Examination Performance

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In cases where there is a common system of external examinations, the overall performance of students registered with open schools often lags behind that of their counterparts in conventional educational institutions. ODL learners may not earn as many honour grades (As, Bs and Cs or Distinctions and Merits) and the pass rate for ODL students may also be lower. Some authors argue that any measure of FTE that does not take account of examination results is fundamentally flawed. Thus, a third approach was devised to establish a common basis for comparison between ODL and conventional education using the most concrete and measurable outputs of the educational process – examination subject passes.

However, in some countries, school-based learners may be required to study some subjects that are not examined (e.g. civics or religion). In addition, it is not uncommon for more able students to sit the examination for more subjects than are required to qualify for an award so that they can use their best scores to qualify for entry to university. From an economist’s point of view, it is difficult to justify the provision of inputs in excess of what is required to achieve a particular output from a system of production.(br>
As voluntary participants in education, ODL students tend to be more pragmatic in their approach, taking only those subjects/courses for which they can gain credit. Moreover, those studying outside of a conventional institution are unlikely to register for any courses beyond the minimum needed to complete the programme and obtain the qualification. Accordingly, in order to establish FTE on the basis of examination performance, we need to use the actual number of examination subject passes required to ‘graduate’ rather than the average number of subject passes achieved by full-time students.


  1. Identify the total number of examination subject/course passes by ODL students.
  2. Identify the total number of examination subject/course passes required to qualify for a particular award.
  3. Divide a by b.

Where: FTEEP = FTE Measure – Exam Performance TESPODL = Total Examination Subject Passes by ODL students ESPC = Examination Subject Passes required for Certification

Exercise 8.3 (Insert link to common worksheet for all exercises in this unit.)
Sample Answer (Insert link to common answer sheet for all exercises in this unit.)
When there is a widespread perception that ODL is inferior to conventional education, this approach finds favour because it is based on what is actually achieved. As noted above, the results of learners from open schools in the external examinations tend to lag behind those of full-time students in conventional schools. However, such a comparison is misleading as it does not compare like with like. In most countries, the system for promoting learners from junior to senior secondary school (or from senior secondary school to university) is based on academic achievement, and this has the effect of ‘creaming off’ the most successful students. Those who have had the least success in education (either through their own limited aptitude or because of social, economic and educational disadvantage) are relegated to the alternative programme offered by an open school, college or university.

For example, consider the situation of two students in the final year of junior/lower secondary. One attains the minimum mark in the English examination for admission to senior/upper secondary school; the other receives a mark just below the minimum and is obliged to continue her education with an open school. When both achieve a ‘C’ symbol in the senior secondary English examination, the learner from the open school has actually achieved more because she started from a lower level. What is remarkable, then, is not that the examination results of open school learners are worse than their counterparts in formal education. What is really remarkable is that open school learners do as well as they do.

Nevertheless, this approach has the advantage of being relatively easy to calculate. Where examinations are conducted by a separate body (a national exam authority), this ensures a common standard of marking and increases public confidence in the impartiality of results. In addition, since only examination results are factored into the calculation, debates about differences between ODL and conventional education in terms of credit- or work-loads, duration of courses and drop-out rates become irrelevant.