ETHZ is really very difficult

Good school-leaving qualifications and a low starting age: These are the essential factors for a successful degree at ETH Zurich. A study based on data from 5,216 ETH students with a Swiss Matura shows that the choice of focus subjects at grammar school has less of an impact.

A first important hurdle in the academic curriculum is the basic examination (formerly the pre-diploma) at the end of the first year of study. Experience shows that those who pass this examination also successfully complete the master’s degree. With the ACAP - Academic and Career Advisory Program - pilot project, ETH Zurich has stepped up its efforts to advise and support students at an early stage.

Against this background, the question was asked whether there are factors with a view to the grammar school education that positively influence the chances of successfully completing the basic examination. On behalf of ETH Zurich, an external office analyzed the data of a total of 5,216 people who obtained a Matura in Switzerland between 2004 and 2007 and who took the basic examination at ETH Zurich. The results of the study have now been presented at a media conference in Zurich.

Good grades and low entry age

A first result of the study confirms the assumption: There is a connection between the overall average of the Matura grades and the grade in the basic examination. In other words, the better the performance in grammar school, the better the average grade in the basic examination.

In terms of entry age, it can be seen that the youngest students take the best basic exams. These are the age groups between 18 and 20 years of age. Students from the age of 21 and above achieve significantly weaker performance. It can therefore be concluded that the "exercise" in dealing with school examination requirements is partly lost due to the distance between Matura and the beginning of the course, and this is reflected in poorer examination grades.

There is no silver bullet

As far as the different Matura specializations are concerned, it can be seen that students who specialize in physics and applied mathematics or Latin or Greek achieve the best grades in the basic examination. Students with an ancient language background (Latin or Greek) master the first test hurdle at ETH Zurich, for example, better than students who chose biology and chemistry as their Matura focus. Students who focus on economics and law at grammar school do the least well.

It seems that of the high school graduates with an ancient language orientation, only the best can enroll at ETH Zurich and close any knowledge gaps in mathematics quickly after starting their studies. "In this respect, there is no silver bullet, on the contrary, various grammar school qualifications can lead to success if performance and motivation are right," says ETH Rector Heidi Wunderli-Allenspach.

Regional differences

An analysis of the students' average grades for the basic examination reveals that there are differences between individual cantons and schools. It should be noted, however, that the proportion of high school graduates who take up an ETH degree also varies considerably depending on the canton and grammar school.

By far the greatest number of new ETH students come from the canton of Zurich (27%). The range of exam results is correspondingly larger than in smaller cantons. Among the 17 high-school diplomas in Zurich, you can find some in the top group, some in the middle and some in the last third. The best test results in the observation period were provided by students from the Rychenberg canton school in Winterthur, the Liestal grammar school and the Hohe Promenade canton school in Zurich.

"Our study shows that the chances of succeeding in a scientific-technical degree at ETH Zurich also depend, among other things, on your high school background.", says the ETH Rector. However, the study is not an assessment of the quality of the individual grammar schools, because they may pursue very different educational goals. This is a balance sheet from the point of view of an ETH degree.