies

One unique aspect of the HiSET is that you don’t have to take all five subtests in one sitting. You can schedule them individually for different times on different days! This may be logistically challenging for some people, since you’ll have to commute to take each subtest at a designated testing center. But if sitting under pressure for 7+ hours sounds terrifying, spacing out when you take the subtests is definitely worth it. 

 

Breaking Down the Subtests

Now, here’s a breakdown of what you can expect from each subtest on the HiSET in terms of runtime, format, abilities/skills you’ll be tested on, and HiSET scores for each section: 

Section
Time
Format
Skills/Abilities Tested
Language Arts - Reading
65 minutes (English)
85 minutes (Spanish)
Multiple choice questions
  • Ability to understand, interpret, and analyze a range of literary texts that range from 400-600 words in length.
Language Arts - Writing
120 minutes
Multiple choice questions and an essay prompt
  • Tests the ability to recognize and produce work in standard American English. 
  • Multiple choice questions measure your ability to edit and revise written text in standard American English. 
  • Essay measures your ability to generate and organize ideas in writing. 
Mathematics
90 minutes
Multiple choice questions
  • Measures mathematical knowledge and competencies
  • Questions are presented as practical problems and are solved by numerical operations, measurement, estimation, data interpretation and logical thinking.
  • Some questions test abstract concepts such as algebraic patterns and probability.
  • You may use a calculator for this section.
Science
80 minutes
Multiple choice questions
  • Measures your ability to use science content knowledge, apply principles of scientific inquiry, and interpret and evaluate scientific information.
  • Graphs, tables, and charts are used to present information and results.
Social Studies
70 minutes
Multiple choice questions
  • Measures your ability to analyze and evaluate information from different content areas such as history, political science, psychology, sociology, anthropology, geography and economics.
  • Primary documents, posters, cartoons, timelines, maps, graphs, tables, charts and reading passages are used in questions.

 

You can read more about what abilities each section measures, download additional info about test content, and view sample test questions here!

 

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The HiSET vs GED: 5 Key Differences

While the HiSET and the GED both provide routes to getting a high school equivalency certification, there are several key differences between the two exams that you want to factor into your decision about which exam to take. In this section, we’re going to address four differences between the HiSET and the GED: their number of subtests, their test proctoring formats, their pricing, and how they’re viewed by employers and colleges. 

 

They Include a Different Number of Subtests

While the GED and the HiSET are going to pretty much cover the same content and knowledge areas (they aren’t given much of a choice there--they have to meet the same state standards!), they don’t include the same number of subtests

The HiSET has five subtests, and the GED has four subtests. The HiSET has two language arts subtests--one for reading, and one for writing--and the GED has only one language arts subtest that includes both a reading section and one written essay. The HiSET and GED are similar in that they both include one mathematical reasoning section, one science section, and one social studies section.

 

The Tests Have Different Lengths

While both the GED and the HiSET take about 7 hours to complete, the tests give you different amounts of time to finish each section. Here’s the runtime for each of the subtests on the HiSET and the GED: 

HiSET
GED
Language Arts/Reading: 65 minutes
Reasoning through Language Arts: 150 minutes
Language Arts/Writing: 120 minutes
 
Mathematics: 90 minutes
Mathematical Reasoning: 115 minutes
Science: 80 minutes
Science: 90 minutes
Social Studies: 70 minutes
Social Studies: 70 minutes

 

You can see that the runtime for each subtest varies a bit between the HiSET and the GED. Does this mean that one test is better or harder than the other? Not necessarily--it just means you’ll want to check into details like these before you choose a testing option!

For example, if you’re not great at math, it might make more sense for you to take the GED since you have an additional 25 minutes to answer questions. That can help you feel less stressed out, which can translate to a better score. Keeping this information in mind can help you make a decision that maximizes your chances for success!  

 

Test Proctoring Format Can Vary

If you’re picky about taking exams on paper versus on a computer (or vice versa), this difference between the HiSET and the GED is really important to consider. In most states, the HiSET can be taken on paper or on a computer, but the GED is almost always going to be solely offered as a computer-based test. In fact, if you take the HiSET exam, you can elect to take each individual subtest in the testing format you’re most comfortable with (if your state allows that option). So you could take the math portion on paper and the writing portions on computer! 

One quick note: neither the GED nor the HiSET is available to take online. You’ll have to physically go to a designated testing center to take either exam. 

While the difference in testing format might affect your decision about which exam to take, it’s also important to note that the paper versus computer format can affect when and how you receive your scores. With the computer-based GED, your scores will be available within 24 hours of testing. 

If you take the computer-based HiSET, you’ll receive your scores for the multiple choice portions of the exam at the testing center immediately after you complete the exam. You’ll receive official scores and scores for paper-based HiSET exams in three business days for the multiple choice tests, and five business days for the Language Arts/Writing subtest. 

So, while you can’t get out of taking either the GED or the HiSET at a designated testing center, you can have some control over the format in which you take the HiSET, but not the GED. 

 

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The Pricing Is Different

We’ve already discussed how much it costs to take the HiSET, but how does the cost of the HiSET compare to the cost of taking the GED? Based on the cost of the exam alone, the GED is more expensive than the HiSET, but the GED is more straightforward about external fees and additional costs associated with taking the exam. 

Like we mentioned earlier, the cost of the HiSET varies from state to state. In most states, the computer-based HiSET is $10.75 per subtest, so you’d be looking at paying $53.75 for the entire exam. The paper-based HiSET is more expensive and costs $15 per subtest in most states, which totals $75 for the whole exam. 

In general, the costs we mention above do not include testing center fees and administrative fees, which can vary from $5 to $20. In some states, you must pay the testing center fee each time you take a subtest. So for example, if the testing center fee is $8 and you take each exam on separate days, that adds up to $40. Those testing center fees plus the $75 for a paper-based exam comes out to $115, which can be pretty costly. 

The GED, on the other hand, varies more widely in cost because it can be taken in the U.S., Canada, and several other countries. The price per GED subject test is $30, so the cost for the entire exam is $120. Testing center fees may be added to that price point, but the GED website makes it very clear that the $120 total includes your GED test, same day scoring, a personalized score report, two free retakes per subject test, and a transcript and diploma. 

The bottom line? You want to do thorough research about the various fees associated with taking both exams, especially if you live in a state that offers both the GED and the HiSET exam. 

 

People May Be More Familiar With the GED

The GED has been around for a long time—75 years, to be exact. Because the GED has been around for so long, it’s common for employers and college admissions staff to be more comfortable with the GED as a high school equivalency test and alternative to graduating from high school. Unfortunately, some employers may not have heard of the HiSET yet, since it’s barely five years old! 

Though the HiSET is newer than the GED, it measures the same skills and abilities based on the same state standards, and it awards you the exact same credential, so you shouldn’t feel intimidated at the prospect of encountering a job interviewer or potential employer who isn’t familiar with the HiSET. You just want to be prepared with how to respond if someone says, “I’ve never heard of the HiSET!” or, “Do you have your GED?”

To help you respond confidently when people have questions about what the HiSET is or how it compares to the GED, the HiSET website provides a sample response to such questions that you can tailor to your own situation: 

When meeting with employers or college admission staff, they may ask you if you have a GED®. Many people — even employers — aren't aware there are other options available to earn your high school equivalency credential, and, like the HiSET exam, the GED® is another way test takers can earn their state-issued high school equivalency credential.

If you get asked that question, the best response is:

"No, I have a state-issued high school equivalency credential. Currently, the GED® is one of three possible tests that lead to a high school equivalency credential. Depending on the state you live in, there can be multiple pathways to earning a state-issued high equivalency credential. I took the HiSET exam to earn my credential."

So, while the GED is a bit older than the HiSET, you can achieve the same things as GED-holders if you take the HiSET. You may even get the opportunity to teach an employer or university staff something new about high school equivalency test options!

 

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4 Resources to Learn More About the HiSET

There are many different ways you can learn more about and prepare for the HiSET Exam, from textbooks, to video tutorials, to mobile apps, to websites. We’ve put together a list of four resources you can use to build your knowledge of the HiSET and get ready for the exam below!

 

The HiSET Exam Website (for Test Takers)

If you want to learn everything there is to know about the HiSET Exam from a credible source as a prospective test taker, the official HiSET Exam Website is probably the best place to start. If you’re still unsure about which high school equivalency exam option is right for you, the HiSET website can equip you with the knowledge you need to make your decision. 

The HiSET website provides thorough information about pretty much every aspect of what to expect before, during, and after taking the exam: what the test is and how it works, what the requirements are for taking the exam, how to prepare for the exam, what to expect on your testing day, how you’ll receive your scores and how to interpret them, and a guide to what to do after you take the exam to make the most of your newly earned HSE credential. 

As an added bonus, if you want to know what taking the HiSET has been like for past successful test takers, the HiSET website includes testimonial videos that might help you get a better idea of what taking the HiSET was like for others, and how taking the HiSET has benefited them. These videos can help you see how the HiSET can change your life, too.  

Cost: Free!

 

The Official Guide to the HiSET Exam

If you’re looking specifically for preparation materials for the HiSET, consider giving The Official Guide To The HiSET Exam a try. This book does its best to mimic exactly what the HiSET will be like by providing info about how the test is structured, which topics are tested, how to approach specific HiSET questions, and scoring info. 

To help you prepare for the exam, the book includes HiSET-style exercises, review materials, and test-taking strategies. Basically, The Official Guide to the HiSET Exam is a one-stop shop for practicing and preparing for the HiSET. 

There are several options for HiSET prep books out there, but this particular guide was written by the Educational Testing Service, the people who make the HiSET exam. That means it's pretty much guaranteed to help.

Cost: About $18 on Amazon 

 

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Khan Academy Math Tutorial Videos

The creators of the HiSET exam have partnered with Khan Academy to put together a full list of videos and exercises that can help you practice and improve the skills you’ll need to pass the HiSET Math subtest. If the thought of taking a mathematics exam makes you sweat, this list of prep videos could be an excellent resource for you. 

To access a full list of the Khan Academy Math Tutorial Videos, head over to the Test Prep Materials page of the HiSET website and scroll down to the “Free test prep tools” section of the webpage. You’ll be able to download a PDF that divides up the math tutorial videos into sections by topic and includes links to each corresponding math tutorial video. 

The list of Khan Academy Math Tutorial Videos is a comprehensive resource: the PDF includes links to 70 tutorial videos, which should help give you an idea of how much time you might want to spend preparing for this subtest of the HiSET exam. The only downside is that Khan Academy only prepares you for the math portion of the test—you’ll have to find other resources to study for the other subtests. 

Cost: Free!

 

HiSET Pocket Prep

If you’re looking for a HiSET prep option that you can use from your phone, take a look at HiSET Pocket Prep, an iOs app that offers hundreds of HiSET practice questions, the ability to build customized practice exams, and other features that will aid you in preparing for the HiSET on-the-go. 

Here’s the rationale behind the Pocket Prep HiSET app: smaller, more frequent study sessions allow us to retain knowledge more effectively than cramming and overloading our brains with too much info. The app creators claim that taking short quizzes on the go is a much more effective way to prep for an exam than poring over a textbook. If this sounds viable to you--and if you need a test prep option that’s easy to use anywhere, anytime--HiSET Pocket Prep might be worth a try. 

HiSET Pocket Prep offers different  “paths” you can choose from depending on what kind of preparation you think you need for the exam. The “Study for Free” option gives you access to 40 practice questions, while the “Classic” option gives you two months of access to 428 practice questions, study materials for specific subjects, and mobile and web access for a one-time payment of $9.99. The “Ultimate” option provides unlimited access to 850 practice questions and a “Pass Guarantee” for a one-time payment of $19.99, meaning you’ll receive a full refund if you don’t pass the HiSET Exam. 

Cost: Free to $20, depending on the version you choose

 

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What’s Next? 

If you don’t think the HiSET is right for you, you might be a better candidate for the GED. You can read this article to learn more about the test, and be sure to check out our practice test resources and our guide to getting your GED online.

Like we mentioned earlier, if you’re planning to use HiSET scores to get into college, you’ll also need to take more traditional standardized tests. Check out these comprehensive overviews to the SAT and the ACT, and get the inside scoop on how to choose the test that’s right for you.

You’ll also need to start working on your application packet, which includes things like letters of recommendation and application essays. But don’t worry: we have plenty of tips and tricks for knocking those out of the park, too.  

 

These recommendations are based solely on our knowledge and experience. If you purchase an item through one of our links, PrepScholar may receive a commission.

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Ashley Robinson
About the Author

Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.



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