A family project: Passing the Gymi exam in Zürich

The entrance exam for the academic high school in Zürich, or the so-called Gymi exam, is a stressful period for children and parents alike. Read this story by a Swiss mother who went through the process herself.

“For the children it means stress, for the parents six months of being in a state of emergency. And among education experts, the entrance exam for the Gymnasium in the canton of Zurich is increasingly controversial. Why not just abolish it?

Last year, our family spent six months excessively calculating food rations for guinea pigs, which fell ill for days at a time and lost their appetite as a result. Or dealing with farmer Müller’s egg transport and his profit margin. On weekends, we wrote essays about the house “Zur goldenen Traube” or about rescuing a squirrel from a drain. And we did so using the Präteritum tense. For this new pursuit we had to pay a lot, the total costs amounted to a low four-digit sum.

We were neither sick nor insane. Our sole focus was our daughter’s entrance examination to the Zurich six year academic high school.. And yes, you read that right: “Our” meaning: daughter, dad, mum. And we were one family among many. Mothers would answer the phone saying: “I don’t have time for a chat, we are too busy with our exam prep”, and a colleague in a leading position took weeks off to study with his son.”

How could it have come to this?

The annual Central Entrance Examination (ZAP), commonly called the Gymiprüfung, will take place coming March. It is, in fact, a three-hour written test in German and maths that enables children with the “right aptitude” to enter a Zurich cantonal school.

But it has long been much more than that: a burden for families, a stress test for children, a lucrative industry for private tutoring institutes, a repeatedly corrected selection instrument for grammar schools – and despite all this, for many parents, the golden path that leads children to the ultimate educational destination.

The entrance examination is not an easy path. Even academically strong students rarely manage to pass the exam without additional preparation classes. Why is that?

Matthias Meier, a primary school teacher in Zurich’s district 7 and an expert on secondary school exams, knows why: “The maths problems in the central entrance exam are more difficult than most of the problems in the curriculum. Students wanting to sit the exam need to bridge that gap.”

Exam madness?

All this begs the question: Is this still a meaningful examination or rather an examination-driven madness? And why are cantons like Basel and Bern or Aargau able to do without this ominous examination?

In the political arena, too, the exam is a recurring topic of debate. Two years ago, the education committee of the Zurich SP presented a motion to abolish the Gymiprüfung after the third grade, to no avail. All the same, the question remains: Why not simply abolish the exam?”

(English translation of the article written by Kardos, A. “Wie die Gymiprüfung Kinder und Eltern stresst“, NZZ 2023)

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