Scotland’s exams could be overhauled after the ’19th Century’ British tradition was found to clash with the schools curriculum.
But how are senior pupils assessed or tested in other countries around the world?
Few nations outside those using the British tradition set exams for 16-year-olds, and while some are teacher-led others retain a strong focus on the tests.
In reviewing the Scottish system for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Professor Gordon Stobart made some international comparisons.
Here, we present some of the data outlined in his report. Click on our interactive map for summaries.
Exams around the world
In Scotland pupils sit their first exams in S4 for National 5 qualifications (those working for National 3 or National 4 qualifications at this stage are teacher-assessed). Higher and Advanced Higher exams come in S5 and S6. Results are mainly based on the written exams but also take into account school coursework.
Pupils in England and Wales sit GCSE exams at the age of 16 and A Level exams at 18. In England coursework makes no contribution in the main subjects, while in Wales it accounts for 20% of grades.
In Ireland pupils are tested at the same ages, and have seven written exams and seven tasks. It has developed a modular and credit-based system, with qualifications in three curriculum areas. Moderated school-based coursework and practicals contribute to credits.
In Queensland, Australia, a statewide, written exam was introduced for 18-year-olds in 2020 which accounts for 25% of their mark. The other 75% is based on coursework. It previously had a school-based assessment system, moderated by teacher panels. However, last year’s shift sees pupils complete four pieces of assessment in a subject, three internal and one external.
France’s centralised approach uses the Baccalaureat system and pupils take exams when they are 18. Their grades are based 40% on school-based assessments. A major revision planned for this year involves a new academic diploma with 10 specialist subjects, of which students choose three in their second year – with one written and one oral exam in French literature and culture – and two in their third year – with exams in philosophy and both subjects.
New Zealand pupils sit exams between the ages of 17 and 18 but half their grade is based on teacher assessment. Reforms approved last year will mean pupils studying up to six subjects. External assessments making up the other half of credits have been broadened to include portfolios, reports, performances or assessment tasks.
In Norway teacher-based assessment contributes to over 80% of overall marks, with the only cohort-based central exam in Norwegian. In other subjects exams, at the ages of 15 and 18, are only sat by a sample of students selected through an ‘exam lottery’. In each subject 20% of pupils will sit an exam, and students only find out which subject they will be tested on the day before. Computer-based exams for university students have filtered down to schools.
Hong Kong has a strong focus on exams, with intense competition for funded university places. Introduction of school-based assessment in contributing to grades has been contentious.