Who Invented Exams?

Who Invented Exams?

What are exams? According to Wikipedia “An examination (exam or evaluation) or test is an educational assessment intended to measure a test taker’s knowledge, skill, aptitude, physical fitness, or classification in many other topics (e.g., beliefs). A test may be administered verbally, on paper, on a computer, or in a predetermined area that requires a test taker to demonstrate or perform a set of skills.”

Exams which are short slang for the examination can also be considered the source of nightmares for most students. Generally, the major part of the student’s academic life is spent in the examination hall under pressure. However, in today’s era, exams have become a big part of the school curriculum. 

The main reason for conducting exams is to check the understanding and knowledge of the students regarding a particular subject and topic. 


Henry A. Fischel: The Man Who Invented the Concept of Exams


According to our history and historical sources, exams were invented in the late 19th century by a philanthropist and businessman from America named Henry A. Fischel. 

The root of exams and examinations can be traced back to China where exams have some different names “keju” (imperial examinations). Almost 2000 years ago the Chinese government launched an examination system for becoming a governmental official under the watchful eye of Zhang of Hen.

In the era of Emperor Zhang of Hen, being a governmental official was a matter of prestige, and people needed to clear an examination to become a part of this elite club.

Later on, the examination system spread to Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and the West.


  • Japan – The examination system was practiced in Japan for approximately 200 years  (794-1185) during the Heian period. However, the system lately came to stop under the hereditary system during the Samurai era.
  • Korea – Exam being in practice under the reign of Gwangjong of Goryeo (958). Moreover, the examination system was canceled in 1894 by the Gabo Reform.
  • Vietnam – In 1075 during the Lý dynasty Emperor Lý Nhân Tông, Furthermore, till 1919 Nguyễn dynasty Emperor Khải Định, the examination system had only 3 different levels: interprovincial, pre-court, and court.
  • West – Conducting examinations reached Europeans in early 1570 with huge attention from Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552–1610). Later in 1614, the exams were disseminated in a large part of Europe with Latin translations of Ricci’s.


Modern Evolution

During the 1850s the influence of the standardized testing system can easily be seen in the examination in British universities. Since the middle ages conducting oral exams has become standard practice. 

The use of examination can also be seen during World War 1 (WW1) and World War 2 (WW2) where the tests were conducted to check soldiers’ mental and physical capabilities along with their critical thinking power and IQ. 

After the war, the exams were to evaluate job applications based on performance. In addition, the first Advanced Placement test (AP) was designed in 1952 to close the gap between schools and colleges