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A Short History of Exams

Exams are familiar to us all.  The system of exams in Ireland is referred to as ‘external terminal examinations.  By ‘external’, it means that the exams are conducted by an agency outside of the school – i.e., State Examinations Commission.  By ‘terminal’ – no, it doesn’t mean what you are thinking, it means that the exams come at the end of the school cycle in question – e.g., the Leaving Certificate takes place after the final two years of secondary school.

One of the most interesting things about exams is that they are not in operation only a few years or a few decades even.  The Chinese Civil Service examinations were introduced almost 3,000+ years ago and reached their peak in terms of use and systems about 2,000 years ago.  The current 2023 model in Ireland is shared broadly by the UK, France, India, and many other countries around the world.

Professor Ichisada Miyazaki (1976) chronicled the history of the civil services exams of imperial Chinese in his book ‘China’s Examination Hell’.  The story is remarkable for telling a story that could be retold almost exactly today, here in Ireland as well as elsewhere.  For it recounts tales of student stress – often debilitating – and family expectation – a lot riding on getting to be the local mandarin!

Exams have a long history of being stressful, for students as well as parents.  And the cycle repeats and repeats with each Leaving Cert.   Yet a lot of support is available and can make a difference to both students and to anxious / expectant parents. 

Student Exam SKILLS can be improved, to good effect in exams.  Exam parents can become . . . better . . . at being exam parents!

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