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Who, When, Why and How invented exam?

According to 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. He was a professor of religious studies at the Indiana University during the early 20th century.

The concept of ‘examination’ has its roots in ancient China. 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.

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The first Cambridge assessments took place on 14/12/1958 and invigilators travelled all the way from Cambridge to different parts of England by rail in order to administer those tests.

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A Brief History of the Origins of Exams

The word ‘examination’ can mean two things. It could imply a deep observation, inspection, or study of a particular subject or phenomenon. These ‘examinations’ are usually conducted by researchers, scientists, and scholars across various disciplines. The other meaning for the word ‘examination’ represents a formal test where a person’s knowledge and understanding or proficiency in a particular subject is assessed.

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Academic or governmental institutions conduct these ‘examinations’ as a screening test for a candidate’s eligibility to:

  • Qualify for a seat in an educational or government institution
  • Get promoted to the next grade/ level in an academic institution.
  • Several key moments in history point to examinations, which means assessment in government or academic settings.

Ancient China and the Imperial Examination System

According to historical data, exams as a concept were invented in Ancient China. The Sui Dynasty introduced what is known as the Imperial Examination System or the ‘Imperial Review’ in 605 AD to recruit candidates for specific government posts. This system was put in place to select people based on merit rather than by birth. Candidates, if qualified, would become part of a prestigious group of government officials under the leadership of Emperor Yang of Sui.

The Tang Dynasty introduced the concept of written examinations to select candidates under Empress Wu Zetian. In addition, she introduced reforms to the imperial review wherein members of the elite bureaucracy came from humble beginnings. Under Empress Zetian, civil service examinations were conducted for posts in the military and the imperial palace.

It was not until the Qing Dynasty, in 1905, that the Confucian system of the Imperial Review was abolished. The imperial throne ordered the examination system to be discontinued on September 2, 1905, thereby spelling out the end of Confucianism as an official state ideology.

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