From Academic Kids

Matura or Matur is the word commonly used in Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Poland, Serbia, Slovenia and Switzerland for the final exams young adults (aged 18 or 19) take at the end of their secondary education. In the Czech Republic and Slovakia this exam is officially called maturita, matura is used in slang.

This happens usually after 12 or 13 years of schooling. Each candidate that passes their final exams receives a document that contains their grades and which formally enables them to go to a university. In countries such as Austria, this document alone allows entry to any university, as the grades themselves are irrelevant; whereas in other countries there can be numerus clausus, meaning that certain standards need to be met in the Matura grades before acceptance at a university.

The equivalent British term (except Scotland) is "A-levels", the Scottish is "Advanced Higher Grade", the German is "Abitur" and the French is "baccalauréat".

Matura in Austria

The official term for Matur(a) in Austria is Reifeprüfung. The document received after the successful completion of the exams is called Maturazeugnis.

In the Gymnasium, which, as opposed to vocational schools, focuses on general education, the Matura consists of 3-4 written exams (referred to as Klausurarbeiten, 4-5 hours each) to be taken on consecutive mornings (usually in May) and 3-4 oral exams to be taken on the same half-day one month later (usually in June). All examinations are held at the school which the candidate last attended. Candidates have the option to write a scholarly paper (called Fachbereichsarbeit) to be submitted at the beginning of the February preceding the final exams, which, if it is accepted, reduces the number of exams by one (3 written, 3 oral). However, the Fachbereichsarbeit must be presented orally on the day the oral exams take place.

The grading system is the same as the one universally used in Austrian schools: 1 (sehr gut) is excellent; 2 (gut) is good; 3 (befriedigend) is average; 4 (genügend) means that you have just passed; 5 (nicht genügend) means that you have failed. In addition, a candidate's Maturazeugnis contains a formalized overall assessment: mit ausgezeichnetem Erfolg bestanden (passed with honours), mit gutem Erfolg bestanden (not quite as good; grades ranging from 1 to 3 allowed); bestanden (a simple pass); and nicht bestanden (fail). Candidates who have failed may take their final exams again in September/October or February/March of the following school year.

Subjects for the written finals to be taken in any case depend on the type of Gymnasium. German and Mathematics (both compulsory) and a foreign language (usually English, French, Latin or Greek. Gymnasium with a focus on science may require students to take written finals in Biology, Physics or Chemistry.

The most striking aspect of the Austrian Matura is that it is a decentralized affair. There are no external examiners: Candidates are set tasks both for their written and oral finals by their own (former) teachers. Formally, however, there is an examination board consisting of a candidate's teachers/examiners, the headmaster/headmistress and a Vorsitzende(r) (head), usually a high-ranking school official or the head of another school. All oral exams are public, but usually only classmates, friends, family of the candidates or younger students listen in.

Of course it is possible for Austrians of all age groups to take the Matura. Adults from their twenties on are usually tutored at private institutions of adult education before taking their final tests, held separately before a regional examination board.

Criticism of the Austrian Matura has been persistent. In particular, it has been argued that the current system encourages rote learning (see also education reform), hinders candidates' creativity and obscures the fact that the body of knowledge is constantly changing. Various forms of alternative assessment have been proposed, most notably the portfolio as well as teamwork and peer review also in exam situations.

In fiction, Friedrich Torberg's novel Der Schüler Gerber (1930) about a Matura candidate driven to suicide on the day of his oral exams by his cruel maths teacher has become a classic.

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