High school dropouts are lining up in Tucson to take the test that could change their lives before the paper and pencil version disappears.

The general equivalency diploma exam is going digital Jan. 1, meaning those without basic computer skills won’t be able to take it.

The price tag is rising, too. An increase of up to 50 percent is expected in Arizona, potentially bringing the cost to $150 from the current $100.

More than 200 locals — about five times more than normal for year’s end — have signed up to take the low-tech, lower-cost version before changes kick in at Pima Community College, the area’s main GED testing site.

Some states have opted to keep a paper-and-pencil version available for a phase-in period, but Arizona isn’t one of them.

Computerized tests are a sign of the times in an age when even low-wage work often requires basic computer skill, local officials say.

While high schools have adopted new standards and technology over the last decade or so, the GED test hasn’t changed since 2002, the last time it was upgraded.

“High schools have been changing, and we have to change, too, said Regina Suitt, PCC’s academic dean for adult education.

About 2,000 Pima County residents took the equivalency test last year and about 80 percent passed — one of the highest pass rates in Arizona, Suitt said.

PCC offers free help to would-be test takers looking to upgrade their skills. The college now is integrating computer literacy into those classes.

Sarah Fearnow, a GED instructor at PCC, said the new test — actually a set of four tests in different subject areas — will focus more on creative problem-solving and less on memorizing facts.

The math test, for example, will be 55 percent algebra-based compared with the current 25 percent. Test takers may be asked to project a small business’s future earnings, or predict a tree’s growth rate based on tree rings, using algebraic formulas.

Besides being taken on computers, the new tests also will be scored by them. The new setup uses an “automated scoring engine in order to replicate the human scoring process,” according to the website of GED Testing Service.

Historically, only about 5 percent of locals who pass the GED test go on to obtain a higher education at a trade school, college or university, Suitt said.

Now officials will be putting more focus on the need to keep learning, she said.

“The test is no longer being seen as an end point, but as a starting point.”

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at calaimo@azstarnet.com or 573-4138.