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Credential Evaluation

External Examinations vs. Internal Transcripts for Secondary Evaluations

External Examinations

One of the most common inquiries the IEE Evaluations Team receives is related to our preference for using external examination results versus internal school transcripts when completing evaluations of secondary studies. In many countries around the world, in order to gain access to post-secondary studies, students must sit for examinations conducted by exam boards, and the results from these exams alone determines the student’s admissibility. Common examples of exam boards IEE routinely works with include: The West African Examinations Council (WAEC); Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC); The Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC); as well as various organizations based in the United Kingdom such as Pearson, AQA, and others.

In many cases, our clients provide both internal school transcripts as well as external examination results, and it can be confusing as to why we rely on the exam results to determine GPA calculations on our evaluations. This has historically been the industry standard among credential evaluation agencies, but at IEE, we pride ourselves on always challenging the status quo, and we do not simply do something because that’s what other companies do. Instead, we have determined, through a great deal of research and internal discussion that this is the most accurate and equitable way to inform evaluation recipients of a candidate’s secondary school achievement. When completing evaluations that determine whether a candidate is suitable for admission into a post-secondary program in the United States, several factors must be considered, and it is our view that utilizing external exams is the best way to ensure that each of these factors is met.

Why External Exams Are the Best Measure

One of the central reasons why external examinations are preferred is because they allow us to be confident of institutional quality. In many countries, lists of recognized and approved secondary schools are not available, and as such it can be nearly impossible for IEE to vouch for the quality of education a particular school offers without an external examination that is standardized for all students across the country. When IEE receives West African Senior School Certificate exam scores, we can be confident that the student has attained a standard of education comparable to other students who received the same score throughout their country. Unfortunately, this would not be possible based on an evaluation of internal school transcripts.

Streamlining the Evaluation Process

Another key reason why external examinations are preferred is because they are trustworthy and therefore much easier to verify. IEE’s partners rely on us to confirm that the documentation presented is authentic, and many examination boards make it very straightforward to verify examination results. Throughout our 40+ years of experience, IEE has built strong partnerships with exam boards—partnerships that make the evaluation process more streamlined for both institutions and our clients. In cases where external examinations are not provided, IEE must often attempt to contact a student’s secondary school, and historically, it has been our experience that many are simply not responsive. This can significantly delay the evaluation process and can hinder our clients’ chances at getting into the educational program they’re hoping to get into, or the job they’re hoping to secure.

Benefits of Standardized Grade Conversions

The standardization of external examinations also allows IEE to provide more accurate evaluation outcomes. When completing course reports, we rely on an extensive database of grading scales that have been taken from numerous country-specific publications in the IEE resource library. For external examinations, because we have had so much experience in evaluating these credentials, we have arrived at the grade conversions through years of research and significant discussion. Conversely, many schools around the world utilize their own unique grading scales, the logic of which may not necessarily be clear just upon reviewing the transcript provided. In these cases, it can be challenging to accurately convert foreign grades into their US-equivalent grades, therefore producing what is potentially an inaccurate GPA. This can be detrimental to our clients, as a GPA that is too high could allow them entrance into a program that they are ill-prepared for, and a GPA that is too low could allow them to be excluded from a program they are indeed well-prepared for.

External Exams in Home Countries

Finally, in completing the task of aligning a foreign educational program to a US program, IEE always attempts to develop a deep understanding of educational progressions in the student’s country of education. In the vast majority of cases, we have found that published admission requirements on university websites emphasize the importance of external examinations over internal school grades. The 2023/2024 entry requirements for Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology (KNUST) in Ghana, for example, require that students submit West African Senior School Certificate results and stipulate specific requirements for the core subjects of English Language, Mathematics, and Integrated Science, as well as that students must have attained a certain standard in three additional elective subjects. Other external examinations are also accepted, but students are not able to gain admittance on the basis of their internal school grades alone. This is exactly why IEE requires these external examination results in order to award a US high school diploma equivalency for Ghana. If a student is inadmissible to post-secondary programs in their home country based on internal school transcripts alone, it stands to reason that when converting their studies into the US equivalent, we should do the same and indicate that the student ill-prepared for post-secondary studies in the US.

External Examinations Confirm Institutional Quality

While on the surface it can appear to some that neglecting the internal school transcripts in favor of external examination results offers a less comprehensive evaluation, however, all of the factors stated above are what have been factored into our decision. External examinations allow us to confirm institutional quality; they are proven and verifiable; they allow us to provide more accurate evaluations; and they help us to mirror the educational system of the client’s home country as closely as possible.

At IEE, we always attempt to work with our clients to provide the best product possible that meets their needs, and hopefully this article has provided you with a deeper understanding for why external examination results are preferred.

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About author

Bradley is the Assistant Director of Evaluations at International Education Evaluations (IEE) with over 4.5 years of experience in the foreign credential evaluation field. He has a background in teaching, having worked as an EFL teacher for 3 years in China and 2 years in Japan, and is also IEE’s lead trainer for new evaluators.
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