Abitur (from Latin abire = leave, go off) is a designation used in Germany, Finland and Estonia for final exams that pupils take at the end of their secondary education, usually after 12 or 13 years of schooling (see also for Germany: Abitur after twelve years). The official term in Germany for this certificate of education is Allgemeine Hochschulreife; the contraction Abi is common in colloquial usage. The Zeugnis der Allgemeinen Hochschulreife (often referred to as Abiturzeugnis), issued after candidates have passed their final exams, is the document which contains their grades and which formally enables them to attend university. This means it includes the functions of a school leavigraduation certificate and a university entrance exam. However, the Abitur is not the only entrance exams, as some universities set up their own entrance examinations. Also students do not necessarily need to hold the Abitur in order to enter the university, because succeeding at the "Begabtenprüfung" ("test of aptitude") also opens the way to college. Also students from other countries, who hold a highschool leaving certificate that is not counted as the Abitur (such as the American high school diploma) who did well on the ACT or SAT may enter college even if they do not hold the Abitur. A person, who does not hold the Abitur and did not participate in an aptitude test, may still be allowed to go to college if he or she completed at least 10th grade and does well on an IQ-Test (see: Hochbegabtenstudium). In 2005, a total of 400,000 students passed the Abitur exam in Germany.
Even though the Abitur is often compared to a high school diploma of the United States, the academic level of the Abitur is more comparable to the International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement tests — indeed, the study requirements for the International Baccalaureate differ little from the Finnish exam requirements. It is the only school-leaving certificate in all states of Germany that allows the graduate (or Abiturient) to move directly to university. The other school leaving certificates, the Hauptschulabschluss and the Realschulabschluss, do not allow their holders to matriculate at a university. Those granted certificates of Hauptschulabschluss or Realschulabschluss can gain a specialized Fachabitur or an Abitur if they graduate from a Berufsschule and then attend Berufsoberschule.
The importance of the Abitur has grown beyond admission to the university, however, in that it has increasingly become a prerequisite to start an apprenticeship in some professions (e.g. banking). Therefore, career opportunities for Hauptschule or Realschule graduates who do not have the Abitur have almost universally seen a downturn in recent years. More than just being a leaving certificate, the Abitur is widely regarded as a matter of personal prestige as well.
The official term for Abitur in Germany is Zeugnis der allgemeinen Hochschulreife (often translated as General Qualification for University Entrance or Certificate for Overall Maturity for Higher Education). The equivalent exam in Austria, Poland and other countries of continental Europe is the Matura; while in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the West Indies, it is A-levels; in Scotland it is Higher Grade ; in Greece and Cyprus it is the "apolytirion" (a kind of high school diploma), in Malta it is the Matriculation Certificate (MATSEC). However, during their time of studies and at the end exams students receive only grades on a scale of 15 (best) to 0 points (failed). These points are weighted and then added up and converted to the final grade. If a student receives 14 points or more on average in all of his/her courses and exams he/she will get a final grade of 1.0.
The composite score of the Abitur is between 280 and 840, though both borders are rarely awarded. Students with a score below 280 fail and will not receive the Abitur. There are some more conditions that the student has to meet in order to receive the abitur. The student also has the option of omitting courses (if he/she has taken more than necessary) from his/her composite score.