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EBAU: What you need to know about Spain's university entrance exams

The Local Spain
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EBAU: What you need to know about Spain's university entrance exams
One of the changes proposed is that students will have the right to a third remarking if they disagree with the result they receive. (Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

High school students in Spain who want to go to university need to take the EBAU entrance exam, or ‘la selectividad’ as it’s known. This is what it consists of and the changes authorities are looking to implement.

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Depending where you’re from, the Spanish university entrance process could be a little different from in your home country. In Spain, most students take the EBAU entrance exam, or la selectividad as it’s usually referred to.

The EBAU is pretty different from taking SATs in the U.S, for example, or A-Levels in the UK. The system has also gone through some changes in recent years, and will be altered again for the 2024/25 academic school year.

What is the Selectividad?

The Bachillerato Evaluation for University Entrance (EBAU), is a series of exams taken by bachillerato students (literally meaning 'baccalaureate', the final two years of high school in Spain, similar to A-Levels in the UK) to test the knowledge and skills they’ve acquired in their post-compulsory education.

As students can leave school at 16 years old in Spain, most students taking the EBAU are between 16-18 years old and their main objective is to gain access to university.

Is it the same everywhere?

Not exactly. There are some slight differences in terms of how long the EBAU exam period is, but it’s usually just a matter of days and most regions do it over 3 or 4 days.

Equally, for regions where there’s a ‘co-official’ language, such as Galicia, Valencia, Catalonia and the Basque Country, there’re also extra exam sections testing them.

How is it structured?

The EBAU is split into two parts: general and specific, sometimes referred to as obligatoria and voluntaria.

The general phase is made up of four or five different exams, depending on the region, and tests students’ knowledge and understanding of three or four compulsory subjects as well as one specialist subject taken in the second year of bachillerato.

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This part includes sections on Spanish language and literature, the history of Spain, a foreign language (usually one of English, French, German, Italian or Portuguese, depending on the languages offered in each region) plus any regional languages in said region, such as Catalan or Basque, if applicable, and then a section based on the student’s module choice from one of arts, humanities and social sciences, mathematics and science.

The specific part of the EBAU allows students to choose any of the subjects they have studied during their bachillerato, up to a maximum of four (except in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and Navarre, where a maximum of three subjects are allowed).

The specific section of the exam is an opportunity for students to increase their marks, and they can choose their best subjects regardless of the bachillerato pathway they have chosen.

READ ALSO: Selectividad: The changes to high school exams in Spain

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Marking and grades

The EBAU is graded differently depending on the section. In the general part, each of the exams is marked from 0-10 to three decimal places.

The final mark is the average of these scores. In order to pass this phase, the minimum mark must be equal to or higher than 4/10.

For the specific section, each of the subjects is also graded from 0-10, but in this case only two decimal places are added. To pass, you must have a score equal to or higher than five.

In the EBAU, the marks obtained during the bachillerato course (60 percent) and the general phase (40 percent) are added together for a total score of 10. The exams for the specific modules are graded separately, depending on the pathway and chosen degree course. As such, it is possible to reach a maximum score of 14 points overall.

Changes coming up

The Spanish government announced some changes to the EBAU process last year. Though they were initially slated to come into force for the 2023/24 school year, this has since been pushed back by a year.

READ ALSO: Spanish government to create new university entrance exams

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The key changes are as follows:

More comprehensive exams

The exam questions will be more comprehensive and students will be forced to think more critically. There will be fewer questions where they’ll simply have to memorise an answer and write it down word-for-word. For this reason, there will be fewer multiple-choice or fill-in-the-gap questions too.

More time for exams

With the new university entrance tests from the 2024-25 school year, students will have more time to take each exam. Until now students had 90 minutes, however, with the new ones an extra 15 minutes will be added, taking it to a total of 105 minutes.

History or philosophy?

When the new changes come into force, students will be able to choose between doing an exam on the history of Spain or the history of philosophy, giving them a greater choice.

Exam reviews

Another of the changes proposed is that students will have the right to a third remarking if they disagree with the result they receive. If the student disagrees with the grade obtained for an exercise, up until now they could only request a second review.

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