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Abitur

Abitur

Abitur (from Latin abire = go away, go off) is a designation used in Germany and Finland for final exams that young adults take at the end of their secondary education, usually after 12 or 13 years of schooling. The official term in Germany for this certificate of education is Allgemeine Hochschulreife; the contraction Abi is common in colloquial usage. The Zeugnis der allgemeinen Hochschulreife (often referred to as Abiturzeugnis), issued after candidates have passed their final exams, is the document which contains their grades and which formally enables them to attend university. This means it includes the functions of a school leaving (high school graduation) certificate and a university entrance exam. In 2005, a total of 400,000 students passed the Abitur exam in Germany.

Even though the Abitur is often compared to a high school diploma in the United States, it is closer to the associate degree of a US college, as it in many states requires 13 years of study and enables the recipient to earn a Bachelor's degree in three years. However, the academic level of the Abitur is more comparable to the International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement tests — indeed, the study requirements for the International Baccalaureate differ little from the Finnish exam requirements. It is the only school-leaving certificate in all states of Germany that allows the graduate (or Abiturient) to directly commence studies at the university. The other school leaving certificates, the Hauptschulabschluss and the Realschulabschluss, do not allow their holders to matriculate at a university. Those granted certificates of "Hauptschulabschluss" or "Realschulabschluss" can gain a specialized "Fachabitur" or an Abitur if they graduate from a "Berufsschule" and then attend "Berufsoberschule".

The importance of the Abitur has grown beyond admission to the university, however, in that it has increasingly become a prerequisite to start an apprenticeship in some professions (e.g. banking). Therefore, career opportunities for Hauptschule or Realschule graduates who do not have the Abitur have almost universally seen a downturn in recent years. More than just being a leaving certificate, the Abitur is widely regarded as a matter of personal prestige as well. According to the Statistisches Bundesamt in 2003/2004 about 23% of all students leaving school graduated with an Abitur (Fachabitur [1.2%], Realschulabschluss [42.6%], Hauptschulabschluss [25.0%], without any degree [8.3%])

The official term for Abitur in Germany is Zeugnis der allgemeinen Hochschulreife (often translated as General Qualification for University Entrance or Certificate for Overall Maturity for Higher Education). The equivalent exam in Austria, Poland and other countries of continental Europe is the Matura; while in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Africa, Malta, and the West Indies, it is A-levels; and in Scotland, it is Advanced Higher Grade.

Abitur in Germany

In colloquial usage the term Abitur often refers to the final exams only. These generally consist of sets of written examinations and oral examinations. The subjects covered in these examinations vary according to the specialisation chosen by the pupil during the last 2-3 years (Oberstufe) at the Gymnasium. The pupil's choice may be limited further, however, depending on the specific laws on higher education in a federal state (Bundesland), which has some independence in the design of its educational systems with respect to multilateral treaties between the states. So Abitur in every state may differ. However, most of them have centralised exams now.

The marks obtained in these exams are combined with marks won during the last 2-3 years to a summary mark, like the US GPA. This, in turn, is important to be admitted to a German university for some fields of study, in particular medical schools ("Numerus clausus").

The final Abitur grade is a figure ranging from 1.0 (best) to 4.0. However, during their time of studies and at the end exams students receive only grades on a scale of 15 (best) to 0 points (failed). These points are weighted and then added up and converted to the final grade. If a student receives 14 points in all his/her courses and exams he will get a final grade of 1.0.

The composite score of the Abitur is between 280 and 840, though both borders are rarely awarded. Students with a score below 280 fail and will not receive the Abitur. There are some more conditions, the student has to meet in order to receive the abitur. The student has the possibility to omit courses (if he/she has taken more than necessary) from his/her composite score. At the moment, 768 points are equivalent to 1.0 - the highest grade achievable in the lessons.

History of the German Abitur

Up until the 18th century, every German university had its own entrance examination. In 1788 Prussia introduced the Abiturreglement, a law that—for the first time within Germany—established the Abitur as an official qualification. It was later also established in the other German states. In 1834 it became the only university entrance exam in Prussia, and it remained so in all states of Germany up until 2004. Since then the German state of Hesse allows also students with the Fachhochschulreife (see below) to study at the universities within the state.

Other qualifications called Abitur in colloquial usage

In the German language the European Baccalaureate is called europäisches Abitur, and the International Baccalaureate is called internationales Abitur, both not to be confused with the German Abitur.

Fachabitur was used up until the 1970s in all of Germany for a variation of the Abitur. The official term for this German qualification is fachgebundene Hochschulreife. This qualification includes only one foreign language (in most cases English). The Abitur, in contrast, mostly includes two foreign languages. This school leaving certificate also allows the graduate to start studying at a university. However, he is limited to a specified range of majors. The range of majors depends on the specific subjects covered in his Abitur examinations. But the graduate is allowed to study all majors at a Fachhochschule (University of Applied Sciences, in some ways comparable to polytechnics). Today this school leaving certificate is called fachgebundenes Abitur.

Now the term Fachabitur is used in most parts of Germany for the Fachhochschulreife. This school leaving certificate was introduced in West Germany in the 1970s together with the Fachhochschulen. It enables the graduate to start studying at a Fachhochschule, and in Hesse also at a university within the state. In the Gymnasiums of some states it is reached in the year before the Abitur is reached. However, the normal way to receive the Fachhochschulreife is the graduation from a German Fachoberschule, a vocational high school also introduced in the 1970s.

The term Notabitur is used for a qualification which existed only during World War I and World War II. It was granted to male German Students who freely enlisted for military service before graduation. The Notabitur during WWI included an examination, roughly equivalent to the Abitur exam. The WWII Notabitur, in contrast, was granted without any examinations. After the war this was a major disadvantage for Germans with this qualification since it was, unlike its WWI counterpart, generally not recognised in West Germany and never recognised in East Germany.

Abitur in Finland

A similar test has also existed in Finland since the mid-19th century. The test is called Ylioppilastutkinto in Finnish and Studentexamen in Swedish. The official English language translation is Matriculation Examination. Since 1919, the test has been arranged by a national body, the Matriculation Examination Board. Before that, the administration of the test was the responsibility of University of Helsinki.

Successful completion formerly legally entitled one to enrol as a university student (hence "matriculation"). Although the legal requirement has been lifted, matriculation without the doing the test is still an exception. The universities are now free to arrange their own entrance examinations in addition to considering scores from the Matriculation Examination. Thus, universities accept students based both on entrance exam points, matriculation exam points, and also by a combined score from the two. Matriculation entitles one to wear the student cap.

Each examinee is required to participate in at least four tests in order to matriculate. As of 2005 the only mandatory part of the test is that of Äidinkieli ("mother tongue"; Finnish for most students, Swedish or Sámi for some), including a composition test. The student then has to choose three other subjects from

  • Second domestic language (Swedish for Finnish speakers or Finnish for Swedish speakers)
  • Foreign language Languages are separated into A and B levels depending on the demanded skill. The language counted as part of the four obligatory subjects must be one of A-level. However, if a student takes advanced level mathematics as an obligatory subject, he may take B-level language exams. English, German and French are the most popular choices among students, but in addition, the students may take Russian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Latin, Inari Sámi, and Northern Sámi exams. The foreign language exams include listening and reading comprehension tests, grammar test and an essay.
  • Mathematics (ordinary or advanced level), including 15 assignments 10 of which must be completed.
  • Reaali in which examinees take between one and four exams, and are only allowed to answer questions from a single subject per exam. These subjects have to be chosen by the examinee well in advance prior to the exam. Exams consist of questions which require answers in the form of an essay. The subjects of reaali category are

*Religion, Evangelical Lutheran
*Religion, Orthodox Christian
*Education on ethics and moral history
*Philosophy
*Psychology
*History
*Social science
*Physics
*Chemistry
*Biology
*Geography
*Health education

The exam takes place at schools according to minute regulations laid out by the national board. Each exam takes six hours. After the exam, the teachers grade the papers and send the graded papers to the national board which then re-grades every paper. The grading of the exam may be appealed against. In this case, the board re-examines the grading. The result of the re-examination is final and cannot be appealed to any authority.

The score of each test varies with the subject. For example, the maximum score for the test in Finnish or Swedish as a first language is 114 points, in mathematics 66 points and in foreign languages 299 points. The tests are graded according to normal distribution into seven verbal grades with Latin names: Improbatur (I), Approbatur (A), Lubenter Approbatur (B) Cum Laude Approbatur (C), Magna Cum Laude Approbatur (M) Eximia Cum Laude Approbatur (E) and Laudatur (L), from bottom to top. In general, at least the grade A is required for the test to be passed. In every exam,

  • 5% of students receive a laudatur
  • 15% of students receive an eximia cum laude approbatur
  • 20% of students receive a magna cum laude approbatur
  • 24% of students receive a cum laude approbatur
  • 20% of students receive a lubenter approbatur
  • 11% of students receive an approbatur
  • 5% of students receive an improbatur.

Traditionally, the test is taken in the spring, but it is also arranged every autumn and may be taken in up to three parts. Thus taking the matriculation exam may take up to one and half years. Usually, the last set of exams is taken at the end of the third year in upper secondary school. The exams take place in late March, but for the school-leavers, the school ends in mid-February, giving the students ample time to prepare for the test in solitary study. This occasion is celebrated by the traditional festivity of penkkarit.

Compensation system

If the student receives an improbatur in any of the obligatory exams, the whole exam is failed. However, a single failed obligatory exam may be compensated by good results from other exams. For this purpose, there is a compensation system where the total exam result of the student is calculated and it is compared to the result of the failed test. In order to get his/her diploma accepted, student must gather enough compensation points from all the other exams. Improbatur is divided to four classes (i+,i, i-,i=), each descriping the deepness of student's failure (i+ being the least bad) and each class has its own number of compensation points to be reached for acceptable result (12, 14, 16 and 18 respectively). Points from accepted exams are awarded as follows: L 7 points, E 6, M 5, C 4, B 3 and A 2.

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