German high schoolers complain English exam was too hard

The final high school exams in Germany called Abitur are a rite of passage that all students who want to enter university have to pass. Only those with excellent grades and test scores will get into most coveted university programs.

By: AP | Berlin | Published: May 6, 2018 9:21:53 pm
German high school Students said the passage from Roth’s novel that they had to analyze — a metaphorical description of the Statue of Liberty — was difficult to understand because of its “unknown vocabulary.” (Representational)

High school students in Germany have gathered tens of thousands of signatures in an online petition to complain about an “unfair” final English exam, saying the test was much harder than in previous years.

By Sunday, the students from the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg had gathered almost 36,000 signatures — even though only 33,500 people took last month’s statewide exam. They complained that text excerpts from American author Henry Roth’s 1934 novel “Call it Sleep” were too difficult and obscure to analyze and asked for the grading to be more lenient this year.

The final high school exams in Germany — called the Abitur — are a rite of passage that all students who want to enter university have to pass. Only those with excellent grades and test scores will get into the most coveted university programs, with medicine among the hardest. But other subjects like engineering or language studies also offer only a limited amount of places. Many German students, parents and teachers have been stressed out for months over the Abitur. Often schools will cancel all regular classes for younger students during the tests so the Abitur students won’t be disturbed.

The online petition has created such uproar that even state governor Winfried Kretschmann weighed in, though he showed only limited compassion. “There’s no right to a simple Abitur,” he told the frustrated teenagers. “You wish for it, but you don’t have a right to it.” At the same time Kretschmann admitted that his own English skills were too weak to actually judge whether the disputed text had been overly difficult, the German news agency dpa reported.

Students said the passage from Roth’s novel that they had to analyze — a metaphorical description of the Statue of Liberty — was difficult to understand because of its “unknown vocabulary.” They also complained the questions they had to answer were not asked precisely. They quoted some of the text’s most difficult sentences to illustrate their point: “Against the luminous sky the rays of her halo were spikes of darkness roweling the air; shadow flattened the torch she bore to a black cross against flawless light_the blackened hilt of a broken sword. Liberty.”

The state’s education ministry responded by asking external experts to evaluate the exam — who then concluded its level was appropriate. Educational authorities also noted that students in the eastern German state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania had to analyze the same passage and did not complain about it. That has not stopped the number of signatures online from growing, as younger and out-of state students sign the petition in a show of solidarity.

“I was struggling like all the others, even though I spent a year abroad in America!” Aimee Schaefer wrote in the comment section of the petition. “You would think that I can understand everything by now, but I had to look up a lot of vocabulary … whoever compiled this exam must really hate us Abitur students.”

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