Abitur Examination Practices and Respective Essays From 1882 to 1972

The project "Abitur examination practices and respective essays from 1882 to 1972. Knowledge (re)presentation in a historical-praxeological pilot project" successfully competed in the Leibniz Competition 2016, funding line for innovative projects. The project focused on historic transformation processes of exam practices which were compared across Prussia, Bavaria, Baden and Wuerttemberg.

Project Description

The research project aimed to reconstruct and analyze one of the central examinations in the higher secondary school track in Germany, German essay, from a historical-praxeological as well as a knowledge-historical perspective.

The German essay written for higher education qualification exams (abitur) and related exam practices emerged as a hybrid  with the onset of a “modern”, meritocratic and achievement-focused education system. From the beginning, this essay was meant to assess general skills like judgement competence and individual general knowledge. The essays were only loosely related to subject-specific knowledge, for example about the history of German literature. In its long history, the German essay adapted to ideological trends and zeitgeist fairly easily, as did German instruction in general. Exam procedures did emerge and became standardized as well as regulated in sometimes very detailed ways, yet what exactly was to be assessed according to which criteria largely remained unclear right until the end of the period studied here. Marking standards did, however, emerge in the grading and evaluation schemata of male (and later also female) teachers; this possibly resulted in (formally unexplained) patterns of reception and assessment patterns.

In the project, exam practices for higher education qualification entry, particularly German essays, the examination practices of the Abitur and the German Abitur essay in Prussia (or former Prussian territories), Bavaria, Baden and Wuerttemberg between 1882 and 1972 were reconstructed in a historical longitudinal study and based on new methods of analysis from the eHumanities. The Abitur essays from this period were subjected to a precise educational-historical and subject-didactic analysis in the project and in the conected qualification theses. Given the loose relation to subject-specific knowledge and imprecise regulations concerning the contents examined and the assessment standards employed, the following aspects were of particular interest:

  • What is the relationship between essay requirements, curriculum and instructional practice?
  • Does this relationship change over time?
  • Is there a (close) relationship between the students’ success and their (social) background?
  • Does the German essay thus reinforce the privileging of students with certain social backgrounds in school examinations legitimized by merit?

To answer these questions, a corpus of digitized and transcribed essays with the respective teachers’ comments and marks was compiled, ranging from the unification of curricula and exam regulations for all higher secondary schools in Prussia in 1882 to the reform of the upper secondary school level in the Federal Republic of Germany in 1972. This corpus was provided with metadata and annotations in a virtual research environment. The basis for this corpus was i a collection of examination files and Abitur essays from Berlin, stored in the BBF archive. Further sources  werde added from Bavaria, Baden and Wuerttemberg, where, in contrast to Prussia, forms of centralized examinations existed i or were introduced at certain points in time. The corpus  from Berlin will be complemented with essays from these regions. The virtual research environment brings together research findings from the ongoing project and provides a foundation for usage of the corpus for other scientists and future research projects.


  • Final publication of the project (Open Access):
    Kämper-van den Boogaart, Michel/Reh, Sabine/Schindler, Christoph & Scholz, Joachim (Hrsg.): Abitur und Abituraufsätze zwischen 1882 und 1972. Prüfungspraktiken, professionelle Debatten und Aufsatztexte. Bad Heilbrunn: Klinkhardt, 2023. (DOI: 10.25656/01:28311)
  • Further selected publications from the project

Connected Projects


The project successfully competed in the Leibniz Competition 2016, funding line for innovative projects and then was continued by DIPF.


Project Management

Project Team

Academic staff:

  • Britta Eiben-Zach, M.Ed. (HU/BBF, since Eberhardt Karls Univeristät Tübingen)
  • Dr. Kerrin von Engelhardt (BBF, since 07/2019 HU)
  • Denise Löwe, M.A. (BBF)
  • Pia Rojahn, M.A. (BBF) (2016–2018)
  • Julian Hocker (IZB)

Project Details

Project type: Third-Party Funded Project
Completed Projects
05/2016 – 12/2021
Research field: Historical Practice of School, Instruction and Education
Contact: Denise Löwe