Language Arts, Reading Exam Overview: GED Test Prep
In this article, you will learn all about the GED Language Arts, Reading Exam, including what kind of questions and reading passages to expect.
What to Expect on the GED Language Arts, Reading Exam
The GED Language Arts, Reading Exam tests your ability to understand both literary and nonfiction texts. You will be asked to read these texts and then answer 40 multiple-choice questions about those passages. One quarter (25%) of those questions will be based on nonfiction passages; the other 75% will be based on literary texts, including stories, poems, and plays. You will have 65 minutes for this exam.
Types of Passages
The reading passages on the GED, except poems, are typically between 300–400 words. Most of the passages will be excerpts from larger works. Each exam will include:
- one poem of 8–25 lines
- one excerpt from a play
- one commentary on the arts (most likely about a visual art experience, such as a film, museum exhibit, or painting)
- one business-related document (such as an excerpt from an employee manual)
- one or more excerpts from fiction (novels and short stories) and nonfiction prose (essays, editorials/articles, autobiography/memoir)
The passages include literature from a wide range of historical periods and literary movements. You can expect texts from three different time periods:
- pre-1920 (ancient and classical literature)
- 1920–1960 (modern literature)
- 1960–present (contemporary literature)
The passages on the GED Language Arts, Reading Exam are also carefully chosen to reflect the rich diversity of writers and themes in literature. For example, your test may include a poem by a American Indian man, an excerpt from a story by a Chinese-American woman, and an excerpt from a play about civil war in Africa.
Technically, the term literature means any written or published text. This can include everything from a classic such as Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn to your latest grocery shopping list. Of course, most of us don't curl up next to a warm fire with our favorite shopping list or give a computer manual to a friend as a birthday gift. These texts serve a function, but they do not necessarily provide us with the pleasure of a literary text.
Literary texts are fundamentally different from functional texts. Literary texts are valued for:
- the message they convey
- the beauty of their forms
- their emotional impact
While a functional text may have a practical message and convey important or useful information, it does not typically convey a message about values or human nature as literary texts do. A functional text also usually follows a standard format and has little emotional impact.
One generally thinks of fiction (invented stories) when thinking of literary texts, but literary texts can also be nonfiction (true stories). For example, Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is literary, not functional, although it is the true story of her life. Similarly, "The Knife," an essay by Richard Selzer, describes his true experiences and reflections as a surgeon. His amazement at the beauty and complexity of the human body and the beauty of his descriptions and style make it unquestionably a literary text.
Seventy-five percent of the passages on the GED Language Arts, Reading Exam are described as "literary" and 25% as "nonfiction." Of course, nonfiction texts can also be literary. The nonfiction referred to here is the commentary on the arts and the business-related documents. Each exam will have between seven and nine passages, with four to six questions for each passage. Five to seven of those passages will be literary (one or more poems, excerpts from plays, and excerpts from stories or novels, and possibly one or more excerpts from literary nonfiction text such as autobiographies or essays). Two to three of those passages will be functional nonfiction (commentary and business documents).
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