Abitur: Should every German state have the same high school leaving exam?

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Abitur: Should every German state have the same high school leaving exam?
Students get ready to set their exams in Ravensburg, Baden-Württemberg. Photo: DPA

Germany is considering whether every state should have the same high school leaving exams in a bid to tackle the ‘Abitur lottery’ that results in regional differences.


What actually is the Abitur?

The Abitur is the qualification that pupils get after the final two years at a Gymnasium, a selective state school comparable to a UK grammar school, which is designed for supposedly more academic students. Around 30% of German secondary school pupils attend Gymnasiums.

It can also be used to describe the final exams taken by pupils, and is often shortened to "Abi" in Germany.

Those who take the Abitur must choose four or five subjects, including at least one science, one humanity/social science, and a language or art.

Various assessments over the two years, including big final exams, amount to an overall grade, which ranges from one to six. 1,0 is the best grade possible and is equivalent to an A* or A+. Anything under 2,0 is an A grade, and 4,0 or under is considered a pass.

Completing the Abitur allows you to apply for university, but getting a good grade can really broaden your range of options.

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Das Abitur

So what’s the issue?

Each of Germany’s 16 states has a differing Abitur programme, meaning that there are always discussions over the variations in each area. 

Of course, the quality of state schools is bound to vary around the country, but experts worry that the exams, which are set separately by each state for its own pupils, may not be at the same standard of difficulty.

This issue hit the headlines earlier this year when tens of thousands of students from different parts of the country signed petitions against their maths exam, deeming them too difficult. They wanted the scoring of each exam - which is the same in every state - to be adjusted to the level of difficulty, which varies state by state. 

Do people want to change the Abitur system?

Apparently the majority do. According to a representative survey by DPA carried out by the opinion research institute YouGov, 80 percent of those questioned were in favour of high school graduates being presented with the same examinations throughout the country. Only one in 10 rejected this idea completely, while nine percent answered with "don't know".

READ ALSO: The seven classroom culture shocks of teaching at a German school

Germans also reject the idea that each federal state in Germany should be responsible for education, as is the case now. A total of 61 percent said they would prefer a centralized system, while 28 percent are in favour of the current system.

Some politicians have spoken out in favour of changing the Abi system, including Baden-Württemberg's Minister of Education and Cultural Affairs Susanne Eisenmann of the centre-right CDU, who said recently that Germany needed a nationwide Abitur within "five to 10 years".

Other supporters include Free Democrats leader Christian Lindner and interim centre-left Social Democrats leader Manuela Schwesig.

Now the assembly of education ministers from all the federal states (the 'KMK') – is being called upon to take action and look into this issue.

But Bavaria premier Markus Söder of the CSU, as well as the Hesse education minister Alexander Lorz, of the CDU, have spoken out against the move, indicating that it's an issue that polarizes a lot of people.

How can the government change this if they wanted to?

If a standardized Abi was decided upon then a constitutional amendment would be necessary and that would need a two-third majority in the Bundestag and the Bundesrat (Germany's federal assembly) to back it, reports DPA.


Nationwide leaving exams/diploma - (das) Zentralabitur

Secondary school/grammar school - (das) Gymnasium

Majority - (die) Mehrheit

Grade - (die) Note

Exam - (die) Prüfung

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