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Sample Exhibits

Imperial Examinations in China

There has always been a need to carefully select individuals to fill certain positions in society – from positions of political power, to spiritual leadership, to military leadership, and so forth.

Imperial China was the first society in history to begin filling these important positions on the basis of a systematic definition of key traits. As early as 605 CE, the Chinese emperor decided that the aristocracy should consist of people with certain skills rather than people of a certain origin. He ordered the establishment of the Chinese Imperial testing system. This system sought out the most intelligent people, gifted with particular personality traits that made them especially suitable for public service. It was in use for over a thousand years, until the fall of imperial rule and the establishment of the republic of China. This historic example of a testing system continues to influence both higher education and the selection of civil servants in China.



The Exhibit's Messages

  • Knowledge and critical thinking as a basis for professional standing and personal success.
  • Being smart is not everything. One must have the right personality to be a leader.
  • Tests as a vehicle for social mobility.


The visitor is invited to the emperor's court to try and pass the test and earn the title 'jinsh,' which qualifies the title-bearer to a government job. The visitor will take knowledge and memory tests, a physical strength test, and tests of language, penmanship and assertiveness.

You Be the Judge

Scores on a test must be consistent and not change between administrations. With respect to open tests, scored by human raters, it is not easy to achieve high reliability. Raters must be experts in the field being tested, must be properly trained for the task, and must follow closely the scoring instructions (a rubric). When two judges give the same, or similar, scores we can say we have achieved high reliability.




The Exhibit's Messages

  • Open tests and performance assessments are more difficult to rate than structured ones.
  • Rater-training, rubrics and rater workshops can bring performance assessment to a decent level of reliability.
  • A good way to measure the reliability of performance assessment is on the basis of the similarity of rater scores.


Visitors will give points for a sports performance, and their scores will be compared. They will then receive a professional scoring rubric and try again. The degree of agreement will be illustrated by means of numbers and charts.

Date Created: 19/04/10
Date Updated: 17/01/11