|Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter - Major Event|
|Location||Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry|
|Time Period||Each year, usually first week in June|
|Important Characters||students of Hogwarts|
Year-end exams are exams taken at the end of the Hogwarts school year in order to test the students' progress and, sometimes, determine the student's courses the next year, and the magical career they will follow in years to come.
Exams actually take place at the end of the Spring Term, generally putting them in the first week of June, though in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, they end on June 24th. It is quite likely that this is a special case, because of the Triwizard Tournament which occurs that year. Exams typically occupy a week, Monday to Friday, and there can be two exams a day for each student, plus the Astronomy exam at midnight. With only eleven slots for exams, a practical maximum number of courses for the usual student is eleven.
Summer term, which occupies the last three weeks of June usually, is much more relaxed than the usual school year. The time is used by the teachers to prepare grades and mark exams.
Passing and failing grades are never explicitly mentioned. It is likely that the scale used for marking OWLs and NEWTs is not used for regular exams, as Fred and George have to explain the O/E/A/P/D/T grade levels used in OWLs to Ron, Harry, and Hermione, when they have been at Hogwarts for some time already; and Hermione thinks the twins are pulling her leg about there being a grade "T for Troll".
Hermione, several times in the series, manages to seriously disconcert Harry and Ron by presenting them with "revision" (study) schedules, generally far before they are prepared to start studying for the year-end exams. Hermione, of course, excels at these exams, and is repeatedly the top of the class.
There are not year-end exams for all characters every year. In the fifth and seventh years, for instance, there are OWL and NEWT exams instead. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, much to Hermione's dismay, the entire school is excused from year-end exams in the celebration following Harry and Ginny's return from the Chamber. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry and Cedric, as school champions, are excused from the year-end exams. And in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the entire school is again excused from exams in the wake of the death of Dumbledore.
One of the major issues for Harry is that, each year he is at Hogwarts, some major event is coming to a head right at the end of the year, as exams are either looming or in progress. As such, the exams may get short shrift, or there may be inadequate preparation on Harry's part for the exams. However, Harry still manages to pass all his courses, usually with significant help from Hermione, who is consistently at the top of the class.
The specific issues that Harry faces as he comes into the year-end exams are:
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: Harry's belief that Voldemort, with help from Professor Snape, is about to retrieve the Stone and, with its help, return to life and try again to kill Harry;
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: The apparent opening of the Chamber, which has put an air of fear throughout the school and culminates in the abduction of Ginny Weasley;
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: the re-appearance of the murderer Sirius Black, who Harry has been told was the wizard who betrayed his parents to the Dark Lord;
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: though excused from exams, Harry had to face the Third Task, which would be a practical test of his spell-casting abilities;
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: regular exams are replaced by OWL exams, which are interrupted by the attack on Hagrid by Professor Umbridge, and by Voldemort's efforts to lure Harry into the Ministry
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Harry is convinced that Draco Malfoy is plotting something, and is meeting a stony response from Dumbledore, so feels he must investigate by himself. The Horcrux hunt which takes place immediately before exams is also a distraction.
It is interesting, perhaps, to note that in his six years of attendance at Hogwarts, Harry sits year-end exams in only his first and third years, and OWLs in his fifth year. This could lead us to wonder how large a sample Hermione was working from when she said, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, that Harry had the highest scores in Defence Against the Dark Arts.
As the books are written to each cover one school year, the end of the book will almost always coincide with the end of the school year. As the climax of a book must come near the end, the climactic battles or events will of necessity fall at the end of the school year, exactly when exams would be held. It is interesting to note how the author combines the heightened tension due to the approaching exams with the heightened tensions due to the other events that Harry is dealing with.
By and large, though, year-end exams are not a particularly important part of our story. Critical as they are for the normal Hogwarts student, it is apparent that Harry is not typical in his school career. In the first, second, and third years, the primary purpose of the exams seems to be to show us Hermione's determination to do well academically; she prepares revision (study) schedules for herself two months or more in advance of the exams, pesters Harry and Ron to follow the schedules she has made up for them, and goes over the tests repeatedly afterward, until Ron, in exasperation, tells her to "give it a rest." In book 4, now that we know how much Hermione agonizes over her exams, the fact that she willingly gives up her study time to drill Harry in the jinxes he will need for the Third Task is a stronger indicator than nearly anything else the author could use of the depths of Hermione's friendship, and her concern for Harry's progress. And in the sixth year, Harry's concentration on the lessons he receives from Dumbledore, and on other events transpiring around the school, seems to make him largely oblivious to the oncoming exams.
It is necessary to include exams in the books, as there are always exams at school. However, as mentioned above, they are generally a distraction from the story line, or simply used as a device to heighten tension. The fact that Harry does reasonably well on his exams is mentioned in passing in his first year, and then never again, though Hermione's ongoing position at the top of their class is mentioned repeatedly. One gathers that the exams are included as a necessary part of the school year, rather than being particularly useful to the narrative.