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Introduction of the University-Entrance Examination [Abitur] in Prussia: Edict signed by King Frederick William III, State Chancellor Hardenberg, and Minister Friedrich von Schuckmann (October 12, 1812)

This text aptly illustrates the Neo-Humanism that animated the Prussian educational reform program, as formulated by Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) and his associates and institutionalized in the new state-funded secondary schools [Gymnasien] established during the reform era in Prussia. This text describes the high standards set for Gymnasium students, especially in the study of Greek and Latin. Successful passage of graduation examinations soon became the prerequisite for university study in Prussia.

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Edict Regarding the Examination of Students Entering University

We, Frederick William, by the grace of God King of Prussia etc. etc. etc. have, with the intention of promoting the most diligent education of students in Our territories, and in consideration that the Circular aimed at this end, dated December 23, 1788, concerning the examination of pupils advancing to university, requires considerable modifications and more comprehensive provisions, commissioned Our Department of Cultural Affairs and Public Education within the Interior Ministry to draw up the following new instruction on this matter. We approve and confirm the same in all of its parts in such a way that it shall be instituted in place of the abovementioned circular and the orders based on it, and we order everyone that it concerns to comply with it punctually [ . . . ].


The object of preventing university attendance by studying youths who have not adequately prepared has resulted in examinations for pupils before their release to university, an arrangement ordered by the Circular dated December 23, 1788. The experience gained in this respect since then and the recently granted freedom also to be able to attend foreign universities necessitate new and more comprehensive provisions regarding these examinations, which are provided by this instruction.

§ 1. Just as it had not been the object of the earlier decree to forbid absolutely the graduation to university of a youth not mature at the time, if his parents or guardians feel compelled to that by any reason left to their conscience, such free choice shall continue to be unrestricted, except that by means of appropriate examinations and diplomas, the quality of the pupils advancing to university in each case shall be established.

§ 2. Partly, these diplomas shall serve the parents and guardians of the youths as a notification of the latter’s educational status, thus providing the final advice by the school in view of these evaluations and preventing any hasty decisions regarding advancement to university; partly the envisaged diplomas and the examination proceedings whose results they contain shall put the church and school deputations of the provincial governments and even the supreme school authority in a position to observe continuously how the institutions and persons devoted to the important business of preparing studying youths for university fulfill that responsibility.

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