Esther Dominique Klein

How do teachers prepare their students for statewide exit exams?

A comparison of Finland, Ireland, and the Netherlands


free download


Statewide exit exams are often believed to have a positive impact on school effectiveness and the alignment between instructional practice and state standards because of their mandatory nature and the stakes attached for students and teachers. They may also, however, lead to teaching to the test and to a perceived de-professionalization of the teaching role. While some studies suggest a narrowing of contents and an increase in teacher-centered instruction, little is known about how the impact on instructional practices and teacher cognitions varies between different exam systems. This study compares the strategies teachers use to prepare their students for the exams at the end of upper secondary education in Finland, Ireland, and the Netherlands using a standardized questionnaire survey with responses from 385 teachers. The goal was to develop hypotheses about the relationship between differences in the exam procedures and the stakes attached, and the differences in teacher preparation strategies. The results suggest country-specific variations regarding teacher beliefs as to how much time should be spent on exam preparation; however, there were smaller differences in the strategies applied. Regression analyses indicated that the way in which preparation intensity was associated with the stakes for students and schools, and the attitudes towards the exams themselves varied across the three countries. The different exam systems appeared to affect preparation in markedly different ways, but nevertheless led to the exercise of comparable strategies.

Statewide exit exams; International comparison; Teacher motivation; Teaching to the test