Origins of Exams


I have recently been made aware of how close it is until I have to sit some very important exams. And as much stress as this idea brings me, it did also lead me down a mental rabbit hole of wondering where these exams that I have to sit even originated from. They have always been around as long as I can remember and even my parents went through the same sort of testing when they were around my age as well. I wondered how far back this idea of examination to prove intelligence or knowledge actually goes. So of course, I decided to take a look.

The history of it doesn’t actually go all too far back. In fact, it seems to only go back to the 19th century, to a time when the attendance of school was not necessary in the same way that it is now. These examinations were put in place to examine an individual’s levels of knowledge or understanding of subjects. While this was its first official invention, the Chinese used the same concept in order to recruit individuals to specific government positions. It was called the Imperial Examination and was supposed to be a way of employing individuals based on their traits, characteristics and merits rather than on their class or upbringing, making the system of employment into official positions far fairer.  This idea reached someone in England in the 19th century who was part of the East India Company, who had urged for the creation of the East India Company College.

The idea of the Imperial Examination continued to inspire, later inspiring the first of what is closer to the examination that we think of when we think of it now a days. Schools across England approached universities to set standardized tests for their students to be able to take. Young boys would go to places such as Churches to take these tests on a variety of subject similar to the kind of spread of subjects that may be take during todays exams. Exams took place over six or seven days and exams would be held in the morning, afternoon and then evening. All of the exams would be fit in this time. Examiners would travel to the locations that the exams were taking place, in the proper attire, with the exam questions in a case, instead of having individuals appointed by the schools as we do now. The first time this occurred was the fourteenth of December 1858, where it was just boys allowed to take these exams. In 1867, girls were allowed, for the first time, to sit these same exams as the boys.

Exams now a days seem to many as a way of progressing forward, of proving yourself and what you know, not only to those close to you, but also future potential employers, or even future educators. Still, they are not the most important thing that comes through our childhood. It is also important that we use our youths as an experience, a time for us to make mistakes that we can learn from, make the friends that we will take into the future. We are more than just how we come out on paper.


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