A look back at some of our examination results

by Gillian Cooke, 10 September 2016
We delve into our archives for a look back at some of the exam results stories over our 150 year history. 

Although we’ve been running examinations since 1858 we’ve only been issuing results in August for just over a hundred years. The first summer session of examinations was held in July 1907. Like the December exams, this summer session was crammed into just one week from Monday to Saturday in mid-July (from the 15th to 20th) and the candidates' results were issued on 19th August. This was a far tighter timescale for marking than we are used to now but the candidate numbers were, of course, far lower. There were just over 3,000 candidates; less than a quarter of those who entered for the traditional December session and few could have predicted the extent and anticipation associated with the August results days today.  

Candidates' results were ranked in classes; honours class I, II and III followed by those who obtained an ordinary pass; those who failed were not included in the class (or pass!) list at all. Against each name, small letters denote subjects passed with distinction. In July 1907, for example, the class list not only tells us that six of the Senior girls passed with Class I Honours from schools in Birmingham, Bristol, Middlesborough and Stockton–on Tees but that, co-incidentally, each of them gained a distinction in Religious Knowledge. 

As well as the name of the candidate and location of the school or centre the class list includes the name of the teacher who entered the candidate and here it’s possible to identify unsung heroes. Mr W J Stainer must have been immensely proud of his ten Junior Boys (under 16s) who obtained a class I honours certificate from the Municipal Secondary Schools in Brighton in this first summer exam session. All of his class I candidates gained distinctions in some subjects and two gained distinctions in six subjects. From the Tables of Results, issued at the same time as the Class Lists we can also find out more about the centres and the candidates. For example, in July 1907 forty boys were entered for the Junior Cambridge Exams from Brighton Municipal Secondary Schools, five of whom were just 13 at the time of the exams (although the compulsory school leaving age at this time was just 12). Most of the boys took the same subjects; Religious Knowledge, English, History and Geography, French, Mathematics, Physics and Drawing – for which five distinctions were gained. Classics, Biology and Music were clearly not supported as there were few candidates for these subjects and the results were poor. 

As the first summer session these results would not only have been eagerly anticipated by the candidates and school but also by the exam board. It would be interesting to know if these results were scrutinised as closely in 1907 as school results are today. 

Gillian Cooke 
Group Archivist, Cambridge Assessment

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