Exams are a very common part of the modern education system and recruitment processes. They allow educators and employers to evaluate individuals’ knowledge and competence in a standardized way. The concept of examinations has become so integral to education globally that it’s hard to imagine a world without them. But who invented exams, and how did they evolve to become what they are today?
Who Invented Exams?
Exams were invented by Henry Fischel, an American businessman, in the late 19th century. He introduced them as a way to test people’s knowledge in specific topics. However, exams have a much longer history than Fischel’s time. The origins of examinations date back thousands of years, though exams have changed a lot over time.
The Imperial Examination in Ancient China
The first systematic testing in history was the Imperial Exam system used in ancient China. This standardized test was started during the Sui Dynasty around 605 AD under Emperor Yang of Sui. The exam was designed to select candidates for government jobs based on merit, not family background or connections.
Before this, government jobs were mostly inherited or given to people with links to aristocrats and local leaders. But Emperor Yang wanted a fairer selection process to find the most capable people to work for the government.
The Imperial Exam covered literature, philosophy, military strategy, law, revenue, agriculture and geography. Candidates who passed were appointed as civil servants across China. This competitive test allowed thousands of men – even those from humble backgrounds – to serve in government posts.
The Civil Services Examination in England
Inspired by the Chinese system, England started its own testing program in the early 1800s to screen candidates for Her Majesty’s Civil Service jobs. The Civil Services Exam began in 1806 under the Civil Service Commission. Unlike the Chinese exam which focused on literature, the British test evaluated reading, writing and math skills.
The Civil Services Exam was open to any man between 18 and 27 who met basic requirements. The challenging process included screening tests and written exams over several days on topics like economics, history, languages, math and translation. Applicants who passed were appointed to various government departments.
This allowed the British government to recruit employees based on merit, not social or political connections. It was a major shift toward having skilled, qualified civil servants. This model was soon copied across the British colonies.
The Cambridge Examination
In the late 1800s, Oxford and Cambridge Universities were tasked with developing standardized tests for male students seeking admission to British secondary schools. The Cambridge Exam was first given in December 1858 and set the standard for measuring academic performance in core subjects.
The assessment had sections testing English, math, history, geography, theology, languages, sciences and music. Initially, the exams were only for boys at private prep schools.
Later, the tests expanded as part of the push for universal secondary education. Cambridge Exams gained international reach in the 20th century and are now taken by millions of students worldwide. They have become symbols of educational quality and admission eligibility.
Who Invented Exams in India?
The origins of testing in India trace back to ancient times. References to competitive exams are found in ancient Indian texts like the Rig Veda, Ramayana, Mahabharata and Dharmasutras.
Formal education systems emerged in medieval India under Islamic rule. Rulers started madrassas and maktabs for studies in literature, philosophy and religion. Students were periodically evaluated by teachers.
Exams during this period were mostly oral. Teachers asked students questions to gauge their knowledge, and scholars judged their answers. This assessment focused on breadth of knowledge and dialectical skill.
The Gurukula System
Before British colonialism, Indian education was based on the indigenous Gurukula system. Under this model, students lived with a Guru (teacher) for holistic instruction in physical, mental, spiritual, and practical knowledge.
Gurukula learning did not revolve around memorizing texts or rote learning. Instead, students learned through discussions with the guru, observing nature, and living simply. Learning was individualized and students progressed at their own pace.
There were no formal exams. Over time, teachers gauged students’ knowledge, ethics and skills through their conduct and contributions. Upon finishing, students would return to family life as learned people.
Exams Arrive in British India
British East India Company rule starting in the 1800s brought major changes to Indian education. Indigenous systems were displaced by Western models.
In 1853, the British Parliament introduced exams for the India Civil Service, abolishing the previous nominations. For the first time, Indians could take the civil service tests.
The exams were initially only in London. At great expense, Indian students had to travel to Britain each August to take the exams. This limited participation to children of the elite.
After the 1857 Indian mutiny, the British Crown took over from the East India Company. There were demands from Indians to hold civil service exams locally. In the late 1800s, the tests were conducted in London and Indian cities.
The Rise of Native Exam Boards
In the early 1900s, the Indian independence movement gathered momentum. Indian leaders lobbied the British to establish local exam boards, instead of overseas testing.
This led to the 1917 Calcutta University Commission, headed by Mr. Michael Sadler, recommending autonomous provincial education bodies. Consequently, native exam boards were progressively created across British India.
The 1921 United Province Board of High School and Intermediate Education, covering present-day Uttar Pradesh, was the first state secondary board. It pioneered vernacular education and decentralized exam control.
Other provinces soon followed with regional boards offering tests in native languages. This expanded access to education and government jobs for Indians.
Major Exams in Independent India
After independence in 1947, national examinations were initiated in India to recruit talent into premier institutes of higher education and public sector industries. Some major exams introduced during this period include:
- Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Exam: Highly competitive test for elite civil services like IAS, IPS, IFS etc.
- Staff Selection Commission (SSC): Recruits non-technical graduates to Central Government departments.
- Railway Recruitment Board (RRB): Organizes tests for thousands of technical and non-technical openings in the Indian Railways.
- Bank Probationary Officers (PO) Exam: Screening test for entry level officers in public sector banks.
- National Defence Academy (NDA): Entry examination for the Indian Armed Forces as officers.
- Joint Entrance Examination (JEE): Engineering entrance exam with over 1 million registrants annually.
- National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET): For admissions to medical and dental undergraduate programs across India.
- Common Admission Test (CAT): Gateway to secure admission in 20 prestigious Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) for an MBA degree.
- Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE): Qualifying score is required for Master’s or Doctoral admissions in IITs/IISc.
In conclusion, examinations emerged in ancient times as a method to assess individuals’ knowledge, skills and aptitude. While American businessman Henry Fischel is often credited with inventing modern exams in the late 19th century, the roots of standardized testing stretch back over 2500 years to Imperial China.
The model was successively adapted in England, then British India and expanded to become a cornerstone of modern education and evaluation globally. Today, examinations in India are high-stakes gateway tests to admissions in premier institutes or government positions. With their outcomes shaping lives and careers, exams continue to occupy prime importance.
1. Who invented exams?
Henry Fischel, an American businessman, is often credited with the invention of exams. However, the concept of exams existed long before him, with China being the first country to adopt this system.
2. What was the world’s first exam?
The world’s first-ever exam was the Imperial Examination conducted in China under Emperor Yang of Sui. This exam shortlisted candidates for government positions based on merit.
3. Who introduced exams in England?
The Civil Services Examination, introduced in 1806, was the first significant examination system in England. It was designed to test candidates for civil services or administrative positions.
4. Who invented exams in India?
The examination system in India was introduced by the British East India Company, replacing the traditional Gurukula education system with English-based methods.
5. What was the first state board of secondary education in India?
The United Province Board of High School and Intermediate Education was the first state board of secondary education in India. It was established in response to the growing demand for native exam boards in the early 1900s.