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In today’s job market, having an edge is crucial. The right credentials can mean the difference between living paycheck-to-paycheck and having a meaningful career. More than ever, a high school diploma or equivalency credential is essential to landing the job or career you want. In fact, approximately three out of four U.S. jobs required at least a high school diploma or equivalent in 2012, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics.

So if you didn’t earn your diploma the first time, taking a high school equivalency exam is the best way to open up new opportunities now, as well as to lay a foundation for meeting future educational and professional goals.

Before getting started, get the facts: the General Educational Development (GED) test has undergone dramatic changes over the past two years. In addition to becoming more expensive this year, it’s shifted to a more rigorous, computer-only format. This has led CTB/McGraw-Hill, the testing division of McGraw-Hill Education, to develop TASC, the Test Assessing Secondary Completion, a new Common Core-aligned high school equivalency exam that’s available in both paper-and-pencil and computer-based formats.

This is great news for the 40 million U.S. adults currently lacking a high school diploma or equivalency. If you’re among them, here are five things you need to know in 2014:

• Selection: Investigate which equivalency test is offered by your state or district. Some states have chosen one test as its sole exam, while others allow test takers to choose. Testing centers will decide which authorized tests they’ll offer. Potential test takers can check their department of education’s website for a listing of centers.

• Pricing: For some, high school equivalency testing is a financial hurdle. The cost for taking the GED is now $120, while TASC will cost $52 with two free retests. Some states subsidize some or all of the expense, while others add an administrative fee. Find out what subsidies you’re eligible for before registering.

• Accessibility: The TASC test and other high school equivalency exam alternatives are available as a paper-and-pencil exam as well as online.
• Test Design: Be aware of the test design and areas of study that a high school equivalency test will address. The TASC test, aligned to Common Core State Standards, offers English, Spanish, large print, Braille and audio versions, and will assess English language arts, math, science and social studies.

• Registration and Preparation: Register and study well in advance. Visit your education department’s website to locate the nearest TASC testing facility. Register on the center’s website or in-person. Some testing centers also offer prep courses, so take advantage of these.

The TASC test offers a wide assortment of test preparation materials, including a study companion, practice tests and sample questions.

In today’s competitive job market, there’s no reason to give yourself an unnecessary handicap. Earning a high school equivalency is the first step toward expanding professional opportunities and increasing earning potential. Register now for the TASC test, the new high school equivalency exam, at your nearest testing center.

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