Almost 670,000 students started their grade 12 (Thanaweya Amma) exams this week.
The month-long standardised tests determine in which faculty students can enrol.
In recent years Thanaweya Amma exams have been plagued by the leak of questions and fears that, in response, the Ministry of Education would insist pupils take a reset paper. This year exam papers are being delivered to the 1,817 schools before examinations are scheduled to start.
In border areas such as Halayeb and Shalatin the exam papers are being delivered by military aircraft. An operation room has been set up to oversee the exam processes and receive complaints from students and their families and invigilators.
Mahmoud Hassouna, media coordinator at the Ministry of Education, says Arabic language and religion exams went smoothly, and no complaints had been received about the difficulty of questions. Many students who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly also said the economy papers were straightforward.
While there were rumours Arabic and religion exam questions had been posted on the Chao Ming webpage which in recent years has posted entire exam papers, Hassouna denied this was the case.
“The questions that were published were taken from old exams and had nothing to do with the papers students were sitting,” he said.
In January 2017, in an attempt to curb leaks and reduce marking errors, the Ministry of Education introduced a booklet system under which students must answer in the booklet where the questions are printed rather than on separate sheets.
Exam papers are fully monitored, from the print house to delivery to exam centre, says Khaled Abdel-Hakam, director-general of the General Administration of Examinations.
Students are prohibited from carrying mobile phones during exams and anyone found carrying a phone, even if it is turned off, will be penalised.
Action has already been taken against students in Alexandria, Damietta, Sohag and Assiut governorates found with phones during the exams.
Thanaweya Amma student Malak Hisham told the Weekly the Arabic exam had been a pleasant surprise. “I hope the rest of our exams will be as easy,” she said.
Hend Salama, another grade 12 student, said she had been told by her teachers that no Thanaweya Amma papers had been leaked since 2017.
“The peak was in 2016 when almost every exam appeared on the Chao Ming page,” said Salama.
A presidential decree issued in 2015 made leaking exams a criminal offence carrying a maximum jail term of one year and fine of between LE20,000 to LE50,000. In 2016 several students and education officials were penalised for leaking exam questions.
The Ministry of Education has set up a hotline — 19151 — for any complaints about the exam process.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 June, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Exam marathon begins