External Examinations in Germany

External Examinations in Germany – Part 4 of Series

In part 4 of the series on education systems you’ll learn about the external examinations in Germany for graduation at CSE, GCSE and high school level. The good thing about this option in formal education is that “everyone” can take them – given certain prerequisits. Read on to learn more. The other parts of the series

Part I Germany’s & American Education Systems * Part II Teachers’ Education * Part III Assessments

External Examinations in Germany – Overview

External examinations in Germany are for anyone who is not in a public school or an equivalent, which is an acknowledged private school (“anerkannt”). Instead, these examinations are not just for alumni of private schools with the status of acceptance (“genehmigt”). They’re just as well for single individuals of all ages who want to earn a graduation from formal education with any of the possible degrees.

Prerequisites to Take External Examinations in Germany

Let’s say you’re a foreigner and have come to Germany with no or a low formal education degree. You’ve got the residence authorization without limits and can showcase that you’ve got a certain educational level, for example a CSE. Then, you’d go to the school agency to check if it’s accepted as an equivalent to Germany’s CSE, which is called ESA. If you come from a country of the European Union (EU) that process should be much easier than when you enter Germany from outside the EU.

Let’s say your graduation is accepted. Then, you’d like to know how to go on.

External Examinations in Germany – how They Work

First of all, you need to show the schoo agency upon application for the external examinations in Germany that you’ve prepared for them well. That is the case when you sign up for evening courses at the so-called Volkshochschulen. On average, these degree programs concentrate on the few subjects needed for those external examinations in Germany.

They take about the same time as any formal education would take – 1 year for CSE, another year for GCSE, and 2 years for the advanced technical college entrance qualification, ‘Fachhochschulreife’, or – in that case different from ‘Gymnasien‘ – 3 years for A-Levels or final secondary-school examinations, called ‘Abitur’. The ‘Abitur’ is the qualifying admission certificate to any university in Germany, validated by the final mark. See more details on the graduation examinations.

External Examinations in Germany are held somewhat earlier than public schools’ centralized exams. This is mainly to avoid exhausting the state school’s teaching force that takes the External Exams. That means, teachers from public schools take over in any of the either written and oral assessments. Written assessments are executed by two appointed teachers, the oral examinations may be taken by the student’s original teacher if the student comes prepared from a school context, and accompanied by two teachers appointed by any State’s school agency. They are called ‘Schulbehörde’.

Those external exams have an individualized content to some extend, depending on the preparation content of the student(s), however always in line with a given curriculum – usually that of the prevalent state or ‘Bundesland‘. As for the quality of career readiness, those external exams provide the same formal degree quality but with less wider content confirmation on the actual certificate. Let’s dig into that with a little more detail.

The What – Assessed Content in External Examinations

In the case of private schools or evening schools ‘teaching’ the student, the responsible teacher of a subject has to introduce three alternative examinations with a varying set of each containing three polls along a scoring expectation for each of them. The content taught was in alignment with Common Core and curriculum expectations, of course. And the examination set up has to follow a structure from easy to challenging, to put it simple.

If the trhee alternatives are regarded as satisfying, the school agency chooses two examination complexes, of which the teacher will not be informed about prior to the external exam. When the exam date comes, the student is handed over the two remaining options with each having three tasks or polls to complete. He choses to stick to one option. Or said differently, the student usually is allowed to skip the other option – just as is in the centralized examinations in Germany. Usually, there’s an overarching theme, like a certain ‘short story’ or ‘German grammar’ or whatever. The theme is taken from the content taught in the previous months.

If an individual independently of a school takes such External Exam, the content is provided by the school agency. He/ she will be situated in the same locality as private school students if they happen to be only few. For private school graders in general, the external examinations in Germany will be held in the very private school’s locality under the complete and only oversight of two school agency officials. The specialty of such external exams for all three degree levels are:

  • The written and oral exams each count a 50%, and make up the total of 100% alone. This is different to centralized examinations, where prior achievements count as well. The oral performance is actually balancing the mark out for the better or worse in the case of almost equal performance in both assessments. So what happens to the marks earned during the prep phase? A school year’s performance of a student only counts in the school’s certification, which is not valid for an official application, though informative to future hired;
  • There is a total of altogether 4 written, and oral exams in the ‘main’ subjects and a science. And there are 4 additional oral exams of choice, to my knowledge. Those 8 subject make up a complete degree, which is in its function regarded as 100% equal to the central exams’ graduation degree, see above. Therefore, when it comes to the issue of college readiness, the ‘Numerus Clausus’ (NC) of only 8 subjects in an External Exam is as equivalent in formal value as that of, an estimated, double as much but fewerly tested subjects sum;
  • The External Exams can only be repeated twice in the case of failing;
  • Every grade, where the student is graded lower than “D” or 4, is needed to be balanced out with either two “C”-gradings or one “B”-grading in two or one other subjects. Grade “F” is to be balanced out with two “B” gradings or one “A”. In German marks from 1-6 (best to poorest) it’s translated to a 5 balanced out with two marks 3 or one mark 2. A 6 is balanced out with two marks 2 or one mark 1. Two marks 6 are not balanced out, though. It means failing the entire external examination in Germany;
  • In the procedure of oral examinations, the student’s teacher in the specific subject is the one assessing the student before attendance of two external teachers that were assigned the tasks to one, writing the exam’s protocol and the other one, as head of examination board. Both may and do in actively engage in assessing the students. In such a setting, the student’s teacher is always merely regarded as coach instead of a judge (see Coleman) although incorporating both roles at the same time.

Wrapping up the Series

The introduction of centralized examinations into the American school system, as is considered, carries lots of implications with it, as is deducted from Germany’s practise. This is especially true in the matter of harmonizing career and college readiness nationwide. Again, that would imply a Common Core on national level, too.

No wonder there is lots of hesitation about it in the U.S. However, the deeper motivation for an introduction of centralized examinations in the United States is to lifting student performance and so ensuring lasting nation’s economic stability while that of Germany is to educating future citizens for democracy and ensuring the nation’s political stability.

Interestingly, the whole issue of school accountability in the U.S. with its implication of student performance and to-parent accountability seems to not exist at all within Germany’s public education system – nor in a perception of necessity by neither party. The issue of ‘difficult’ schools does exist, though. ‘Problematic’ or ‘difficult’ schools are usually located in the big cities’ peripheries – in contrast to America where they are not in the suburbs but rather in the cities’ centers.

In Germany, the term ‘difficult’ schools is related to – in public as well as in professional opinion – as those with lots of students with a migration background, mostly of an earlier 2nd or 3d generation. Students of these schools are given a second chance with the option of external examinations in Germany. If they fail in the centralized examinations or leave school earlier after the obligatory years of compulsory education being completed, they’ve still got a chance to take the degree later.

The American school policy has taken a strong focus on migrants’ education and achieved much gain to close the education gap. If the education gap is closed there comes with it the opportunity for any student from a minority to be better-off financially in professional life. Germany has to catch up with the U.S. in this, and the integration of its students with migration background remains an urgent issue for Germany’s education policy.

These so-called minority students within certain German localities have been low-performing in PISA in the past decades, admittedly and with fewer opportunities to raise to the occasion as it’s possible with the school system in the U.S. Again, these opportunities for migrated students in Germany are certainly lower than those with the vast majority of that of other OECD countries’ school systems, including the U.S. An interesting longterm study on comparing examination outcomes in the context of PISA results from 2000-2015 was undertaken by researcher Eric Hanushek of Stanford.

External Examinations in Germany are a good alternative for anyone who want to earn a second-cance formal graduation degree.

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