In England, 16-year-olds take “15 or 20 substantial examinations” as part of a test deciding whether they’ll finish high school, says Dylan Wiliam, a professor emeritus of educational assessment at the University of London.
For those who do well and go on, they get two more years of high school. And each of those years ends with another big round of tests, saving the worst for last.
“And your grades on those examinations will determine which universities you’re offered places at,” Wiliam says.
Grades don’t matter. It’s all about the tests.
Finland has no standardized exams — until the end of high school, when students spend 40 hours taking a half-dozen daylong exams. Students know their futures depend on doing well on the exam, says Pasi Sahlberg, a visiting professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Japanese students have to take entrance exams to get into an academic high school.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” says Akihiko Takahashi, an associate professor of math education at DePaul University who knows the Japanese testing system well. “If you do not pass exam, you cannot go anywhere, even high school.”
Japanese (and Finnish) universities also give their own entrance exams.
Around the world, except for the U.S., high school grades, teachers’ recommendations, extracurriculars and essays don’t determine college admissions, says Wiliam. “Basically, it’s how well you do on those exams.”