The evolution of international History examinations: an analysis of History question papers for 16 year olds from 1858 to the present

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Shaw, Stuart 
Cooke, Gillian 

The focus of this article is on international History examinations for 16 year olds from 1858 to the present day and examines the historical/cultural context for, and the outworking of, the setting of these examinations in the medium of English. Specific reference points throughout this period have been taken and a linguistic analysis applied to the question papers. A variety of archive material has been used to show more general developmental changes to the curriculum throughout the period. The article examines the language used, the candidate base, the regional differences of the papers and the examiner expectations. To put these findings into context, other sources, including examination regulations, examiners' reports and subject committee papers have also been studied.

In 1858 when the Cambridge Local Examinations were introduced, history was a compulsory element of the Junior examination. Candidates had to pass in a whole range of subjects to gain a school leaving certificate and English history could not be avoided. 150 years later there is no doubt that school examinations for 16 year olds have undergone radical transformation and for history examinations to have remained unchanged would be unthinkable. The interest lies not in the fact that the examinations changed but in the way they have changed. While the trend is inevitably towards a more familiar, contemporary style, this study also shows that the pace and particular directions of change have been of a less predictable nature.

Historical perspective
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Research Matters
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Research Division, Cambridge University Press & Assessment
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