International Approaches to Exams Given the Pandemic 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a major impact on school leaving, university entrance and other high stakes exams around the world. Many northern hemisphere countries have exams around this time of year and have had to decide what action they will take. Major decisions have been taken to continue as planned, postpone, replace or cancel exams. Those who plan to keep to their original exam timetable or have introduced a short postponement may yet have to come up with an alternative action. Where exams have been cancelled, there will still be important technical and operational judgements to be made.

International co-operation amongst exam agencies – one of IAEA’s purposes – seems very important at this challenging point in time. Some educational assessment organisations might find it helpful to see if there is something they can learn from people elsewhere in the world in similar situations. The information below is intended to permit IAEA members and others to identify organisations that are facing similar problems to their own.

If you would like to add your exams to this information, please use the format below send your text to: Dennis Opposs, Standards Chair at Ofqual,

Most exams will be easy to classify using one category but, if necessary, systems can use more than one.

A. Cancel exams. Use completed exams and/or school based assessments to produce results.
B. Cancel exams and produce results using school and college generated estimates.
C. Replace planned exams with new on-line exams taken at home.
D. Postpone exams.
E. Press ahead with exams on schedule.

The  2020 overview of Approaches to Exams Given the Pandemic can be found here

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Senior secondary school examinations that contribute to the Australian states’ and territories’ senior schooling qualifications:

  • Higher School Certificate (HSC) – New South Wales
  • Queensland Certificate of Education (QCE)
  • South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE)
  • Northern Territory Certificate of Education and Training (NTCET)
  • Tasmanian Certificate of Education (TCE)
  • Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE)
  • Western Australian Certificate of Education (WACE)
  • Australian Capital Territory Senior Secondary Certificate (ACTSSC)


At this stage, the Australian states and territories intend to administer the senior examinations in August, October and November 2021.

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School-Leaving Exams, Admission Exams, Civil Service Selection Exams and Interviews


The State Examination Center (SEC) is using procedures and regulations initiated due to the pandemic.

New Test Center Procedures and Regulations:

  • disinfection and ventilation of buildings
  • limiting participants to 15 per room plus social distancing;
  • providing staff with PPE;
  • staff training on pandemic guidelines;
  • COVID-19 test for all supervisors going to regions.


SEC’s Developments During the Pandemic:

  • Remote Proctoring Software
  • Online Interview Platform

Some new rules for candidates:

  • follow different entrance times
  • bring signed “Health Declaration Form”
  • wear a mask
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The Bahrain National Examinations for grades 6 and 12


The Bahrain National Examinations were established to provide information about the educational system in Bahrain by testing students’ performance levels at grade 6 based on the national curriculum, and grade 12 in the main competencies that students should acquire after completing their pre-university education.
Although Bahrain’s health authorities have achieved progress in Covid-19 vaccine delivery, the situation is still not suitable for large public gatherings. Due to this the National Examinations will be postponed until 2022.

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Examinations Council of Eswatini

Eswatini General Certificate of Secondary Education (EGCSE)


Normally examinations are scheduled for October/November but in 2021, they will be held in November/December. This is to allow teachers and candidates more time to finish the syllabus following the prolonged closure of schools from March 2020 to March 2021. However, teaching continued through TV, radio, print media and other online platforms.
Minor modifications will be effected on subjects with practical components.

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Hong Kong

Hong Kong Secondary Diploma in Education


The written examinations of the HKSDE 2021 will take place as scheduled from 23 April to 18 May.  Since the pandemic has adversely affected teaching and learning at schools, one-off contingency measures are implemented to streamline the written examination and school-based assessment. In addition to adopting a wide range of precautionary measures at examination venues to safeguard the health of candidates and examination personnel, special examination arrangements are offered to candidates who need to undergo mandatory testing or quarantine.

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Junior Cycle final examinations
(Examination that marks the end of lower secondary education)


Certification will involve two elements:

  • A State Certificate of Completion from the Department of Education, stating that the student has completed the Junior Cycle programme of study and listing the subjects, short courses and/or priority learning units studied during their Junior Cycle programme.
  • A School Report detailing the learning achievements of the student.  The assessment of their learning will be provided by their teachers.  Schools will have autonomy regarding how this assessment is to be arrived at and the format in which the report is provided.


Leaving Certificate Examination
(Examination at the end of upper secondary education; used for entry to further and higher education and employment; has three variants: LC established, LC vocational, and LC applied)


Dual approach:

  • Examinations proceeding on the normal schedule, having had their demands adjusted in recognition of disruption to learning, primarily through increased levels of choice, and conducted in compliance with public health requirements.
  • ‘Accredited grades’ also being generated, based on school estimates, and subject to a national standardisation process (statistically based cross-school moderation)

Students who opt for both processes will receive, in each subject, the better of the two results.

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Psychometric Admission Test


The administrations of the Psychometric Admission Test (PET) to higher education and the accompanying Language Proficiency Tests are to be scheduled as normal.  All tests will be administered under restricted conditions published by the Ministry of Health.


School Leaving Exams


Four out of eight external exams were changed into school-based exams, the remaining exams will be administered as planned.

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Aga Khan University Examination Board

Secondary and Higher Secondary School Examination


Prolonged closure of schools led to the reduction of 25-30% syllabus to ensure that the academic content is manageable for schools. The examination has been postponed and will be held from July to give enough time to complete the syllabus. The examinations will consist of one-best multiple-choice questions (MCQs) only except for language examinations. The practical examinations have been replaced with alternate to practical examinations based on one-best MCQs.

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National Assessment of Knowledge in Primary School


The examinations are normally scheduled for May.  There are some changes in implementation rules and guidance to accommodate health and safety during the pandemic. Minor test modifications will be introduced to allow better year over year comparison of the results.

A student questionnaire will be added that will be linked to the assessment results and allow better insight into learning loss.


General and Vocational Matura


The examinations are normally scheduled for May and June with minor modifications and reduction of syllabus.

Bonus points will be awarded: on each externally assessed part of the exams students will receive additional points in the amount of 10% of the points they did NOT achieve on that exam part. This should ameliorate this year’s difficulties


Foreign Language Exams for Adults

National foreign languages exams are scheduled three times a year. They will be administered in June as planned.

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South Africa

Secondary and Higher Secondary School Examination


The examinations are normally scheduled for October-November. At this stage, the intention is to go ahead as normal. There has been no trimming of the curriculum, while in some subjects there has been a reduction in the number of school-based assessment tasks.  The supplementary examinations scheduled for May at this stage will go ahead as planned.

State NSC examinations:

IEB NSC examinations:

South Africa (Umalusi)

Amended Senior Certificate (SC(a))
National Senior Certificate (NSC)
National Certificate Vocational (NCV: Levels 2 – 4)
National Technical Certificate (NATED: N1 – N3)
General Education and Training Certificate (GETC: ABET Level 1)


So far indications are that there will be no merging of the NSC / SC(a) June examinations with those normally written in October / November. Just like the NSC, no changes are envisaged at this stage in terms of the end of the year exams associated with NCV (Levels 2 – 4). As usual, the NATED (N1-N3) exams will be written in April, August and November whereas those for the GETC (ABET Level 1) will be written in June and November.

Should a need arise to amend the dates for the exams, Umalusi will synchronize its dates for quality assuring the exams with those determined through a government gazette

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The Netherlands

End of Primary Test, Secondary and State Exams, Language Tests

The final test for primary education (Eindtoets primair onderwijs) has been taken by all pupils last April.

The digital central exams in the two pathways of the pre-vocational secondary education (vmbo) – except for the theoretical pathway – have been prolonged with several weeks, so schools have more opportunities for planning sessions.  The practical exams in these programmes are schoolbased exams this year. For all other Central Exams secondary education several measurements are taken: an extra opportunity to resit one more exam, an extra examperiod for more flexibility in planning, an extra examperiod for resits and the candidate is allowed to decide to leave one result on a central exam out of account.

The central exams in the intermediate vocational education in the Netherlands (middelbaar beroepsonderwijs) proceed as usual. They have been prolonged with several weeks, so schools have more opportunities for planning sessions.

For the State Exams Dutch as a Second Language (Staatsexamens Nt2) CvTE has taken a number of measures, for instance regarding hygiene and to secure a 1,5 m distance. These exams are now also taken in evenings, so more sits can be organized.

All the testresults are being monitored thoroughly and if significant deviations are observed an adjustment in the standard will be considered. So far there has been no need to change the content of tests.

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England A level and GCSE B


Summer examinations have been cancelled. Teachers will assess the standard at which students are performing so that their school or college can submit grades to the exam board.
Teachers’ judgements should be based on a range of evidence derived from what has been taught in the classroom or through remote learning.
This evidence might include work completed during the course, mock exam results, homework or in-class tests. Teachers may also use past questions from exam boards to support their assessment.

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The College Board

Advanced Placement (AP)

AP:  Schools given choice of pencil and paper, digital, or combination depending on local contexts. Content coverage will back to 100% for 2021. All exam cancellation fees waived. Additional resources in AP Classroom include AP Daily videos and review sessions

The College Board


SAT: Pencil and paper exams given worldwide, where local test centers determine that it safe to do so. Note that extra safety measures are in place, and precise measures differ at specific sites.



The TOEFL iBT® Home Edition is available 24 hours a day, 4 days a week, everywhere testing is normally available, based on the country of the test taker’s account address, with the exception of Mainland China and Iran. The at-home offering has been officially added to ETS’s product portfolio and will continue to be an option for test takers even in a post-COVID world. In addition, the TOEFL iBT test can be taken in third-party test centers as local guidance and circumstances permit.



The GRE® General Test at home is available around the clock, seven days a week, everywhere testing is normally available, based on the country of the test taker’s account address, except Mainland China and Iran. The at-home offering has been officially added to ETS’s product portfolio and will continue to be an option for test takers even in a post-COVID world. In addition, the GRE General test can be taken in third-party test centers as local guidance and circumstances permit.

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Entrance 10th grade


At this stage, the intention is to go ahead as normal. It is the same as 2019 – in June


Finishing school years (primary, lower secondary level)


At this stage, the intention is to go ahead as normal. The examinations are normally scheduled for April and May

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The 2021 school year started well, but the Government had to close all schools for 21 days in June, 2021 due to increase in cases of COvid-19. Examinations classes opened 5th August, 2021. The rest of the classes will open on 23rd August, 2021.


School Certificate

Junior Secondary School Leaving

Primary School  Leaving

General Certificate of Education , GCE (Private Candidates)

Junior Secondary (Private Candidates)

Teacher Education Diploma Examinations





The School Certificate examination is scheduled for November, 2021.

The Junior Secondary School Leaving examination is scheduled for November, 2021.

The Primary School  Leaving Leaving examination is scheduled for November, 2021.

The Examinations for private candidates were conducted when schools were closed in July, 2021.

The teacher education examinations have been postponed until further notice.

Dr. Michael M. Chilala,

Director and Chief Executive Officer, Examinations Council of Zambia