Thanaweya Amma exams resumed on 19 June following the Eid holiday, and will continue until 1 July.
In recent years the highly competitive examinations have been undermined by the leaking of exam papers. Ministry of Education officials introduced a new booklet system last year and students must now write their answers in the booklet in which the questions are printed, reducing the risk of leaks.
Elham Ibrahim, the deputy minister of education for the Giza directorate, says Ministry of Education officials coordinated with police during the last week of Ramadan to block several web pages revealing exam questions.
According to Ibrahim, the leaks took place while students were already sitting the exams, meaning there was no chance of students preparing answers in advance.
Even so, the official insisted the “pages must be closed and their creators arrested”.
A week after the exam season kicked off a student at Al-Azhar University was arrested over accusations on suspicion of creating a Facebook page that facilitates cheating and which solicited payment in return for revealing Thanaweya Amma questions.
Ministry of Education officials have repeatedly warned parents against paying money in return for exams.
In 2015 President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi issued a decree criminalising the leaking of exams. Culprits could face up to one year in jail and a fine of up to LE50,000.
In 2016 many Thanaweya Amma papers were leaked on the Chao Ming Facebook page which had more than 750,000. Questions would be posted minutes after exams began, followed by model answers a short time after.
This year 300 cases of students cheating have been reported compared to 1,800 cases last year. The reduction “is something we should be proud of,” said head of the General Education Sector and Head of the General Secondary Schools Examinations Reda Hegazi.
“Last year many students complained about the new booklet system simply because it was unfamiliar. This year there have been far fewer complaints,” said Hegazi.
Student complaints regarding the difficulty of examination questions, adds Hegazi, are often unjustified. “The success percentage of the English exam in a random sample has exceeded 85 per cent this year, while the Arabic success rate was 95 per cent,” he said.
Thanawya Amma exams have long been a nightmare for the families of secondary students. Scores in the nationwide unified exams determine which faculty students can join, and by extension the careers they will pursue in the coming decades.
After this year’s exams kicked off a student took his life by throwing himself from the 140-metre high Cairo Tower after missing an exam.
This is the last year of the current system. Instead of university places being allocated on the results of intensive testing at the end of the students’ final school year they will in future be allocated on the basis of an accumulated score spread over the last three years at school.
Students will sit for 12 exams in each subject they take, spread over the three years of secondary school, and their best results in six of the exams will determine their university place.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 June 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: A leak-free year?