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Who Invented Exams? It’s Time to Go Back in History

Who Invented Exams? It’s Time to Go Back in History

Who Invented Exams? It’s Time to Go Back in History

Date: 04/10/2018 | Posted by: MeritTrac | Category: General


A large part of our academic life is spent inside the examination hall, and this is especially true in a country like India. As students, we have dreaded, disliked, and even detested exams. Even before we gave a paper, we would think of all the possible excuses that we could give our parents to explain our poor showing in the results.

Henry or Henry?

All in all, as a student, we’ve had this odd and almost amusing relationship with exams, but we’ve never focused on the million dollar question: ‘Who’s the person behind these terrifyingly traumatic form of assessments?’

If we were to go by historical sources, then exams were invented by an American businessman and philanthropist known as Henry Fischel somewhere in the late 19th century. However, some sources attribute the invention of standardized assessments to another man by the same name, i.e. Henry Fischel. The latter one was a professor of religious studies at the Indiana University during the early 20th century. There you go! You’ve finally found out the name of the tormentor par excellence.

Henry Fischel (Businessman, Philanthrophist)

Exam-in China

Exams actually have ancient roots!

While a lot of people attribute formal assessments and examinations to the above gentlemen, both named Henry Fischel, the concept of ‘examination’ has its roots in ancient China.

Did you know? That almost 2000 years ago in China, being a government official was a matter of great prestige, and the only way to enter this elite club of government officials was to pass examinations that were designed under the watchful eyes of Emperor Zhang of Hen.

The Cambridge Assessments

Cambridge hall of exams

Cambridge is one of the most widely recognized educational institutes in the world, and this is something that’s generally known and acknowledged. However, there’s also a quite unknown relation between exams and this historical university.

In the late 19th century, schools in England approached the Cambridge and Oxford universities, and requested them for a standardized test that male pupils could take locally across England. This was in 1858, and back then, exams were open only to boys.

The first Cambridge assessments took place on 14/12/1958, and were administered locally across schools and churches or any other place where students could comfortably take them. The subjects were pretty similar to the ones that we get tested on today such as English, Mathematics, Geography, History, Latin, German, French, Politics etc.

Also, just like we have external invigilators for our class 10th and 12th exams, invigilators travelled all the way from Cambridge to different parts of England by rail in order to administer those tests. If you want to access the first ever question paper set by the Cambridge University, you can do so by visiting the Cambridge University Library.

Tests through time

The concept of assessments and testing has evolved drastically in the past few decades. Today, assessments also refer to holistic testing. Unlike regular tests, holistic testing focuses on the overall picture instead of specific components. Also, a lot of individual units are taken into account in order to build an overall picture that reflects the actual competency of a candidate. These tests are used not just in colleges but also while interviewing people for jobs.

That being said, holistic assessments are often fun and very engaging, and are definitely unlike the mundane examinations that we normally come across. This is so because they help you find your calling and point out areas where you can and should improve. Plus, there’s always the added benefit that they help corporates to look for the best talent.

Pretty cool right? Here’s hoping that we and the future generation can always take them up instead of those terrifyingly boring exams!

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