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The Ability To Benefit Test: What It Is, and How It Can Help Nontraditional Students

Feb 3, 2013 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Think you can’t go to college without a high school diploma or GED? Think again. Approximately 836,000 students at two-year public schools don’t have a secondary-level diploma. Some of these students were admitted to their colleges by taking an Ability to Benefit test.  If they were admitted before July 1, 2012, they may even have qualified for some federal aid due to their scores.

The Ability to Benefit test—sometimes referred to as the ATB—is a simple test of academic skills including math, reading, and writing. The test is used by school officials to determine whether you have the “ability to benefit” from a college education if you have not earned a high school diploma or GED.

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The Ability to Benefit test is multiple-choice. The writing section tests students’ knowledge of grammar, punctuation, and writing style; the reading section tests comprehension and inference skills; and the mathematics section tests basic math skills including decimals, fractions, and pre-algebraic skills such as prime numbers, absolute values, square roots, and scientific notation. 

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Officially, in order to pass the test, you must pass all three sections—reading, writing, and math—in one session. If you fail one or more sections, you can retake the test in a month—but you will have to retake all sections, not just the one you failed.

Some colleges use it to determine whether to allow you admission without a secondary-level diploma; others use it as a diagnostic test to determine whether you need remedial classes in one or more subjects. In the past, the federal government also used the Ability to Benefit test to determine whether students without a high school diploma or GED were eligible for government financial aid. Under this system, students who achieved a passing grade on the test were qualified to receive access to the same federal aid—including Pell Grants—that is available to college students who do have high school diplomas.

In 2012, however, that changed. In order to reduce the amount of money spent on the Pell Grant program, the federal government stopped allowing students without high school diplomas to qualify for student aid. So the ATB test is no longer used to determine financial aid eligibility at the federal level. However, some states use the ATB test to determine eligibility for state aid, such as New York State.

The ATB test is still used as a diagnostic test for students without high school or GED diplomas who want to go to college. Not every college accepts the ATB test, however. Community colleges and for-profit accredited online schools  are more likely to accept ATB test scores than four-year nonprofit schools, although this is not always the case.

You can take the test in a variety of situations—at work, at school, or at your Army base, for instance. The people who administer the tests must be certified, and the tests can be administered at high schools, companies who employ certified personnel, or Army bases with a certified officer on staff. 

Whether or not you should take the ATB test—rather than earning a high school diploma or GED—depends on your circumstances. The ATB test is shorter than the GED test—which has five sections—and may be less difficult overall. However, you will not be eligible for federal student aid without a secondary-level diploma—which could make college tuition unaffordable or more difficult to manage. Still, the ATB test can be helpful to students without a high school or GED diploma—in helping them earn entrance to college and qualify for non-federal aid.



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