A total of 243,000 12th grade high school students are applying this week for places in public universities through the Office of Admission to Public Universities (Tanseeq).
Scoring a minimum of 62.7 per cent for the science section and 58 per cent for the literature section in the Thanaweya Amma, or 12th grade exam, the students are included in the second stage of applicants following the 110,000 students who received higher grades and thus applied for the first stage during the last 10 days.
In a new twist this year, students of stage two still have a chance to join some of the top faculties which had been dominated during the past years by those scoring more than 90 per cent.
According to Minister of Higher Education Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar, there are still places for students of second stage in engineering faculties and some medical faculties. The new exam formats this year resulted in lower grades. While until last year 18 per cent of students received above 95 per cent, this year the majority scored below 90 per cent, leading to a decline in the minimum grade accepted by universities.
In a press conference Abdel-Ghaffar announced that the minimum admission grades to medicine faculties was 90.7 per cent, dentistry 90.2 per cent, and physical therapy and pharmacy 88.5 per cent, with vacancies for second stage students.
Thanaweya Amma is a series of standardised tests that lead to the General Secondary Education Certificate, qualifying its holder to join universities. This year the traditional tension surrounding the exams was doubled by the pandemic; students spent most of the past year and a half studying from home, with no personal interaction with their teachers. Moreover, adding insult to injury, students had to put up with a new exam format.
The year was difficult for Sarah Sameh, one of 650,000 students who sat for the exam this year online which was not only time consuming but deprived students of face to face interaction with their teachers.
However, Sameh said she was more than happy with her grades because many friends of hers couldn’t deal with the new format of the exams and consequently could not pass all the subjects, forcing them to go to the second round or repeat the entire year.
This year 74 per cent of all students sitting for grade 12 exams passed compared to 81.5 per cent last year. Moreover, 154,000 students will have to re-sit one or two of their subjects because they failed compared to 11,000 last year. According to Mahmoud Hassouna, the spokesman for the Ministry of Education and Technical Education, this year witnessed an exceptional number of petitions — 500,000 — complaining about grades.
“After the results came out, I was devastated. I did my best to adapt to the new system,” Youssef Rafik, a Thanaweya Amma student, said. Rafik wanted to join the Faculty of Engineering in Ain Shams University but his grades were not high enough.
For the past couple of years, Minister of Education and Technical Education Tarek Shawki has been trying to reform the educational system in Egypt. Thanaweya Amma was the top priority in that reform, including a change in the exam format and teaching techniques. Rather than traditional essay questions, this year students answered a set of multiple-choice questions (MCQ) to get students to understand rather than memorise.
“The new exam format depends on questions assessing the understanding of lessons to help them in their studies at university,” Tarek Kozman, a chemistry teacher, said.
However, Kozman said both students and teachers need more training on the new system.
For decades Thanaweya Amma students relied on private tutoring. The new system encouraged students to rely on the educational platforms set up by the Ministry of Education as well as specialised TV shows. According to Shawki, standard questions that measure levels of understanding, application and analysis were made available to all secondary school years.
Another factor which confused students this year was that they were allowed to take the ministry’s textbooks into their exams. “Many students thought that relying on open book exams meant they did not need to study. On the contrary, open book exams can be time consuming because unless you have studied you will spend the entire exam time searching for the information rather than answering the questions,” Kozman added.
This year, the Ministry of Education introduced bubble sheet-based exams for Thanaweya Amma students, with non-standardised models provided for all divisions. “The change in examination styles was aimed at encouraging students’ critical thinking skills and abolishing the culture of memorising for exams,” Shawki said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly