HiSET® Exam Fairness and Validity

Rigorous standards

For nearly 70 years, ETS, a nonprofit organization, has been recognized as the worldwide leader in assessment development. Our rigorous research and exacting standards ensure that our assessments are fair, valid and reliable.

The items that are included in the HiSET® exam are pilot-tested, validated and normed on graduating high school juniors and seniors. Item types include both multiple-choice and essay questions. Three equated forms of the HiSET exam are available each calendar year to accommodate retakes. Scores are issued for each subtest and for the exam as a whole.

The HiSET exam measures the foundational core of academic skills that represent the long-term goals of secondary education, particularly the critical thinking skills of analysis and evaluation. It directly assesses the academic skills in reading, language arts, mathematics, science and social studies that typically define high school coursework.

The results of the HiSET exam can be validly used to determine performance for two distinct purposes:

  1. The level of academic skills and knowledge typically required to earn a high school credential
  2. The level of academic skills typically required to be successful in a postsecondary education program


Concern for fairness and the elimination of bias from the exam is a guiding principle throughout design and development. In particular, this exam was built with careful attention to content-related sources of test bias. Development procedures addressed this source of bias through the following:

  • Thorough examination of content and performance standards for the selection of the appropriate items
  • Engagement of panels of experts in the review of the test specifications, items and forms
  • Statistical procedures for identifying items on these tests that function differently across various groups of examinees
  • Careful selection of a national sample of students to evaluate item performance prior to operational use

Construct validity

The factor structure of the HiSET exam was analyzed using exploratory factor analysis techniques. The identified factors clearly reflect the test composition and are consistent with the emphasis found in high school curricula. The first factor could be identified as a "literacy" factor, while the second factor was a "numeracy" factor. Reading contributed the most to the interpretation of the first factor, with substantial influence from language arts, social studies and science. The inclusion of the social studies and science tests in the literacy factor is consistent with the structure of the College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS), which includes these areas in the English Language Arts Literacy standards. The mathematics test is loaded heavily on the second factor with some contribution from science.

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