As I promised last time, I’ll be writing to you about the Hungarian school system and the exams, everything that I know of. It’s actually very complicated, there are a lot of types of schools so I’ll be telling about the main types as shortly and understandable as possible. 🙂
Kids here start school at the age of 6-7. Before that, there’s kindergarten, which is now compulsory but it’s not a school. At 6-7 children start elementary school. Most of them go there for 8 years, but not all of them. Because is a possibility to go to a type of high school after the 4th year if you do the entry exam really good and you get in (so you have to be a really good student). If you do this (like I did), you’ll stay at this high school for 8 years, so that’s where you graduate. If you stay in elementary school, you can still go to another type of high school after the 6th year. In that case, you’ll be able to graduate from that new school. But you can also-and this is what most children do-stay in elementary school for 8 years.
During the eight year, in January/February these children have to write an entry exam from math and Hungarian literature&grammar and they have to choose the high school they want to go to. They can choose more and put them in order according to which one they want to go to more. The exam papers will be graded and the kids will be called into the schools for oral “exams”. These aren’t real exams, they have to solve a few exercises but mostly the school’s teachers just want to talk to them and get to know them, decide if they think the kid would do well in the school or not. After all of these, according to the points on the written and oral exams, all schools will put the applicants in order, and everybody will get in to the school which they marked and their points are high enough to get in. This can be the first on the kid’s list, but also the last, if your scores weren’t too high. But one thing’s certain: everybody will go to a school. Because until the age of 16, everybody is obligated by law to go.
Then comes the hard part. I don’t know much about the typical high schools because I go-sorry, went :)- to one which I started in the 5th grade and finished in the 12th, so it’s not typical at all. You have to be a good student to get in, therefore teachers demand more than in the normal, usual schools. So for me, high school wasn’t the easiest part of my life, as most people say. It was a big achievement that I graduated with almost straight A’s (I got a B from philosophy :/). But this is still not the hardest and most difficult thing. That comes after you actually graduated from high school. Weird, right? I’ll explain.
This is my school (click on the picture to see the website):
In Hungary, we graduate from high school in the first days of May (or this year, the 30th of April). But that’s when everybody starts freaking out. Because the next week, we have exams. Yes, exams after graduation. Weird… And not any kind of exams. I guess if I had to compare it to exams from other countries, I’d say it’s possibly similar to GCSE’s in England or SAT’s in the USA. These are the exams that our future depends on. Nothing else. Only these. If you screw this up, you have no chance to get into university. How is it possible? Attempt to an explanation below…
At the graduation ceremony, we don’t wear these:
Instead, we wear these (well, some schools don’, some schools do, but no one wears the caps they do in the USA)
You apply to the universities you want to in February. But not only you have to choose which university you want to go to. You also have to choose what you want to study, which part of that university you want to go to (for example, I chose law but you can choose anything: arts, medical studies, languages, engineering, etc.) If I want to make it very simple: it’ something like if you had to choose your major in February, but it’s a bit different. Another important thing that makes it even harder: you can only choose 5 “majors” or the same one on 5 universities, the point is that you can only apply to 5 places, not more. This is the first step.
When you’re done with this, you apply for the exams (well, the two applications happen in the same month). You have to take at least 5 exams: Hungarian literature&grammar, Math, History, a Foreign Language and another one chosen by you. But when choosing the 5th subject and the level of exams you apply for, you have to pay attention to the demands of the universities‘ “majors” you applied for. They can ask for specific exams and advanced levels too. For example, if you choose medical school, you have to take advanced level biology and advanced chemistry/physics. Therefore, who goes to medical school will have to take 6 exams instead of the compulsory 5. Thank God, I only had to take 5. But don’t think it was easy (and I’m not even ready with the orals… I had to take advanced English (I’ve done that last year in advance, my result is pretty good, 93%) and advanced history (the hardest of them all).
After finishing these exams, all you can do is wait. You have your scores, and according to those, you’ll get in (or not) to a university. (I’ll explain later about the ways of counting the scores.) Because what happens then is that they see everybody’s scores and the places they applied for. And they count how many students the university can take. If there are (they usually are) more people applying than the available places, they draw a line and only the people with the highest scores will get in. We wait util the end of July to know how many points we need to have to get into the university. If you reach the points to the first one you applied for, you get in. If not, automatically, you can get into the second school, or the third…until the fifth. If you don’t reach the specified points for any of them, you’ll go nowhere. You screwed up, see you next year.
But also, there are 17 “majors” (law is one of them) for which they drew the score line in advance. It can go higher but it can’t go lower. So if you don’t reach that (for law it’s 464 points out of the maximum 500), you won’t get in.
One thing I haven’t told you about is that there are 2 ways to go to a university: you’ll either get to a “free” place-you get a “scholarship from the state- for which the scores you have to reach are higher, but you can also pay for it if your score isn’t high enough for the “scholarship. The problem with this is that the tuition fee is unreasonably high comparing to the average salary in Hungary. Problems, problems… And another thing: the government demands that those who take the state scholarship will have to work in the country or pay back the tuition (I understand the problem that a lot of students take the scholarship and go abroad to work after they finished, therefore it’s a loss for the country, but this is not how they should try to solve it because it’s nearly impossible for a person with a fresh diploma to get a job here, they won’t hire them. That’s why they go abroad.)
So now you understand why I say it’s hard. I have to get at least 464 points out of 500 to get in top law.
This is the law school I want to go to (ELTE):
Much better then my high school right? 🙂
And how do they count the points? That’s even more difficult. There are two ways. The system will count the way that it’s better for you. I’ll show both with my grades and scores as an example.
1. You take 5 subjects (Hungarian, Math, History, a Foreign Language and science subject-Geography, Physics, Biology or Chemistry-and add the grades from the last 2 years that you studied them (instead of letters, we have numbers 1-5 and 5 is the best), then multiply it by two. To this you add the average of the 5 exams you took. Then you add the exam scores from the two subjects the university asked for. This together is 400 points max. The other 100 comes from extra points you can get in many ways, I’ll tell about it later. Let’s look at this with my grades as an example:
My grades from the given subjects were all 5’s. So I have 100 points from those.
The scores of my exams: Gym (yes, I needed a fifth subject…): 96%
English (advanced): 93%
Hungarian: I don’t know yet, I’m hoping for 90%
History (advanced): I don’t know yet, hoping for 85%
The average of these is 88. So I have 188 points from these two things. Then I add the English and History results to the whole thing (that’s what I need for law school): That’s 178. Adding the to together I get 366 without the extra points.
2. This one is easier but it’s not good for everybody. The second way you only count the two subject’s exam scores that the university asks for. You add them and multiply by two. In my case it would be: 85+93=178. 178*2=356. So for me, the first one is better.
Than the extra points. You can only get 100, even if you have more language exams or anything, you can’t get more than 100. Extra points are given for advanced level exams-50 points each (so I have the maximum 100 points with history and English), language exams (28 points for a B2, 40 for a C1-but the max. you can get for language exams are 40 points), sports results, or a few kinds of other things, social status, etc.
So now you know why I said you have to be the best of the best. I have to get 464 points at least!
OMG I can’t believe I’m finished, it took longer than I thought. I hope you could understand at least half of it, and next time I’ll be back with a much easier topic 🙂 Now, I’m going back to studying.
Have a good day! 🙂