Who Invented Tests and Exams? (Invention Timeline Explained)

We all have had experience taking a test or an examination to convince our teachers that we understood the lessons they discussed during our classes. These tests and examinations seek to measure the learner’s understanding of the various concepts detailed in the lessons. In addition, these instruments seek to gauge the baseline of the knowledge, understanding, and application of such ideas when applied to real-life situations. 

Who invented tests and exams, and how did these instruments evolve over the years? Let’s take a quick dive into the topic and find out how these instruments have affected learners’ lives through the years.  

Who invented tests and exams first?

While tests and examinations have been around for ages, as the ancient Chinese dynasties had a civil service examination for applicants to their bureaucracy, the first formal test was invented by an American businessman, professor, and pianist named Henry Fischel. He was among the first people who had a philosophy about testing as he postulated that it would test how students have become familiar with the lessons they have been taught. He also stated that there are two aspects to testing: interior and exterior assessment.  

The first tests and exams key contributors (and evolution)

  • Ancient Chinese
    Imperial Examination for Interested Citizens

    The ancient Chinese dynasties had a system of choosing the best people for government service as they implemented the Imperial examination. The Sui dynasty set up this system to help select the best people for government positions.

  • Englishmen 
    First to Adopt an Examination System

    The Brits followed suit in 1806 as they institutionalized an examination system to select the best people for the government service. They used the examination to choose the people who could serve in Her Majesty’s Civil Service.

  • Henry Fischel
    The First Tests and Exams

    Henry Fischel developed the first tests and exams following his philosophy of integrating internal and external assessments.  

  • Albert Binet
    Developed an intelligence test

    Albert Binet is a French psychologist who developed a standardized intelligence test that is still recognized today as one of the hallmarks of testing.

  • Henry Herbert Goddard
    Translated the Binet Intelligence Test 

    He translated the Binet Intelligence Test to English and introduced the term “moron” to the spectrum. He was a leading American eugenicist who correlated mental deficiency to criminality rates.

When was the first tests and exams invented?

The first tests and examinations were carried out in ancient China to help them select the best citizens for government positions. The Sui Dynasty instituted the Imperial exams in 605 AD. The Chinese government abolished the general exams appointment system in 1905. 

The Brits followed suit in 1806 as they instituted an examination system to help them select the best citizens for Her Majesty’s civil service. They later on adapted the examination to the academe to test the students’ knowledge and their understanding during an academic session. 

Henry Fischel invented the first examinations in the late 18th century to determine students’ overall knowledge in various subjects and to test if they could apply the concepts properly.

A brief history of tests and exams

Historically speaking, the Chinese dynasties, starting with the Sui dynasty in 605 AD, used the Imperial exam to gauge their citizens’ abilities for appointment to government positions. Their system helped them select qualified individuals from their citizenry for important government posts. In 1905, the Chinese government abolished the general examination appointment system.

The British followed suit in 1806 when they adapted and used an examination system to help them find individuals suited for Her Majesty’s civil service. They later adapted the approach to the academe as they tested their students’ understanding, knowledge, and application of these concepts. In the late 18th century, Henry Fischel invented the first tests and exams based on the philosophy of internal and external assessment to test students’ aptitude and learning. 

The advent of the free public school system helped usher in the era of standardized testing. First, standardized written assessments became the norm, especially after Henry Goddard translated the Binet Intelligence Test in 1908. Stanford Professor Lewis Terman then started large-scale intelligence testing following the Binet-Simon tradition. Edward Thorndike and his students from Columbia University then developed standardized achievement tests in arithmetic, spelling, drawing, handwriting, language ability, and reading. 

Various initiatives kept tests and exams at the forefront of the educational system. There have been several iterations of different aptitude tests, and computerization and digitization have also contributed to achieving a wider and more inclusive reach for students. Now, more students are tested every year following various mandates to test their learning and aptitude to measure school performance.

The tests and exams timeline

  1. 605 AD
    Sui Dynasty Institutes Imperial Exam

    The Sui Dynasty institutes an Imperial Exam to help them gauge the abilities of its citizens and help them find the most suitable people for government posts. The method continued until 1905, when the Chinese government abolished it.

  2. 1806
    England follows suit with civil service examination

    England instituted its testing system to find the best people for Her Majesty’s civil service. After a while, they adapted the testing system to the academe where they tested student aptitude for different school subjects.

  3. 1840-1865
    Written Tests and Exams Prioritized Over Oral Exams

    While oral examinations administered by teachers are valid, many schools shifted to gauging the learning and understanding of their students using a standardized written examination system.

  4. 1865 onwards
    Continued Improvements to Tests and Exams

    Tests and exams used to gauge learner aptitude became standardized procedures which measured intelligence and skill. Several iterations of standardized tests became accessible. Throughout the years, computerization and digitization, as well as improvements in the field of assessment and psychology, have helped testing advocates make better tests and exams.

Where were the tests and exams invented?

Historical records state that the ancient Chinese, starting with the Sui Dynasty in 605 AD, had the first examination system to help select the best people for government posts. In 1806, the Brits followed suit as they instituted a similar approach to help them choose the best citizens for Her Majesty’s civil service.

In the 18th century, Henry Fischel invented the first tests and exams following his philosophy of internal and external assessments to gauge a student’s learning of the lessons in the classroom.

The importance of the tests and exams

  • Ancient Chinese exam gauges qualification for civil service

    The first historically documented examination system helped the Sui Dynasty select qualified individuals for various government posts. This system ensures that citizens interested in serving will apply themselves properly and pass the requirements.

  • Fischel’s First Tests

    Henry Fischel’s invention of the tests and exams following his philosophy of internal and external assessments helped to gauge the understanding, knowledge, and application of concepts learned by the students in the classroom.

  • Standardized written exams gauge intellect and aptitude

    Standardized written tests and exams became the norm especially with the creation of different tests that gauged intellect and aptitude.

  • Constantly evolving system

    Advances in technology, as well as in various factors affecting testing, assessments and examinations, have ensured that the field will continue to grow and evolve.  

The tests and exams by the numbers

  • 605 ADHistorical accounts detail the use of the Sui Dynasty of an examination to select citizens fit for government posts. 
  • 100This is the average score of an intelligence exam. A person who scores above this can be said to have an above-average intelligence quotient. Conversely, a person who scores below the average is said to have a below-average intellectual aptitude.
  • 1917-1918Standardized intelligence testing became mainstream as the Stanford-Binet and the Otis intelligence tests were administered to large groups of children.
  • 2001Standardized tests became a factor in assessing the child’s academic performance. However, several years after such an initiative, studies are urging the reduction of standardized testing for performance evaluation.

Five facts about tests and exams

  • There are different types of tests and exams

    Educators and other assessors use tests and exams to measure the learner’s intelligence, understanding, and aptitude. Different types of testing can measure various types of intelligence and preparedness.

  • Tests and exams measure different aptitudes and intellect 

    While examinations and tests tend to gauge a student’s learning, various tests measure preparedness and aptitude for a specific skill. Several exams measure intellect, psychosocial awareness, and other similar aspects.

  • There are various standardized exams that people can take.

    A person can take several standardized tests to measure their intellect and academic proficiency. If you want to test your intellect, there are at least seven recognized standardized tests that one can take. Likewise, at least five tests for academic proficiency are widely recognized.

  • Psychometricians are testing professionals

    People who specialize in conducting tests and analyzing test results are known as psychometricians. They are adept at statistical and data analysis and treatment regarding testing and assessment.

  • Tests and exams were previously discriminatory

    Previously, standardized tests and exams were culturally biased towards western (American) cultures leading to immigrants and second-language test-takers failing such assessments. However, several initiatives have sought to correct such discrimination in testing and assessment practices.

FAQ about tests and exams

  • Who was the inventor of tests and exams?

    Henry Fischel is the person recognized as the inventor of exams. He invented exams in the late 18th century to measure a learner’s aptitude and understanding of the lessons in the classroom. 

  • What do tests and exams measure?

     There are several aspects that tests and exams measure. Depending on the objectives of the examination, you could test your intelligence, academic performance, or other aptitudes and preparedness for a specific skill. 

  • Who prepares tests and exams?

     The teachers typically prepare classroom-based tests and exams. Standardized examinations are prepared by psychometricians and other testing and assessment advocates depending on what the tests are supposed to measure. 

  • What is the difference between a test and an exam?

    Tests are more limited in scope and focus on particular aspects of a subject or course materials. On the other hand, an examination is a more comprehensive assessment of learning and is given at least four times during a term to assess learners’ understanding and knowledge.

  • Are there improvements in tests and exams?

    There are improvements in tests and exams. Previously, they were only oral and written exams, but nowadays, there are computerized tests and exams that also seek to measure intellect and aptitude. 

Leave a Comment