Unified National Testing in Kazakhstan

Rasul Ibragimov

2008-07-28

For all those graduating from school in Kazakhstan, the abbreviation UNT stands for Unified National Testing—the examination that takes place practically simultaneously across the entire country. It is said that all who want to receive a higher education pray to the letters UNT.

UNT was introduced for the first time in 2004 as a form of a unified, combined examination for completing secondary education and entering a university.

Since 2008, certain changes have been made in the system for administering UNT. It now includes five subjects: mathematics, history, Russian or Kazakh language, and a subject of choice (English, French, German, physics, chemistry, geography, biology).

Each subject includes 25 test pieces and the time allowed is three hours. The results are valid only for the year in which the test is given.

Compared with previous years, this year Kazakhstan has seen its lowest number of graduates, due to the so-called demographic echo of the emigrations that occurred in the early 1990s.

The primary aim in introducing the UNT is to reduce the corruption associated with university admission. Since the sphere of education in Kazakhstan is considered to be one of the most corrupt, the UNT attracts greater attention from the investigative bodies, and the answers to the tests are considered to be under the seal of a ‘state secret.’

Before the examinations all graduates are carefully checked with a metal detector for the presence of mobile telephones. If a phone is found the school leaver is not allowed to take the examination.

Yuriy Grebenyuk, a history teacher and one of the authors of the UNT, said, “The UNT makes it possible, to a greater extent, to make an objective determination of knowledge since, in order to answer the test questions, it is necessary to know specific material. Even the authors of the test questions or the experts cannot know which variation will be given to whom.”

The basis of the test on the history of Kazakhstan includes more than 6,000 questions. Only about 2,500 questions are used to form the variations of the test. The history section fully covers all stages of the history of Kazakhstan: the Stone Age and the first humans on the territory of Kazakhstan, the first tribal associations of Saks, Uysuns, and Gunns, the Turkic Kaganat, the Mongol invasion, the formation of the Kazakh Khanate, the history of Kazakhstan’s unification with Russia, the period of the USSR, and contemporary history. In order to answer the questions on all these historical periods, it is not enough to learn some dates by heart; rather it is necessary to have a precise idea of the whole picture involved in the formation of the country’s history.

The most important thing in conducting the UNT is the possibility of avoiding preconceived ideas on the part of the examiners.

Not everyone in Kazakhstan has a positive assessment of the UNT. There are opinions that centralisation monopolises the corruption, and there are even those who think that the test questions have been compiled incorrectly.

In response, psychologist Tatyana Vazhkiy points out that universal testing is much more lenient on students, even though it is an examination. It provides the opportunity, in a single day, to be tested on all subjects, to graduate from secondary school, and to secure a place at university; this is a significant advantage.

The procedure for conducting the UNT is being constantly improved. Changes are made every year, connected with the fact that experience is gained in conducting the tests and preparing the test problems. It is expected that by 2010 there will be a new system for conducting the UNT.

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