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The big test, take two

A school official checks a student’s wallet as he enters the second round of grade 12 national exams in Phnom Penh
A school official checks a student’s wallet as he enters the second round of grade 12 national exams in Phnom Penh yesterday. Hong Menea

The big test, take two

Arrests were made and cheating attempts thwarted as nearly two-thirds of grade 12 students sat day one of the national exam retest yesterday.

The Ministry of Education spared no precautions to ensure that the slew of anti-cheating measures employed in the first round in August – when nearly 75 per cent of students failed – was duplicated in the second.

As the students focused on remembering equations and formulas they pored over for the past five weeks, they filed into exam centres under the observation of even more police, independent observers and armed Anti-Corruption Unit officials.

“At the first test, when I saw the police with guns and all the people watching us, I felt so nervous it was hard to focus. But it’s become more normal,” said a student outside Tuol Tom Pong High School, where military police carrying assault rifles were deployed. Though no students have been reported for cheating attempts yet, two adults were arrested in the capital yesterday in connection with the exam.

A man posing as an independent observer attempted to enter an exam site without an ID, and in front of Bak Touk High School, a woman tried to sell off fake copies of the test to students desperate for last-minute salvation, according to the Education Ministry.

“Overall though, the exam is going even better than the previous [round], because students are all aware of the rules. But there are still problems with students trying to take notes in,” said Education Ministry spokesman Ros Salin.

Pat-downs and searches revealed cheat sheets buried in socks, stockings and even slits carved into the soles of students’ shoes.

“This test is so strict,” said a 19-year-old whose answer sheet was confiscated. He added that even though some candidates managed to sneak copies past the body searches, “no one dared to pull out anything but pens and pencils” in the exam room.

“It’s absolutely useless to try and cheat, even worse than last time,” said one student from Zaman International School. “There was a lot of whispering when the teachers weren’t looking, so we tried to help each other, but that’s it.”

Students emerging from the biology and chemistry sections yesterday – two of the seven subjects with the lowest average score last time – said the second round felt easier than the gruelling questions most couldn’t answer in August.

Students leaving the second round of national exams in Phnom Penh yesterday are handed university brochures.
Students leaving the second round of national exams in Phnom Penh yesterday are handed university brochures. Hong Menea

“I think the ministry understood that we worked really hard over the last month to try and learn, but the reforms to the exam happened very quickly, so they made the test a little easier,” said one exam writer.

But the ministry repeatedly claimed the second national exam would be held to the same standard as the first, including in terms of level of difficulty.

“I got the impression that more students could write answers to all the questions this round, but I think it’s not because the test was any easier, but because the students were more prepared,” said Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron.

Some students attested to spending “every single day … between the exams studying”, a marked contrast to the laissez-faire approach many confessed to in the previous test.

“The first time, I was very lazy, I barely revised at all,” said a Boeung Keng Kang High School candidate who paid 1,500 riel per hour for a private tutor to help her cram for the retest.

While students griped about the pains they took to prepare, they also complained of an absent student who earned her diploma without even sharpening a pencil at the second exam.

“It’s not fair that the ministry let [Sorn Seavmey] pass after she failed [her first try],” said one candidate about her former classmate, the teenage taekwondo sensation who was automatically passed after winning gold at the Asian Games.

“She already got a medal for her taekwondo skills, why should she be rewarded academically when she demonstrated she doesn’t know anything?”

A few students stuck up for Sorn, but many cautioned future test writers against assuming merits outside the classroom would translate into a desired passing score.

“I just want to tell those who are going to take the test in the future to see us as an example of what not to do. Instead, study hard from the beginning, and don’t give up or you’ll regret it,” said the Zaman student.


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