The History and Controversy of Exams in Education

TLDR Exams have a long history dating back to ancient China and have evolved over time. While they have flaws and generate controversy, they are still considered the best option for measuring education compared to teacher assessments, as they provide a more level playing field.

Timestamped Summary

00:00 Exams are a fundamental part of education and measuring education, and the idea of exams has a long history that dates back to the 1920s.
05:56 Exams originated in China in the seventh century and were used as a means of selection for the civil service, with the Chinese system being more extensive and standardized than in the West.
10:38 By the 19th century, there were millions of people taking the basic exams in China, but only a couple hundred would reach the top positions, leading to increasing pressure on the system and parallels with modern-day issues of elite overproduction.
15:27 The exam system in China became increasingly narrow and focused on passing through hoops, with regional quotas and secrets known by certain individuals, leading to parallels with modern-day exam systems.
20:20 The introduction of exams in the West, particularly in Prussia, had a significant impact on education and professionalization in the UK.
24:59 The introduction of exams in England was delayed due to religious divisions and the existence of self-funded schools and exams by different religious groups, resulting in the current system of multiple exam boards and a lack of centralized oversight.
29:21 The content of exams, including the subjects and topics covered, has been a subject of debate and critique throughout history, with some arguing for a greater emphasis on professional knowledge and training rather than classics and literature.
33:52 Exams in the 1850s and 1950s included questions on topics such as the Indian mutiny, the life of soldiers and sailors, emigration to Australia, changes in people's habits, geography, Henry VIII's changes to the church, the development of South Africa, the collapse of Napoleon's empire, domestic problems in Britain, and Magna Carta.
38:41 Exams have changed in focus and content over time, making it difficult to compare their difficulty, but a study on mathematics A level exams showed that they have become more difficult in recent years.
43:18 A study on mathematics A level exams showed that the standards have changed over time, with a significant drop in standards between 1968 and 1996.
48:03 Exams have flaws but are still considered the best option compared to teacher assessments, as teacher assessments tend to disadvantage certain groups of students, and while exams are not perfect, they provide a more level playing field.
52:40 Exams can create a self-perpetuating elite and hinder reform, leading to a meritocratic elite that believes they are morally superior, which is a topic that generates intense disagreement and ambivalence.
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