University of Oxford senior candidate exam - please explain #unitedkingdom #general


Hi Siggers,
We have the attached certificate for Rebecca Kisch passing the Senior Candidate exam in 1870.
Can someone please explain exactly what this exam was? i.e. was she a student at the University of Oxford and was taking an exam to become a senior?
I am unfamiliar with the British system.
Thank you,
Larry Bassist

Alan Cohen

Wow. I think 1870 was the first year women were allowed to be students at Oxford, although only as external ones. They had to wait another 50 years before they were allowed to obtain a degree, so Rebecca must have been perhaps the first Jewish women to be accepted as a student. It's worth following up in more detail

Alan Cohen


I’ve just done a quick search and it would seem that this exam took place at an earlier age and level than a university degree:
 The title of Associate in Arts, introduced by the University of Oxford in 1857 and sometimes referred to as the degree of Associate in Arts, predates the Durham degree. However, it was an examination for "those who are not members of the university" and who were under the age of 18; as such it was at the level of a high school qualification rather than a modern associate degree. Examinations were held in English, languages, mathematics, science, drawing and music, with the title being conferred on those who students who passed any two (as long as the two were not drawing and music)”

Further information from Oxford University:,-A-History.pdf

None of which detracts from how wonderful it is to learn about your relative’s document, and it must have been an unusual achievement at that time.  

Ruth Silman, England 


I don't know if you're interested in reading (or skimming) a 65 pager from Oxford on the senior candidate exam, but here's a link:

The most relevant bit, I think, is:
SENIOR EXAMINATION 1858-1922 The Senior examination was originally for boys under the age of 18; in 1867, girls were allowed to sit the examination for the first time. In 1888, the age limit was removed. To pass the Senior examination it was necessary to pass a preliminary examination for which a certificate was not awarded. Successful candidates in the Senior examination were entitled to be called an ‘Oxford Associate in Arts’; this title is mentioned in the first regulations and Annual Report, 1858 (see also the volume by TD Acland, 1858, LE 171). Senior Examination results can be found in LE 93. (pg 3)

Tina Isaacs

Peter Lobbenberg

Hi Larry, 

Sadly, it doesn't follow that passing the Senior Candidate exam would have defined Rebecca as a student at the University of Oxford.  Apparently the Senior exam was for under-18s, and the Junior exam for under-15s.  So these would have been early precursors of what we in the UK now call A levels and GCSE respectively, both part of the General Certificate of Education.  (It seems A levels would broadly correspond, in US terms, to a grade 12 high school diploma - although I may be mistaken here, I'm not familiar with the US system.)  Those who passed the Senior Exam were given the title "Associate in Arts".

There are fuller narratives here:,-A-History.pdf  

and here: 

Peter Lobbenberg, London


Hallo Larry

Please see the link below re: the history of school examinations:

 I refer you to para. 1 of the above which indicates
'' The first regular examinations under examination boards took place for boys only in 1858 as a result of schools approaching Oxford and Cambridge universities for local means of assessment. Girls did not take school exams until 1867 monitored by Cambridge, and Oxford started from 1870.''

Rebecca born 1852 and based on the above I believe she could have sat the Oxford Local Assessment in or around 1870 when she was aged under 18 years and a schoolgirl.  

The reverse of the Certificate (if you have the original) should show all the subjects which the girls took then - see paragraph 4 of the attached link.  

Two thoughts come to my mind:
1.  I infer that her parents/carers were mindful of her obvious academic abilities and were willing to support and encourage Rebecca in her education post 16.  How wonderful.  Did Rebecca progress to university?

2.  Rebecca's certificate and the signposted link together form a social and educational history which highlight inter alia:  
- the development of the UK education system; 
- higher education for women;
- class system (still prevalent even today); and 
- the history of those times in terms of the academic subjects required for entry to university.

Also we must note that, since medieval times,  Oxford Uni has been linked with the Church.  

I trust this is helpful for  you.  

Malka Flekier
London, UK


Just to note -- the university where I teach (UCL) was the first university to allow women to take degrees.  UCL was founded in 1826 and admitted women in 1878.
Tina Isaacs