Test regimes around the world, compared

There is an age-old refrain about the UK education system that students here are some of the most tested in the world.

This is usually said to underscore the point of view that we need to reform the rating system that children face here so that the high stakes pressure that comes from all of these exams – Sat, multiplication table checks, GCSE, A levels and in Scotland the National standardized national, higher and primary assessments – can be turned into something more manageable, for teachers and students.

But how does the UK’s testing regime really stack up against other major nations? Are the children here the most tried in the world or is it a myth?

We looked at seven other countries to help understand what students in these education systems face and see how it compares.


In France the first experience with standardized testing is the Landmarks – broadly comparable to SAT KS1. In years 2 and 3, students take two French and one math tests.

These take place twice a year – in September and February – and data from these is shared with teachers to help form a profile of each student. The results are also given to the parents.

Once students turn 11, they move on to “College” – essentially college. Although there is no equivalent to the KS2 Sats, at the start of college, students take online tests to provide teachers with a detailed diagnostic summary of strengths and weaknesses.

Then to mark the end of their compulsory education at age 15, French students take a national diploma, often called the Brevet, which consists of written tests in French, mathematics, literature and science followed by an oral exam.

Although the diploma is not a prerequisite for admission to Lyc̩e Рlyc̩e Рthe results will influence the Course of the baccalaureate followed there.

Some students will take professional or technological versions of the three-year degree qualification, but most will still follow the traditionally academic training. general baccalaureate where they are examined on a wide range of subjects such as French, history, geography, a foreign language, philosophy, mathematics and science.


In German primary schools – or Grundschule – pupils take tests in German and mathematics at the end of their second year. Of From the 4th year onwards, a continuous informal testing phase begins which “classifies” the students in streams.

In consultation with parents, Grundschule teachers do bergangsempfehlung or transfer the recommendations to three different types of secondary schools depending on academic potential.

The most academic children (39%) attend the Gymnasium where they follow a traditional academic course. Less academic students go to the Hauptschule to prepare for professional qualifications.

But most students go to the Realschule which offers a hybrid academic and professional course, culminating at the age of 16 with a Realschulabschuss diploma which qualifies students for further professional courses or apprenticeships.

Alternatively, Realschule graduates can resume a traditional academic path by attending a gymnasium at age 16 to follow the Oberstufe Gymnasium.

It is a two-year course that ends with the Abitur, a final exam taken at the age of 18 as a prerequisite for university entry. Mathematics and German are compulsory components followed with work in two elective subjects.


At the end of their third year at Educacion Primaria, Spanish children take standardized tests in math and language. The assessment in these subjects is repeated at the end of their sixth year, along with an additional test for Science and Technology.

At the end of compulsory secondary education, students obtain a school leaving certificate at the age of 16 which entitles them to access two-year Bachillerato courses designed to prepare them for higher education. .

In Bachillerato, sstudents follow a compulsory core with four subjects of their choice. Their final grade is based on a combination of exam results and continuous assessment.

Aspiring academics will then take the Selectivity, a general university entrance examination.

The university course that Spanish students can take depends on the result of the Selectiividad and their Bachillerato results


The education system in Sweden is based on a nine-year comprehensive school (Grundskola), with compulsory attendance between 6/7 and 15/16 years

In 3rd year (equivalent to 4th year in England), the national tests are Mathematics and Swedish. These are framed in a story involving two children encountering these subjects in everyday situations.

In grades 6 and 9, additional tests are organized on three main subjects: Swedish, Mathematics and English, which have both oral and written elements.

Most students who complete the compulsory Grundskola with passing grades in Swedish, English and math choose to follow a three-year national program in high school or gymnasium.

There are 18 national programs to choose from, six of which are university preparatory and twelve are professional.


In Japanese primary schools or Shōgakkō Pupils follow a core curriculum and are assessed nationally in languages, mathematics and science at the end of the sixth year. The tests are part of a high-stakes accountability framework for schools and teachers.

In the third year of secondary school, students are formally assessed by a national exam in mathematics and Japanese. In addition to these basic tests, school work is assessed internally by teachers in order to award the Chugakko Sotsugyo Shomeisho – or lower end of studies certificate – at the age of 15 years.

At this point, Japanese students have to take a nationally standardized test to determine if they even go to high school, although 98% of students manage to pass this threshold.

Upon graduation from high school, Japanese students have to pass a single high-stakes exam in a difficult time that has been dubbed shiken jigoku or hell exam.

On top of that, aspiring college students have to take the “Center Test” which is such a high stake that some parents start tutoring their children from a young age.

United States

The American system is generally divided into three levels or schools: elementary (grades K-5), middle (grades 6-8) and high (grades 9-12).

American students are assessed at the end of each school year, but exams are not national and results rarely hinder progress from year to year.

In high school, there is no restriction of the study program to elective subjects and no national exams comparable to GCSEs or A Levels.

Instead, high school students take tests throughout the year and a final exam or project to determine a final grade for the subject that contributes to an overall average (GPA – Grade Point Average). Students earn a high school diploma if they pass the state’s threshold GPA score.

Those who wish to attend college typically choose to take the SAT or Scholastic Aptitude Test – where their score combined with the GPA is used in the college application process.


In an assessment system reminiscent of the SATs, Australian students pass Naplan (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy) mid-term tests in reading, writing, language and numeracy in grades 3, 5, 7 and 9.

Although the tests are not particularly ‘high stakes’ for children, they do important accountability measures for schools and are published on the government-run “My School” website.

Tests are hated by teacher unions because they are believed to have a restrictive effect on the curriculum.

Although all Australian students take the Naplan test in Grade 9 of secondary school, it is not equivalent to GCSEs and is not used as an entry requirement for further education or employment. Rather, it is used by schools to focus their teaching and by governments to monitor academic performance.

In the final year of high school, grade 12 children take a combination of examinations and continuous assessment leading to a certificate approved by the state government and recognized by all Australian universities and vocational training institutions.

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