Secondary education in Slovakia
Before entering any school of secondary education (including 8-year gymnasium) for which there are more applicants than places offered, the applicants have to pass entrance examinations.
As a rule, secondary schools last for 4 years (from the age of 16 to the age of 19). A "gymnasium" can also last for 8 years (up to the age of 18) depending on how many years did the student spend in the primary school (see primary education).
There are four types of secondary schools:
- general education (non-vocational):
o gymnázium (i.e. gymnasium, also translated as grammar school or high school) – 4 or 8 years (rarely other lengths), i.e. age 16 to 19 or age 10 to 18; prepares students for higher education; teaches at least 2 foreign languages
- various vocational schools (visited by students interested in arts, crafts or a special company):
o stredná odborná škola (secondary professional school) – usually age 16 to 19; usually also prepares for higher education
o stredné odborné učilište (secondary vocational school) – usually age 16 to 19; training center
o združená stredná škola ('grouped' secondary school) – usually age 16 to 19; rare
The gymnasia (high schools) are usually considered "prestigious" schools, because they explicitly prepare for higher education and because they are often highly selective - only the brightest students from elementary schools advance to them. In fact, most students who attend them later continue their education at a school of higher education in Slovakia or abroad. The high schools that are the most competitive ones are usually located either in Bratislava (Gymnázium Alexandra Markuša Červenej armády (GAMČA), Gymnázium Metodova, Gymnázium Jura Hronca (GJH), etc.), in Košice (Gymnázium Poštová etc.) or in other main cities. These schools annually accept only a very low percentage of applicants. Despite providing general education, many gymnasia have specialized classes . Some of them specialize in languages or are even "bilingual" Slovak-German/English/French etc. (e.g. Gymnázium Metodova, Gymnázium Bilíkova), others are specialized in mathematics or programming, for example Gamča and GJH. Gamča is notable for being founded in 1628.
After finishing secondary school students usually take a school-leaving exam (matura in German, "maturita" in Slovak), which is a basic prerequisite for visiting a school of higher education (college), especially a university. Before 1990 this included obligatory exams in mathematics (written nationwide standardized + oral), Slovak incl. literature (written nationwide standardized + oral) and Russian and in one subject of the students's choice. After 1990, the system was changed, so that every school prepared its own tests and questions – at gymnasia in the subjects: Slovak incl. literature (written and oral), a foreign language (written and oral), two subjects of the student's choice (oral). The obvious problem of this system was low or missing comparability of the results. The maturita system was modified in 2005 again. The new system is supposed to replace the current entrance examinations to schools of higher education (colleges) in the future. The main changes are: one additional exam subject (for gymnasia), nationwide unified written tests for languages and mathematics (other subjects are supposed to follow in the future), a high degree of standardization of other exams, as well as the possibility for the student to choose whether they want to pass an A-level exam (the most complicated one), a B-level exam or a C-level exam (the simplest one, only for languages). At gymnasia, the exam subjects include: Slovak incl. literature (written and oral), a foreign language (written and oral), a natural science subject, and two other subjects of the student's choice.