A syllabus for each course and instructional materials are provided to guide teachers, and the exam, usually a set of essays, is closely based on the syllabus. The syllabus specifies the level of skill expected, as well the material to be read and covered. The composite exam score generally also includes scores for work done in class during the year and scored by the teacher. Teacher training directly linked to the curriculum and course syllabi is a critical element.
Tucker stressed that all of these elements together would not be as effective as they are without the requirement that students pass a set of examinations in order to qualify for the next stage of study or work. Because students are focused not on logging 4 years in secondary school, but rather on what they need to accomplish to reach particular goals, he argued, they are highly motivated and clear about why they are studying particular material.
A number of these kinds of programs are available to U.S. students, including:
Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education,
Edexcel International General Certificate of Secondary Education,
College Board AP courses used as diploma programs,
University of Cambridge Advance International Certificate of Education, and
International Baccalaureate Diploma Program.
Tucker highlighted some of the differences between board examination systems and typical accountability tests used in the United States. Board examinations are based in curricula as well as standards, designed specifically to capture higher-order thinking skills, and often include information on work done outside of the timed test. Students are expected to study for them, and performance expectations are very clear. In contrast, state accountability tests are generally not curriculum based, and students are not expected to study for them. In his view, students do not always have equal opportunity to study the material on which they will be tested, because the tests tend to cover such broadly defined domains. They do not generally include data on work done outside of the timed test, and they are more effective at capturing basic skills than higher-order thinking skills.