From the school year 2015/16, all colleges of higher vocational education (BHS, five-year vocational pathway at the upper secondary level) in Austria have been using a new form of the matriculation and diploma exam (Reife- und Diplomprüfung) (). This new form has its legal basis in the 2010 amendment to the School Education Act and in the 2015 amendment to the examination regulation.
() Double qualification for senior positions in business and general access to higher education at the same time.
A major goal of this (partial) standardisation of this exam is quality improvement and assurance of BHS. The uniformly defined exams and assessment criteria aim to ensure exam result objectivity and reliability and promote the exam’s transparency and comparability.
This new format of the final exam is mainly determined by three factors:
- the exam is largely standardised and conducted centrally;
- it is competence-oriented;
- the introduction of a compulsory diploma thesis for all students, which needs to be presented and defended before the exam committee.
Standardised and centralised
In the past, all the written parts of the matriculation and diploma exam were drawn up by teachers at the school site and approved by school supervision. The new exam consists of standardised written exam parts in the language of instruction (mostly German, but also Slovene, Croatian and Hungarian), in applied mathematics, and in a foreign language (English, French, Italian or Spanish). The exams are compiled by the Federal Institute of Educational Research, Innovation and Development of the Austrian school sector (bifie) on behalf of the Ministry of Education. The ministry specifies examination days and the exam duration for the whole country in form of an ordinance. The teachers at the school sites correct and assess the examination papers based on centrally specified instructions. They have to give a numerical assessment suggestion and also justify it verbally.
As well as the standardised exams there are also non-standardised written parts not centrally conducted, which aim to take account of location-specific educational focus. These exams are drawn up by the subject teachers at the school location and are approved by the school supervision. As in the past, there is an oral exam section, for which the respective subject teacher is also responsible.
The new exam is competence-oriented, with competences understood as the knowledge and skills available to learners, useful for the long term, and which enable them to transfer what they have learned to related contexts. Exam assignments are primarily formulated with application- and problem solving-orientation and require more from the candidates than merely reproducing knowledge.
All BHS students are obliged to draw up a diploma thesis as part of the new exam. This is written work prepared in a team of two to five learners; it is a defined length and must meet quality criteria. The thesis has to be handed in before the start of the exam and then presented and discussed as part of it. The topic of the thesis is specified through agreement, between the supervising teacher at the school location and the team of students, by the end of the fourth BHS year, after which it must be approved by the respective regional education board. The thesis is prepared by students outside classes, but with support provided in corresponding school subjects throughout the final school year.
The thesis helps students prove their competence in project- and practice-oriented work methods and demonstrate their ability to observe fundamental academic standards such as quotation rules and research methods). These competence objectives are also in line with the double qualification provided by BHS: direct labour market entry and access to higher education programmes.
More information (in German):
Education Ministry: Standardisierte, kompetenzorientierte Reifeprüfung an BHS