As fifth year students face their first final exam today or tonight in Spanish grammar and literature, their futures hang in the balance. Those who fail to pass the series of exams will not get their diploma, and they will be in an academic and social limbo afterwards.
For the estimated 70 percent who pass, the sixth day of testing will determine their higher education fate. Top performers will go to the public universities.
The testing continues Wednesday with math and Thursday with social studies. Friday is when science knowledge is tested. The subjects are a mix of biology, chemistry and physics.
The tests continue Monday with a foreign language and Nov. 5 with civics.
These are not easy tests, and unlike some of the standardized tests in the United States, general knowledge and problem-solving ability must take a back seat to specific details.
There is a steady business in preparing students for the tests. There even are online sources with 15,000 questions that the students could review.
There is a lot of competition among schools for the best average grade, and the winners usually are the specialized schools that train students for the top higher education institutions, like Tecnológico de Costa Rica in Cartago.
Private school students do not get a pass. They have their own series of examinations, sometimes provided by the French or German governments, depending on the national orientation of the school. These, too, are vital to success.
Many educators oppose such standardized testing because of the pressure it puts on students and because such exams may not reflect accurately a student’s ability.
The Ministerio de Educación Pública exams are under tight security because cheating and the sale of exams is epidemic in the nation’s schools. The ministry wants to make sure that at least for these tests, there is no advanced look.