The Dutch educational system is defined by an eight year primary education from age 4 to 12. At the age of 12 the students of different levels of competence are selected and enter different secondary educational routes. This study involves the students that are selected for the highest, pre-academic level, called vwo (23% of the total population; www.cbs.nl). This level has two separate tracks, a classical and a regular one, Gymnasium and Atheneum. In high school these tracks only differ in the sense that the classical students choose at least one of the classical language subjects, i.e. Greek or Latin.
All pre-academic high school students choose between four sub-tracks with a different set of subjects. Students of two of these four tracks have physics as a mandatory course. The Nature & Health track prepares the student for a biomedical field of study and is defined by regular physics, regular math, regular chemistry and advanced biology. The Nature & Technology track prepares the student for a field of study in other scientific fields of study, like engineering, and is defined by the regular versions of physics, math and chemistry supplemented with their advanced versions. Furthermore, Dutch and English are mandatory. These principal subjects in such a track are complemented with an individual choice from other subjects. Graduation in one of the two tracks, Nature & Health or Nature & Technology, is mandatory in order to enter a science related field of study.
(A male respondent, mathematics).
Throughout the country, graduates from one of the pre-academic tracks of high school have a uniform background, depending on the track they have chosen. For the major subjects, 50% of the final exam grades are determined by a national exam taken by all students at the end of their final year in high school. This national exam is the same for all students taking a particular subject throughout the Netherlands. The other 50% of their final exam grades are determined by tests that are roughly of the same level as this national exam.
After secondary school, students immediately enter the field of study of their choice. In general, there is no broad first undergraduate year. A three year bachelor study is followed by one or two graduate years in order to acquire a master degree.
This study focuses on the students who enter an academic science related field of study. Graduation at pre-academic level with the appropriate track is sufficient to be admitted for most fields of study, except (veterinary) medicine and dentistry. In these very popular fields of study a lottery system is used to select a fixed number of students every year. The chance of being admitted is proportional to the average final exam grades for all graduation subjects taken together. This means that respondents from these specific fields of study are selected for their high grades.
In the past view years the whole system of pre-academic education has again been thoroughly changed. The differentiation between regular and advanced physics has disappeared and only one physics subject at a level between regular and advanced is offered. This change has been effected after the respondents in my study finished their high school education.