Research and analysis

Inter-subject comparability: an international review

A review of international approaches to inter-subject comparability across 30 countries.


Inter-Subject Comparability: An International Review: ISC Working Paper 4

This file may not be suitable for users of assistive technology. Request an accessible format.

If you use assistive technology (such as a screen reader) and need a version of this document in a more accessible format, please email Please tell us what format you need. It will help us if you say what assistive technology you use.


Twenty-two assessments were reviewed where no evidence could be found as to whether the jurisdiction was implementing an approach to address inter-subject comparability. It may be that inter-subject comparability is addressed but that the information is not publicly available.

With that caveat in mind, the following observations can be made regarding the context, purpose and subject choice of each jurisdiction:

  • the purpose of the assessments we reviewed was to provide access to university
  • several of the jurisdictions apply varying weightings or credits to specific subjects within the assessment by:
    • applying subject weightings (including France and China)
    • applying credits to subjects (Alberta and New Zealand)
    • providing options to take subjects at either standard or higher level (including Ireland and Poland)
  • assessments vary in structure, although the majority share a similar structure in that students select subjects from a restricted framework
  • the number of subjects varies from four up to 16
  • in jurisdictions where statistical inter-subject comparability methods are implemented, students are ranked to enable higher education institutions to identify easily the highest performing candidates. In jurisdictions where intersubject comparability methods are not evident, to compensate for this, some higher education institutions introduce additional requirements for entry such as interviews, selection tests and the submission of essays and portfolios.
  • there appears to be less public reaction to issues of inter-subject comparability in jurisdictions that do not apply particular methods. This may be because the parameters for success are clear to students at the beginning of their courses rather than adjusted after their exams. It may be that where no statistical methods are applied, it is less obvious to the public that there may be a problem that ought to be solved. It may even be that statistical methods are introduced in response to a concern about subject difficulty but succeed in redirecting the concerns to the method employed.
Published 18 December 2015