The new high school equivalency examination, which demands more analysis and has fewer multiple-choice answers, drew fewer participants in its first year, but they passed at a slightly higher rate than in the past, a review has found.

The number who took the General Educational Development program, or GED, dropped 43.6 percent in 2002, the first full year of the new test series, according to the GED Testing Service report released last week. It said many GED candidates had rushed to take the old test before new standards were implemented.

With the overhaul of the GED, participants were required to complete the test series before the end of 2001 or to start over with the 2002 series. This requirement caused a surge in test-takers to more than 1 million people in 2001 and a decline in those showing up to take the test a year later.

"People who had partial scores were rushing in to take the tests before the new standards kicked in in 2002," said Joan Chikos Auchter, executive director of the GED Testing Service.

The changes were prompted by new K-12 education standards.

The GED has tested about 800,000 people a year for the past decade. About 500,000 passed each year.

In 2002, the number who took at least part of the revised test was 603,019, down from 1,069,899 in 2001.

Of the 510,451 who completed the 2002 battery of tests, 360,444 -- or 70.6 percent -- passed. Of the 979,829 who completed the 2001 battery of tests, 683,866 -- or 69.8 percent -- passed.

The tests consist of exams in reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies. The tests also measure communication skills, information processing, problem solving and critical thinking.

The greatest improvement in 2002 was seen in reading. Math proved hardest for people in 2002, followed by writing. Both tests had open-ended questions for which people had to construct answers without relying on multiple choices.

The report said 33 states surpassed the average passing rate, with the highest rates in Delaware (96.2 percent), Iowa (92.5 percent), and Wyoming (91 percent). The District of Columbia (51.5 percent), New Jersey (52.2 percent), and New York (53.7 percent), had the lowest passing rates.

Among the findings:

* In 2002, 1 percent of adults in the United States without high school diplomas passed the GED tests to earn high school diplomas.

* The average age of GED passers in the United States was 23.8 years.

* Men were more likely to pass the GED test in 2002 than women; 58.2 percent of men and 41.8 percent of women passed.

* Forty-six percent of GED passers reported having completed at least 11 years of formal education, while another 28.3 percent left school after completing 10th grade.

More than 34 million adults in the United States, or 16 percent of the adult population, have not completed high school.

The GED is a program of the American Council on Education, an association of the nation's colleges and universities. It is recognized in the United States and Canada as the equivalent of a high school diploma.