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WAEC vs. the SAT

The Western African Examinations Council convened for its 60th annual meeting this week, which has prompted me to say a few words about its function and its important role in academic credential evaluations.  The Council, known by most as WAEC (pronounced WHY-ACK), is responsible for administering the standardized test known as the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), which is taken across Western Africa after completion of higher secondary studies.  The examination itself is comprised of individual subject examinations, which are then scored on a scale from 1 through 9, with 9 as a failing grade, and with only 1 through 6 receiving credit for university admission.

As defined by WAEC, it “provides external examinations for secondary students to assure an acceptable standard of performance, in Anglophone West African countries, namely, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Liberia (for British-patterned schools), and United Kingdom.” In other words, it’s an examination that ensures that all of the English speakers in West Africa are up to speed on all of the same necessary academic subjects. To that extent, it has something in common with standardized tests in the United States like the SAT, which ensure that no matter what you studied in high school or where, you’ll have achieved the knowledge necessary to succeed in higher education.  And the SAT, like the WAEC examination is very often (but not always) a deciding factor in college admissions.

But there are also some very fundamental differences between the WAEC examination and the SAT. Namely, whereas one can and still does graduate from high school regardless of one’s SAT scores, the WAEC examination ultimately determines high school graduation, at least in the context of a foreign credential evaluation.  Furthermore, the SAT has a tremendous range of possible scores, such that even applicants that fall in the lowest score percentiles are eligible to enroll in a university, provided that they have graduated high school, because the two are separate processes in the States. However, the same cannot be said of the WAEC examination, where subjects are either passed or failed, and where success is determined by how many individual subjects are passed, specifically English and Mathematics, which must be passed in order to count for high school graduation in a foreign credential evaluation. It is for this reason that we take WAEC examination scores very seriously.  Not only do we analyze them to make sure that all of the necessary subjects have been passed, but we verify their authenticity just as we would a higher education credential.  And of course, if we receive foreign credentials from a WAEC country, we know not to recommend “high school graduation” based on a diploma alone.

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