Thousands of 12th-graders across Estonia were biting their fingernails and taking last, desperate glances at their cram sheets this morning, April 18, as the first of this year's state exams began.
The standardized exams, which are a final step to receiving a high school diploma or a vocational certificate, will be taken by approximately 20,500 people between now and June. About 17,100 of those registered are high school students, with the remainder made up of students in vocational schools and those repeating exams they didn't pass last year, according to Andres Ääremaa, head of the Examination Administration Department at the National Examinations and Qualifications Centre.
To graduate from high school in Estonia a student must pass five exams in various subjects. Some can be school-administered exams, but at least three must be state exams.
Subjects that a student can choose for their state exams are Estonian language, Estonian as a second language, Russian, Russian as a foreign language, civic studies, mathematics, English, German, French, biology, geography, chemistry, history, and physics.
Estonian language and Estonian as a second language kick off this year's exam cycle.
For some students though, today's exams are more than just about a diploma. Members of the nation's sizable Russian-speaking minority hoping to apply for Estonian citizenship automatically fulfill the citizenship language requirement if they pass with a score of at least 60 percent.
A high school student only needs to score 20 out of 100 points to pass a given exam, but last year as many as 8 percent of those taking the math and Estonian as a second language exams didn't reach the mark.
Students receive the results of their exams in late June, at which time they'll learn whether they'll be able to apply for a university spot or will remain in academic limbo until they can retake the exams next year.