It’s vacation time here in the US and lots of folks like to travel to Ireland. It’s close; it’s not 9 million degrees; Guinness is delicious; it is the ancestral homeland of about 35 million Americans, and Kim Kardashian and Kanye West think it is cool enough to honeymoon there. Lots of reasons to love the Emerald Isle.
Well just a few weeks ago, thousands of Irish students sat for their leaving certificate exams, a set of exams that they must pass in order to graduate from high school. They also double as college placement exams. Students are required to sit for six exams (though most take seven and keep their six best scores). They must take English, Irish, and Math, and can then choose from a host of other subjects for their remaining three (or four) exams.
Students must simply pass their exams to successfully graduate, but to matriculate to college they must acquire enough points for the university and major they are interested in pursuing. There are two levels of exams, “ordinary” and “higher.” Each ordinary level test has a maximum score of 60 points and each higher level test has a maximum score of 100 points.
The various programs and universities set different bars for admission. If, for example, you would like to study social science at University College Cork, you would need to amass 385 points. Want to enter the nursing program? 450 points. Finance? 475.
If you’re interested in studying at Trinity College, the top university in Ireland, the points are even higher. To study history, you need 465 points. Law? 530. Pharmacy? 565.
As a professional education researcher and amateur history buff, I love to learn what students around the world need to know about history, particularly if (and what) they need to learn about America.
Ireland’s leaving certificate exam for history offers a couple of “Document Based Questions” that those familiar with the AP test would recognize. Students have to read an original document and relate it to what they know about the history of the time.
But then, Irish students have to write a series of essays on a wide range of historical topics. For the “modern history” exam, the last section of the test offers a set of questions for each of six separate time periods: 1815-1871, 1871-1920, 1920-1945, 1945-1992 (Europe), 1945-1990 (Asia/Africa), 1945-1989 (The United States).
The “higher” level questions from that first section are a doozy. Students had to choose one from the follow four options:
Not too shabby. But I was most interested in the last section — the good old US of A.
They had to be able to answer one of the following four questions:
I’d hate to think of the answers I would get from some high school seniors here in the states to those questions. I’d also be interested to know if they would be able to do the same for significant people and events from other countries. Could they compose an essay about the strengths and weaknesses of Charles de Gaulle as a political leader, or Tony Blair? I wouldn’t hold my breath.
If you think the “ordinary” level students have it easy, they don’t. Students had to write a paragraph about one of the following topics
And then had to answer one question of the following four:
Again, I think that is pretty impressive. If students were even conversant in those eight topics, they would have a pretty good picture of America in the latter half of the 20th century. Given the fact that they don’t live in America, it is particularly impressive.
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