GED Social Studies Essay Tips


The GED Social Studies essay question was eliminated on March 1, 2016. For Social Studies practice questions visit our GED Social Studies page.


As of 2014, the GED Social Studies section, along with the entire GED exam, has undergone a change in format. The new exam is now entirely computer based and the GED Social Studies test is now 90 minutes long and broken down into two sections.

The first section is 65 minutes and consists of multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, and a few other types of questions. The second section is a 25-minute “Extended Response,” or essay. This may sound intimidating, but remember that the score range on the GED Social Studies section is between 200 and 600, and a minimum of only 410 is required to pass this subtest. So how can you achieve a good score on this new 25-minute “Extended Response” section? Let’s examine some basic tips and strategies:

Learn the directions beforehand. The directions will begin with two documents. They may be presented to you on a single page or on two different tabs. The documents can be a famous quotation, a letter, an excerpt from a political tract, part of a speech, etc. They will always be historical and often the work of notable figures such as Thomas Jefferson or Martin Luther King Jr. Your job is to read and analyze the two documents then read the actual prompt itself. The wording of the prompt will ask you to relate the documents to one another. For example:

“In your response, develop an argument about how the author of the letter reflects the enduing issue expressed by Martin Luther King Jr. in his speech. Incorporate relevant and specific evidence to support your analysis.”

The precise wording of the prompt will change depending on what the two documents are, but your essay must ALWAYS discuss both documents. Knowing this will save you some time on the directions!

Understand the format, and what your job is. The topics you’ll see on the GED essay will include civics and government, United States history, basic economic theory, and geography. If these are not areas in which you are comfortable, it would be a good idea to read a high school-level US History textbook prior to taking the exam. Topics that appear frequently include:

  • Founding Fathers and American Democracy
  • Revolutionary War
  • Manifest Destiny
  • The Civil War
  • The Great Depression
  • Civil Rights
  • The Cold War

According to the official GED website, you job is to “analyze arguments and use evidence found within brief excerpts from primary and secondary source texts.” We can divide the expectation the essay scorers have for a perfect essay into three “traits”:

  • Creation of Arguments and Use of Evidence
  • Development of Ideas and Organizational Structure
  • Clarity and Command of Standard English Conventions

Pace Yourself!

It’s important to have a plan for pacing. You only have 25-minutes to write your essay, and that is plenty of time if you pace yourself properly. Here’s a three step guide to achieving a strong score:

Step 1 – Plan (5 minutes)

You must carefully read and analyze the two documents, since they are the foundation of your essay. Do NOT skim them and then rush to start writing. You need to allow at least 5 minutes to read and absorb all the presented information and plan what you’re going to say. Aim for a five-paragraph structure: one introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, and one concluding paragraph. Some questions to answer during the “planning” phase:

  • What Social Studies topics do these two documents have in common? How do they compare or contrast?
  • What is my thesis statement?
  • What three major points will I make to support it?
  • What pieces of evidence from each document will I use to support each point?

Step 2 – Write It! (18 minutes)

Once you’ve got a careful plan of action, it’s time to produce the essay. 18 minutes may not sound like a long time, but your introductory and concluding paragraphs do not need to be longer than 2-3 sentences. You’ll have at least 4 minutes to write each body paragraph, and that is plenty of time to state your major point, support it with evidence, and reiterate how it supports your thesis.

Step 3 – Proofread (2 minutes)

Make sure you watch the clock and give yourself at least 2 minutes to re-read what you wrote, correcting any spelling or punctuation errors, and added transition words or phrases to help clarify the meaning. This is where you will boost your essay’s clarity. Just 2 minutes of proofreading could earn you an extra point!

Remember: You MUST practice writing at least 2 or 3 Social Studies essays before you take your GED. Even if you are a very strong writer, make sure to time yourself so you can comfortably complete your essay in 25-minutes.

Social Studies Essay Practice Question >>