MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – Students working on getting their General Education Development (GED) certificate are urged to finish up this year, before the test for a high school equivalency diploma changes and they have to start all over.

GED Testing Service will introduce a new version of the test, given nationwide, on Jan. 1, 2014.

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Developers say the first major changes since 2002 will align the test with the new Common Core curricula adopted by most states to increase college and career readiness. It also will shift test-taking from pencil and paper to computer.

Those who administer the test have begun to alert the million or so adults who have passed some but not all of the five parts of the current test to complete the missing sections by Dec. 31. If not, their scores will expire and they’ll have to begin again under the new program Jan. 1.

There is also financial incentive to complete the GED this year. At $120, the computer-based version is double the cost of the current test. Several states subsidize some or all of the expense but the student share is widely expected to rise.

About 700,000 people take the GED exam yearly in the United States, said Armando Diaz, spokesman for Washington-based GED Testing Service, the trademarked test’s creator. About 72 percent passing to earn their states’ high school equivalency credential. More than 1 million people are expected to try in 2013 in advance of the change, a number that could strain preparation programs and testing sites.

Although the GED exam has undergone regular updates since being introduced in 1942, the upcoming changes are the most dramatic yet.

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“We see that higher-ed has new standards, the workforce, the economy’s changing,” said Diaz. “We decided it’s time to completely give the testing program a facelift.”

Instead of five sections, the test will be re-aligned into four: reasoning through language arts, mathematical reasoning, science and social studies. The current stand-alone essay section will be incorporated into writing assignments within the language arts and social studies sections, Diaz said.

EOC Executive Director Julius Gregg Adams suggested that adults unfamiliar with the Common Core standards, a uniform school curriculum heavier on writing and content analysis, may be more comfortable getting the test out of the way this year, though he’s reluctant to say the new test will be harder.

“The current test more than likely reflects learning standards that individuals have been exposed to when they were in secondary education,” he said. “The Common Core standards more than likely probably reflect standards that individuals have not been exposed to.”

While the GED, initially developed for U.S. military personnel who had not completed high school, is the pathway recognized by every state toward a high school equivalency diploma, New York and other states are exploring development of an alternative. Without the computer infrastructure statewide to test large numbers of people and one of the lowest pass rates in the nation, at 59.4 percent, New York has solicited bids for development of a test that would maintain the paper and pencil option for the time being and more slowly phase in the Common Core standards.

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