Who Invented Exams?

Are you interested to find out who invented exams? To start, the topic of who first invented exams is quite controversial. Some sources say that the Chinese invented exams, while other sources say that the Greeks came up with practicing exams.

It is all a matter of who you ask.

So, Who Invented Exams?

Even though exams have been around since ancient times, in one form or another, the inventor of modern exams is:

Henry Fischel

According to some historical records, Henry Fischel is credited with the invention of modern examinations. Now you know who invented exams and who to blame!

He was an instructor at New York University who taught philosophy and who used to test his students. He would assign them a topic, say on Plato’s “Republic.” He would give them two weeks to read the text, write a paper, and come prepared to talk about it.

His preference for oral exams led him to eventually turn his ideas into a book format that ended up being called the “Fischel examination system” or “objective examinations.”

History of exams

According to “The Story of Psychology” by Morton Hunt and to answer who invented exams, the first recorded use of written examinations occurred in China thousands of years ago. 

Traditional Chinese culture strongly emphasized education as a kind of apprenticeship with master and mentor for life learning. In order to pass the imperial examinations, one had to be able to compose essays that were judged on their creativity and imagination as well as mastery of language and rhetoric skills. 

According to a Britannica blog, exams were first invented in China as early as 2 B.C. As early as that period, people who wanted to be admitted to the civil service would have to take exams that consisted of both written and oral components. 

These tests were developed by Tang-dynasty officials who created questions based on Confucian texts and recruited students from various areas throughout the kingdom who had been taught using those texts. The young men who took those tests were expected to memorize specific passages from those texts before appearing for the exam, overseen by an official assigned to determine whether they got what they remembered right.

If you passed those examinations, your name would be listed in the Imperial Roll and give you access to government jobs where you could climb up through the ranks. However, not all who sat for the examination successfully passed it, which led some people who did not pass to take revenge. As the Imperial Roll records were archived, they would go back and erase or alter names who did not pass so that they could re-take the test.

Since this caused some controversy, in A.D. 605, Emperor Wen of Sui ordered an imperial archivist named Fang, who was responsible for recording examination scores, beheaded, so it served as a warning to others who might do something similar who are “liable to severe punishment.” This did not stamp out cheating forever, but it is one of the earliest recorded instances of using written examinations or record keeping by governments.

The first written examinations in Europe occurred around 1150, when universities formed in Paris, Bologna, and other locations. They were used as a means to test the knowledge of people who wanted to be priests, lawyers, or physicians who had completed their education at one of these universities. 

To pass the exam, students who answered questions about passages from the Bible and who could decipher and explain any legal or medical terms correctly used in that text were admitted into these programs.

This was also not without problems, as plagiarism would be one of the most common issues plaguing written examinations even during medieval times.

Most common types of exams

The most common types of exams are objective tests which are the same type that Henry Fishel initially invented with his idea for how they should be conducted. 

Oral examinations are also popular in some regions. Still, written ones are more common, especially in North America, where many students write them continuously or rolling throughout the school year.  

There is also an exam created by educators who teach deaf children. They then turned it into a method for assessing lower-level classes called Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills (ABLLS). It is mainly used in North America but has also spread to other regions worldwide.

Besides oral and written exams, other types of exams are used to assess a student’s academic achievement who is deaf or who has hearing loss. The most common type among these is computer-based testing that students take online via a kiosk, CD/DVD software, or the internet itself.

While not as popular as written exams, oral exams make up quite a few who sit for tests in North America and use them either regularly or sporadically, depending on the school where they attend classes. 

In this type of exam, teachers who conduct them play a role similar to what an examiner does who oversees the student’s performance. Instead of being located away from the person taking the test as it would be done in a written examination, they observe who is taking it.

This type of oral exam is most common in primary and secondary schools that use them as a form of assessment for what students have learned within one or several subjects. 

In many instances, these exams are used to determine whether the one who took it passed or failed. Some educators use them to do so more informally where they’re used as a way to help the teacher who grades who took them to understand how well their student performed on a class assignment or project, which often includes quizzes, tests, presentations, lab reports, oral reports, essays among others.

The methods that examiners employ when creating a test usually depend on the material that will be assessed.

Who invented exams – Conclusion

So to summarize, who invented exams? According to historical records, Henry Fischel is credited with the invention of modern examinations. He was an instructor who taught philosophy and created a book he called “the object examination system” or “objective examinations.”

Though his preference for oral exams led him to eventually turn his ideas into a test format that ended up being called the “Fischel Examination System” or “Objective Examinations.”  

The first written examinations in Europe occurred around 1150, when universities formed in Paris, Bologna, and other locations. As for who invented exams – they are an old part of educational traditions that also serve as tests for advanced learners.

There you have it. Who invented exams? The answer is Henry Fishel, who turned his focus on oral examinations to create a more standardized format for testing. 

For similar reading, check out our articles on the Who Invented page.