Abitur (from Latin abire "leave, go off") is a designation used in Germany, Finland and Estonia for final exams that pupils take at the end of their secondary education, usually after 12 or 13 years of schooling, see also for Germany Abitur after twelve years.

The Zeugnis der Allgemeinen Hochschulreife, often referred to as Abiturzeugnis, issued after candidates have passed their final exams, is the document which contains their grades and formally enables them to attend university. This means it includes the functions of a school graduation certificate and a university entrance exam.[1]

The importance of the Abitur has grown beyond admission to the university, however, in that it has increasingly become a prerequisite to start an apprenticeship in some professions (e.g. banking). Therefore, career opportunities for Hauptschule or Realschule graduates who do not have the Abitur have almost universally seen a downturn in recent years. More than just being a leaving certificate, the Abitur is widely regarded as a matter of personal prestige as well.

The official term in Germany for this certificate of education is Allgemeine Hochschulreife; the contraction Abi is common in colloquial usage. In 2005, a total of 400,000 students passed the Abitur exam in Germany.


Abitur in Germany


Up until the 18th century, every German university had its own entrance examination. In 1788 Prussia introduced the Abiturreglement, a law that—for the first time within Germany—established the Abitur as an official qualification. It was later also established in the other German states. In 1834 it became the only university entrance exam in Prussia, and it remained so in all states of Germany until 2004. Since then the German state of Hesse allows also students with the Fachhochschulreife (see below) to study at the universities within the state.


The academic level of the Abitur is comparable to the International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement tests — indeed, the study requirements for the International Baccalaureate differ little from the Finnish exam requirements. It is the only school-leaving certificate in all states of Germany that allows the graduate (or Abiturient) to move directly to university. The other school leaving certificates, the Hauptschulabschluss and the Realschulabschluss, do not allow their holders to matriculate at a university. Those granted certificates of Hauptschulabschluss or Realschulabschluss can gain a specialized Fachabitur or an Abitur if they graduate from a Berufsschule and than attend Berufsoberschule.

However, the Abitur is not the only entrance exams, as some universities set up their own entrance examinations. Also students do not necessarily need to hold the Abitur in order to enter the university, because succeeding at the "Begabtenprüfung" ("test of aptitude") also opens the way to college. Also students from other countries, who hold a highschool leaving certificate that is not counted as the Abitur (such as the American high school diploma) who did well on the ACT or SAT may enter college even if they do not hold the Abitur. A person, who does not hold the Abitur and didnt participate in an aptitude test, may still be allowed to go to college if he or she completed at least 10th grade and does well on an IQ-Test (see: Hochbegabtenstudium).


The official term for Abitur in Germany is Zeugnis der allgemeinen Hochschulreife (often translated as General Qualification for University Entrance or Certificate for Overall Maturity for Higher Education). The equivalent exam in Austria, Poland and other countries of continental Europe is the Matura; while in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the West Indies, it is A-levels; in Scotland it is Higher Grade ; in Greece and Cyprus it is the "apolytirion" (a kind of high school diploma), in Malta it is the Matriculation Certificate (MATSEC). During the two final years of studies and at the final exams students receive grades on a scale of 15 (best) to 0 points (failed). These points are weighted and then added up and converted to the final grade on a scale from 1 (best) to 6 (failed). If a student receives 14 points or more on average in all of his/her courses and exams he/she will get the best possible final grade of 1.0.

Other qualifications called Abitur in colloquial usage

In the German language the European Baccalaureate is called europäisches Abitur, and the International Baccalaureate is called internationales Abitur, both not to be confused with the German Abitur.

Fachabitur was used up until the 1970s in all of Germany for a variation of the Abitur. The official term for this German qualification is fachgebundene Hochschulreife. This qualification includes only one foreign language (in most cases English). The Abitur, in contrast, mostly includes two foreign languages. This school leaving certificate also allows the graduate to start studying at a university. However, he is limited to a specified range of majors. The range of majors depends on the specific subjects covered in his Abitur examinations. But the graduate is allowed to study all majors at a Fachhochschule (University of Applied Sciences, in some ways comparable to polytechnics). Today this school leaving certificate is called fachgebundenes Abitur.

Now the term Fachabitur is used in most parts of Germany for the Fachhochschulreife. This school leaving certificate was introduced in West Germany in the 1970s together with the Fachhochschulen. It enables the graduate to start studying at a Fachhochschule, and in Hesse also at a university within the state. In the Gymnasiums of some states it is reached in the year before the Abitur is reached. However, the normal way to receive the Fachhochschulreife is the graduation from a German Fachoberschule, a vocational high school also introduced in the 1970s.

The term Notabitur is used for a qualification which existed only during World War I and World War II. It was granted to male German Gymnasium (prep school) students who voluntarily enlisted for military service before graduation. The Notabitur during WWI included an examination, roughly equivalent to the Abitur exam. The WWII Notabitur, in contrast, was granted without any examinations. After the war this was a major disadvantage for Germans with this qualification since it was, unlike its WWI counterpart, generally not recognised in West Germany and never recognised in East Germany.

Emphasis on languages or sciences

An emphasis has to be put on either languages or the sciences, i.e. either (at least) two foreign languages or (at least) two natural sciences (one of which must be a ‘classical’ one) have to be covered during the four semesters of study.


Each semester of a subject studied in the final two years yields up to 15 points for a student. Core subjects count double and the final examinations or Abiturprüfungen count quadruple.

Passing the Abitur requires a composite score of at least 280. Students with a score below 280 fail and will not receive the Abitur. There are some more conditions that the student has to meet in order to receive the Abitur, e.g. taking mandatory courses in different subject areas and limits to the number of failing grades in core subjects. Finally, often students have the option of omitting some courses from their composite score if they have taken more than strictly necessary.

A score between 768 points and the maximum of 840 generally leads to the best-possible grade of 1.0; the fraction of students achieving this score is normally only around 0.3-2%[2] even among the already selective population of Abitur candidates. Around 12%-30% of Abitur candidates achieve grades between 1.0 and 1.9.[3]

Percent of persons holding the Abitur

Historically, very few people received their Abitur in Germany, because there were a number of attractive jobs which did not need one. Even now, there are still attractive jobs that do not require the Abitur, such as in nursing or early childhood education. The number of persons holding the Abitur has been going up since the 1970s and younger jobholders are more likely to hold the Abitur than older ones, but the vast majority of Germans still do not hold the Abitur and the majority of students graduating from German schools do not receive the Abitur. According to the Statistisches Bundesamt from 1992 till 2003 an average of about 40% of all students leaving school graduated with an Abitur (West Germany: 41%; East Germany: 40%; students with migration background: 18%)

Percentage of jobholders holding Hauptschulabschluss, Realschulabschluss or Abitur in Germany:[4]

1970 1982 1991 2000
Hauptschulabschluss 87.7 % 79.3 % 66.5 % 54.9 %
Realschulabschluss 10.9 % 17.7 % 27 % 34.1 %
Abitur 1.4 % 3 % 6.5 % 11 %

Abitur in Finland

The Finnish abitur gives the right to wear the student cap

A similar test has also existed in Finland since the mid-19th century. The test is called ylioppilastutkinto in Finnish and studentexamen in Swedish. The official English language translation is matriculation examination. Since 1919, the test has been arranged by a national body, the Matriculation Examination Board. Before that, the administration of the test was the responsibility of the University of Helsinki.

Successful completion formerly legally entitled one to enroll as a university student (hence "matriculation"). Although the legal requirement has been lifted, matriculation without completing the test is still an exception. The universities are now free to arrange their own entrance examinations in addition to considering scores from the Matriculation Examination. Thus, universities accept students based both on entrance exam points, matriculation exam points, and also by a combined score from the two. Matriculation entitles one to wear the student cap.


Each examinee is required to participate in at least four tests in order to matriculate. As of 2005 the only mandatory part of the test is that of äidinkieli ("mother tongue"; Finnish for most students, Swedish or Sámi for some), including a composition test. The student then has to choose three other subjects from

  • Second domestic language (Swedish for Finnish speakers or Finnish for Swedish speakers)
  • Foreign language Languages are separated into A and B levels depending on the demanded skill. The language counted as part of the four obligatory subjects must be one of A-level. However, if a student takes advanced level mathematics as an obligatory subject, he may take B-level language exams. English, German and French are the most popular choices among students, but in addition, the students may take Russian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Latin, Inari Sámi, and Northern Sámi exams. The foreign language exams include listening and reading comprehension tests, grammar test and an essay.
  • Mathematics (ordinary or advanced level), including 15 assignments 10 of which must be completed.
  • Reaali in which examinees take between one or two exams, and are only allowed to answer questions from a single subject per exam. These subjects have to be chosen by the examinee well in advance prior to the exam. Exams consist of questions which require answers in the form of an essay. The subjects of reaali category are
    • Religion, Evangelical Lutheran
    • Religion, Orthodox Christian
    • Education on ethics and moral history
    • Philosophy
    • Psychology
    • History
    • Civics
    • Physics
    • Chemistry
    • Biology
    • Geography
    • Health education
The insignia of Finnish matriculation exam board

The exam takes place at schools according to minute regulations laid out by the national board. Each exam takes six hours. After the exam, the teachers grade the papers and send the graded papers to the national board which then re-grades every paper. The grading of the exam may be appealed against. In this case, the board re-examines the grading. The result of the re-examination is final and cannot be appealed to any authority.


The score of each test varies with the subject. For example, the maximum score for the test in Finnish or Swedish as a first language is 114 points, in mathematics 66 points and in foreign languages 299 points. The tests are graded according to normal distribution into seven verbal grades with Latin names: Improbatur (I), Approbatur (A), Lubenter Approbatur (B), Cum Laude Approbatur (C), Magna Cum Laude Approbatur (M), Eximia Cum Laude Approbatur (E) and Laudatur (L), from bottom to top. (A rough translation of the grades is "rejected", "accepted", "gladly accepted", "accepted with praise", "accepted with much praise", "accepted with excellent praise", and "praised"/"lauded".) In general, at least the grade A is required for the test to be passed. The grades received by the students generally follow a distribution of:

  • 5% of students receive a laudatur
  • 15% of students receive an eximia cum laude approbatur
  • 20% of students receive a magna cum laude approbatur
  • 24% of students receive a cum laude approbatur
  • 20% of students receive a lubenter approbatur
  • 11% of students receive an approbatur
  • 5% of students receive an improbatur.

Traditionally, the test is taken in the spring, but it is also arranged every autumn and may be taken in up to three parts. Thus completing the matriculation exam may take up to one and half years. Usually, the last set of exams is taken at the end of the third year in upper secondary school. The exams take place in late March, but for the school-leavers, the school ends in mid-February, giving the students ample time to prepare for the test in solitary study. This occasion is celebrated by the traditional festivity of penkkarit.

Compensation system

If the student receives an improbatur in any of the obligatory exams, the whole exam is failed. However, a single failed obligatory exam may be compensated by good results from other exams. For this purpose, there is a compensation system where the total exam result of the student is calculated and it is compared to the result of the failed test. In order to get his/her diploma accepted, student must gather enough compensation points from all the other exams. Improbatur is divided to four classes (i+, i, i−, i=), each describing the depth of student's failure (i+ being the least bad) and each class has its own number of compensation points to be reached for an acceptable result (12, 14, 16 and 18 respectively). Points from accepted exams are awarded as follows: L 7 points, E 6, M 5, C 4, B 3 and A 2.

See also


  1. ^ For some university subjects, there may be additional entrance exams, for example Sports, Music and Arts. Along with the Bologna Process more subjects might introduce additional entrance exams.
  2. ^ German: [Abiturnoten-Ländervergleich 2005 - Abiturnote "sehr gut" in den Bundesländern 2005 http://www.gew.de/Binaries/Binary29531/9graf-abinote%20sehr%20gut%20bul%c3%a42005.pdf], Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft, 15 Aug 2007
  3. ^ German: [Abiturnoten-Ländervergleich 2005 - Verteilung der Abiturnoten in den Bundesländern 2005 http://www.gew.de/Binaries/Binary29529/7graf-verteilung%20abinoten%20bul%c3%a42005.pdf], Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft, 15 Aug 2007
  4. ^ Frietsch, Rainer (November 2003). ""Intensivierung" von Bildungsabschlüssen zwischen 1970 - 2000" (PDF). Studien zum deutschen Innovationssystem (5-2004). ISSN 1613-4338. http://www.bmbf.de/pub/sdi_05_04_bildungsintensivierung.pdf. Retrieved 2009-11-21. 

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