Practices of Examination

The topic area “Practices of Examination” in the “Zeitschrift für Pädagogik” (Journal of Pedagogy) examines transformations in these practices over time and how exactly practices of examination do what they do. The research asks which procedures and techniques were developed, which rituals can be observed in examinations, and which conclusions can be drawn from them.

Project Description

Exams are a central element of modern, meritocratic school systems and can be understood as an – while not always accepted – irrefutable moment of pedagogical practices. From a historical perspective, a change can be observed in the meaning and function of examinations in schools and universities – and altogether their relation to instruction – from the early modern to contemporary eras.

From a systematic perspective, examinations perform multiple tasks. They do not only serve to test knowledge and respective abilities attained at school, but are also practices of selection or, indeed, exclusion. At the same time, exams are practices of the presentation of knowledge. Knowledge acquired in school became portrayable, individually ascribable, and ascertainable as an individual achievement. Yet conversely, examinations have also had an influence on what manifested as knowledge in schools. The development of that which was considered measurable, categorized, and and attributable through examinations is a process that stretched across a long period of time and was by no means linear.

Since the early modern era, the character, meaning, and function of examinations in schools and universities have slowly changed. This is evident, for example, with a look at the various predecessors to contemporary school exit exams. While in early modern academic exams, nobody could fail and nor were there grades, this changed in the German states with the advent and organization of the Abitur, which became the prerequisite for university study. Moreover, the Abitur constituted the historical turning point in the implementation of a meritocratic school system. More and more, examination procedures were standardized and made more litigable; educators attempted to measure results according to “objective” criteria. School exams were “psychologized” and, since the turn of the previous century at the latest, supplemented and sometimes even supplanted by psychometric tests. This process encroaches upon the authority and the scope of measurement teachers could exercise based on their professional competences in examination vis-à-vis the subject “matter,” pupils and parents, and also their colleagues. Moreover, it affected the very knowledge that circulated in the practice of examination.


Ricken, Norbert/Reh, Sabine (2017): Prüfungen – Systematische Perspektiven der Geschichte einer pädagogischen Praxis. Einführung in den Thementeil. In: Zeitschrift für Pädagogik, Jg. 63, H. 03, S. 247-259. (Online: DOI 10.3262/ZP1703247).

Project Management

Project Details

Project type: Publishing project
Completed Projects
01/2016 – 05/2017
Research field: Historical Practice of School, Instruction and Education
Contact: Sabine Reh