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What is Austria’s Matura exam and why do some want it abolished?

Some call it "an outdated" test, but what exactly is the Austrian Matura, and how does it fit in the country's complicated school system?

Masks will no longer be needed in schools in Austria from today. Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash
Masks will no longer be needed in schools in Austria from today. Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash

Austria has a highly complex education system. Children are divided into different types of schools when they are nine years old.

Then, they have to choose between different kinds of education when they are around 13 years old.

The children who go to intermediate vocational schools will conclude their education with a technical examination. The ones that study in higher vocational schools conclude with a technical exam and the “general school-leaving examination”, also known as the Matura.

The Matura, officially called Reifeprufung, is a prerequisite for higher education such as university, academy, technical university and college.

The exam consists of written examinations, three to four tests lasting for up to five hours each on consecutive mornings of May, and oral examinations, also three to four tests held about one month after the written ones.

READ ALSO: How Covid absences are disrupting Austrian hospitals, schools and transport

All students can decide for themselves whether they want to take three written and three oral or four written and two oral exams.

For the written exams, the compulsory subjects are German (but could also be Croatian, Slovenian, or Hungarian, which are considered minority languages), mathematics, and a foreign living language (English, Italian, French, or Spanish).

In addition, some schools may also require students to take a test in biology or physics.

Additionally, students need to defend a paper that could have been written individually or in groups.

The idea for the exam is to give a standardised examination bringing “more fairness and equal conditions for all high school graduates”, according to the Ministry of Education.

Pandemic rules

The coronavirus pandemic changed many things in the Matura examinations, with oral exams cancelled in 2020 and 2021.

In 2022, they are set to be resumed, causing protests among students who said their high school years were hurt by the pandemic and that they shouldn’t have to take oral examinations.

READ ALSO: Rule changes: School attendance in Austria to become obligatory again

For 2022, students were also given a deadline extension, and written exams were prolonged by 60 minutes. Students had (and will still have to) comply with Covid regulations during the examinations – mainly the use of FFP2 masks.

There are also strict hygiene regulations, with a safety phase starting two weeks before the May and June exams. In addition, all candidates must carry out three corona tests per week during that period – two of them need to be PCR tests.

Students will need to show 3G proof for the exams, meaning evidence that they have been vaccinated, recovered, or tested negative for Covid-19.

Austrian grading system

The grading system in Austria is based on a one to five scale, with one being the best grade (very good, or sehr gut) and five being the worst (unsatisfactory or nichtgenugend).

The system is used for both the Matura and at schools, and only students who have not failed their grades at school can take the final exam. Otherwise, they need to take a re-examination of the subject before Matura.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Is home schooling legal in Austria?

Why do some politicians want to abolish it?

There has been intensive criticism of the Austrian Matura over the years. Many experts argue that the system encourages students to just memorise certain subjects and themes, hindering creative thinking.

The burdens of the coronavirus pandemic have brought these questions even more into light, with some specialists calling the Matura “a real lottery system“: are you lucky to have studied this subject a little deeper than others?

“You have to ask the question of how useful the Matura still is”, said SPÖ education spokeswoman Petro Vorderwinkler late last month.

The exit exam is a precondition for application to a university or other institutions of higher education. Still, by itself, it is not enough. Many schools still hold their own (and very competitive) entry exams.

And although some types of exit exams take place in several countries besides Austria, such as Croatia, Italy, Poland, and Switzerland, it is far from being a worldwide practice – adding to the argument that such a test serves only to put more unnecessary pressure on students.

Some defend, though, that it is a critical way to assess the situation of Austria’s education and school systems.

It could be that the answer lies in the middle, reforming the exam to allow for more diversity of subjects, making it more flexible, and working with teachers and pupils to find better solutions.

The three parts of Matura

Diplomarbeit – written paper
Schriftliche Klausurarbeiten – written exams
Mündliche Prüfungen – oral exams

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SCHOOLS

Reader question: When do children in Austria go back to school?

While kids in other countries are preparing to head back to school, Austria still has a few more weeks off - but their return date depends on the state where they live.

Reader question: When do children in Austria go back to school?

Summer holidays are almost over for children in some countries, such as Switzerland for example. But not in Austria.

While kids in Austria will be heading down the cost this Monday – a holiday – to enjoy the last few weeks of vacation, many Swiss schoolchildren will be with their books open and their attention (almost) entirely directed to the whiteboard.

In neighbouring Austria, though, August is a sacred holiday month for schools, and kids will only start their journey back to classes in September.

READ ALSO: Colder schools, fewer street lights: Austria prepares for a gas shortage

The exact date, though, will depend on where they live. Even if the back-to-school dates are different depending on the Austrian state, that doesn’t mean some kids get to have more time off.

This is because the summer holidays start one week earlier in some states, such as Burgenland, Lower Austria, and Vienna. Therefore, schools resume also one week before the rest of the country.

These are the exact days for the summer holidays in 2022:

  • Burgenland: from July 2nd to September 4th;
  • Lower Austria: from July 2nd to September 4th;
  • Vienna: from July 2nd to September 4th;
  • Carinthia: from July 9th to September 11th;
  • Upper Austria: from July 9th to September 11th;
  • Salzburg: from July 9th to September 11th;
  • Styria: from July 9th to September 11th;
  • Tyrol: from July 9th to September 11th;
  • Vorarlberg: from July 9th to September 11th.

READ ALSO: What is Austria’s Matura exam and why do some want it abolished?

How many holidays do kids in Austria have?

Schoolchildren in Austria are quite lucky compared to other countries, as they get plenty of vacations throughout the year.

Besides the bank holidays, children in public middle and higher schools (as well as private schools that follow public law) also get time off on these dates:

  • Autumn holidays: from October 27th to October 31st (in all states);
  • Christmas holidays: from December 24th to January 6th (in all states);
  • Semester break: from February 7th to February 12th in Lower Austria and Vienna, from February 14th to February 19th in Burgenland, Carinthia, Salzburg, Tyrol and Vorarlberg, and from February 21st to February 26th in Upper Austria and Styria;
  • Easter holidays: from April 9th to April 18th (in all states);
  • Pentecost holidays: from June 4th to June 6th (in all states).

These dates are for the school year of 2021/2022 and may vary from year to year, especially those holidays based on religious celebrations that also change yearly.

Due to the state regulations, the same dates usually apply to compulsory schools (primary schools, new secondary schools, special schools, polytechnic schools, vocational schools).

READ ALSO: Reader question: Is homeschooling legal in Austria?

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