What is Austria’s Matura exam and why do some want it abolished?

Some call it "an outdated" test, but what exactly is the Austrian Matura, and how does it fit in the country's complicated school system?

Masks will no longer be needed in schools in Austria from today. Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash
(Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash)

Austria has a highly complex education system. Children are divided into different types of schools when they are nine years old.

Then, they have to choose between different kinds of education when they are around 13 years old.

The children who go to intermediate vocational schools will conclude their education with a technical examination. The ones that study in higher vocational schools conclude with a technical exam and the “general school-leaving examination”, also known as the Matura.

The Matura, officially called Reifeprufung, is a prerequisite for higher education such as university, academy, technical university and college.

The exam consists of written examinations, three to four tests lasting for up to five hours each on consecutive mornings of May, and oral examinations, also three to four tests held about one month after the written ones.

READ ALSO: How Covid absences are disrupting Austrian hospitals, schools and transport

All students can decide for themselves whether they want to take three written and three oral or four written and two oral exams.

For the written exams, the compulsory subjects are German (but could also be Croatian, Slovenian, or Hungarian, which are considered minority languages), mathematics, and a foreign living language (English, Italian, French, or Spanish).

In addition, some schools may also require students to take a test in biology or physics.

Additionally, students need to defend a paper that could have been written individually or in groups.

The idea for the exam is to give a standardised examination bringing “more fairness and equal conditions for all high school graduates”, according to the Ministry of Education.

Pandemic rules

The coronavirus pandemic changed many things in the Matura examinations, with oral exams cancelled in 2020 and 2021.

In 2022, they are set to be resumed, causing protests among students who said their high school years were hurt by the pandemic and that they shouldn’t have to take oral examinations.

READ ALSO: Rule changes: School attendance in Austria to become obligatory again

For 2022, students were also given a deadline extension, and written exams were prolonged by 60 minutes. Students had (and will still have to) comply with Covid regulations during the examinations – mainly the use of FFP2 masks.

There are also strict hygiene regulations, with a safety phase starting two weeks before the May and June exams. In addition, all candidates must carry out three corona tests per week during that period – two of them need to be PCR tests.

Students will need to show 3G proof for the exams, meaning evidence that they have been vaccinated, recovered, or tested negative for Covid-19.

Austrian grading system

The grading system in Austria is based on a one to five scale, with one being the best grade (very good, or sehr gut) and five being the worst (unsatisfactory or nichtgenugend).

The system is used for both the Matura and at schools, and only students who have not failed their grades at school can take the final exam. Otherwise, they need to take a re-examination of the subject before Matura.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Is home schooling legal in Austria?

Why do some politicians want to abolish it?

There has been intensive criticism of the Austrian Matura over the years. Many experts argue that the system encourages students to just memorise certain subjects and themes, hindering creative thinking.

The burdens of the coronavirus pandemic have brought these questions even more into light, with some specialists calling the Matura “a real lottery system“: are you lucky to have studied this subject a little deeper than others?

“You have to ask the question of how useful the Matura still is”, said SPÖ education spokeswoman Petro Vorderwinkler late last month.

The exit exam is a precondition for application to a university or other institutions of higher education. Still, by itself, it is not enough. Many schools still hold their own (and very competitive) entry exams.

And although some types of exit exams take place in several countries besides Austria, such as Croatia, Italy, Poland, and Switzerland, it is far from being a worldwide practice – adding to the argument that such a test serves only to put more unnecessary pressure on students.

Some defend, though, that it is a critical way to assess the situation of Austria’s education and school systems.

It could be that the answer lies in the middle, reforming the exam to allow for more diversity of subjects, making it more flexible, and working with teachers and pupils to find better solutions.

The three parts of Matura

Diplomarbeit – written paper
Schriftliche Klausurarbeiten – written exams
Mündliche Prüfungen – oral exams

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When are Austria’s school summer holidays in 2023?

Austrian kids have plenty of opportunities to go on holidays, with small breaks throughout the year and their big summer holidays. Here are the dates for 2023.

When are Austria's school summer holidays in 2023?

Summer school holidays are a much-anticipated time for children all over the world, and in Austria, they are no exception. 

Even though the country might be better known for its winter tourism, families in Austria look forward to the summer activities, with countless lakes, hiking trails and possibilities for little ones and adults alike. Of course, many families also see the more extended school break as an opportunity to travel abroad, with destinations by the beach – such as Italy, Croatia, and Spain – being popular among Austrians.

Whether you’re a resident of Austria or planning a visit, knowing when the school holidays will happen will help you plan your summer activities and make the most of the season.

READ ALSO: Five lesser-known tourist spots in Austria that you should visit

2023 summer holidays

The summer holidays are the main vacation period for schoolchildren in Austria. The exact start and end dates vary yearly and depend on the state. Here are the dates for 2023:

  • Burgenland, Lower Austria and Vienna: July 1st to September 3rd;
  • Carinthia, Upper Austria, Salzburg, Styria, Tyrol, and Vorarlberg: July 8th to September 10th.

Other holidays coming up

Before the more extended break, though, kids will have another holiday already in May. From May 27th to May 29th, they are off to the “Withsun holidays”. However, this year the dates fall on a Saturday and Sunday (May 29th is a Monday).

Besides that, in October, children get their “Autumn break” (Herbstferien), which this year will be from Friday, October 27th, to Tuesday, October 31st. 

READ ALSO: Working in Austria: How many holidays can I take?

Finally, by the end of December, they get a Christmas holiday, which this year will be from Saturday, December 23rd, to Saturday, January 6th.

This is valid for all compulsory schooling, meaning Volksschulen, Mittelschulen, Sonderschulen, Polytechnische Schulen, and Berufsschulen.

Of course, schools are also closed during official bank holidays in Austria. The country is very generous with its holidays, and there are 13 federal ones every year. Besides the ones in May (1st, 18th and 29th), schools will be closed on June 8th (Corpus Christi), August 15th (though this is already during summer holidays), October 26th (National Day), November 1st (All Saint’s Day), and December 8th (Feast of the Immaculate Conception). 

READ ALSO: Find out the Austrian public holidays in 2023

Christmas Day (December 25th) and St. Stephen’s Day (December 26th) are also public holidays, but schools would be closed nonetheless due to the extended Christmas break.

Some provinces also have local holidays and celebrations, so staying in touch with your school and following the official announcements is worth it.