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Matriculation exams: How hard is it going to be?

Updated: Jun 5, 2021


There are only about three months before our school’s second-year students take the matriculation exams. Like most high school students, I’m going to take two exams this autumn. The thought of taking the exams might be just nothing for the pro high school students or too much for some. I know I belong to the latter one, but we shouldn’t really stress a lot about it. Of course, it’s a long exam, takes six hours to do, and it can define your future but it shouldn’t stress you, right?

I feel like I’m not prepared to take the matriculation exam yet but I must do it. That’s why I’ve been curious about trying to answer some questions to see how well I’m going to do. To be honest, it’s not going well since I don’t remember a lot of stuff from my high school courses. Also seeing the matriculation questions stresses me out and that’s why I tried to ignore them. I tried to do the Math questions, and I can’t solve the B-part questions without looking at the solutions.

If you’ve followed the news over the last years, you might know that there have been extremely confusing and even impossible matriculation questions. A question about a choir group raised some eyebrows in the Autumn 2019 Intermediate Math (short syllabus) matriculation exam. The question goes like this: “It takes a 40-member choir band 7 minutes and 40 seconds to perform a certain musical piece. In one of their performances, three members of the choir were away due to the flu. How long will it take for the 37-member choir to perform the piece?” The question was worth two points and a B2-part question, which means it was supposed to be a complex question. In my opinion, the question was relatively easy. The most confusing thing with the problem is that the question doesn’t require the examinee to prove the answer mathematically. You can literally answer it with a sentence or two.

12.3. Erään musiikkikappaleen esittämiseen kuluu 40-henkiseltä kuorolta 7 minuuttia ja 40 sekuntia. Eräässä esityksessä kolme kuoron jäsentä on flunssan takia poissa. Kuinka kauan tämän kappaleen esittämiseen kuluu 37-henkiseltä kuorolta? (2 p.)

The English matriculation exams have also received a lot of criticism because they were too hard and advanced. In the Spring 2019 advanced English syllabus matriculations, there was a question that asked what does “fey” choice mean in the text provided in the exam. The question had three choices for an answer; fey could either mean “too feminine”, “too elitist” or “too costly”. I tried to read the text and am going to admit that I had to read it again to answer the question. The correct answer was “too feminine”. You can read the passage below or check it on Yle’s Abitreenit webpage. The problem was that the Cambridge dictionary and Merriam-Webster dictionary defined the word “fey” quite differently. Cambridge dictionary defines the word as mysterious or strange. Merriam-Webster, on the other hand, defines it as being able to see into the future, being marked by otherworldly attitude, crazy, touched, precious, or quaintly unconventional. It could also mean fated to die in the Scottish context according to the dictionary.

“… He had seen the performance of the ballet when he was at school, a trip to the Royal Opera House organized by the music master. The dancers had been lit by the same rather sinister and otherworldly blue light that was now attracted to the plane he was flying. Looking back, it had been an odd choice for a class of boisterous thirteen-year-old public-school boys. His father, when told, had raised an eyebrow and asked the master’s name and even his mother, with her love of Art, had questioned them being exposed to this rather ‘fey’ choice, as she put it, when usually the only time they left the school grounds was to go to an away rugby match. Afterwards Teddy had nightmares, dreaming that the spectral women had their hands on him and were trying to drag him down into some dark, unknown place.”

- A passage from A God in Ruins, used as the text for problem 10 in the Spring 2018 advanced English syllabus matriculations.

If those questions weren’t hard enough for you, here’s an almost impossible question from the Spring 2018 advanced Math matriculation exam.

Olkoon a > 0. Määritellään a-kantainen logaritmi funktion f(x) = a^x käänteisfunktiona, toisin sanoen log a (x) = f^−1(x). Kiinnitetään x > 1 ja määritellään g(a) = log a (x). Osoita, että funktio g(a) on vähenevä.

A rough translation to English:

Let a be greater than zero (a>0). Let it be determined that the inverse of the logarithmic function with the base a is f(x) = a^x . In other words, log a (x) = f^-1(x) . Let it be attached that (kiinnitetään) x>1 and let it be defined that g(a) = log a (x) . Prove, that the function g(a) is decreasing.

Did you manage to solve it? Some of you could have not understood the problem or some of you might have tried to solve it and somehow managed to prove it. In reality, the statement provided in the problem is mathematically false. Students can still prove the problem if they can notice that the function g(a)is not defined when a=0. If you didn’t manage to solve that problem, don’t worry: I didn’t either, and now I'm even more scared of taking the Mathematics matriculations.

Now all of the mentioned questions here were confusing, weird, or extremely hard. There have also been issues with other matriculation exams. In the Autumn 2017 matriculation exams, there were typos or wrong information in the History, Chemistry, Mathematics, and English exams. However, other criticisms about the exams have been that they are unnecessarily hard and weirdly done. Many students complain that the listening exercises in language exams are challenging because of accents or background noises in the audio exercises. There have been issues with weird phrasing of problems, technical difficulties, and high expectations in the exams over the years.

The matriculation exams will be hard and “intellectually stimulating” for most of us. However, remember that you’re not the only one who’s stressed out about it. It’s important to remember that we have to complete at least 75 courses in high school. Retaining all the stuff you learned in all of those courses is going to be challenging. I would also like to remind you that the matriculation exams aren’t going to be your death sentence or final riddle to get to heaven of success. There’s always the chance to retake it. Just remember to study well and balance your social and academic life. Enjoy your high school experience but remember to be responsible. We’re all in this together!

PS. If you are taking the Math matriculation exam, don’t forget Saku’s onion rule (sipulisääntö).

If you are taking the Swedish matriculation exam, don’t you ever forget Marko’s smånikko rule.

If you’re taking Chemistry, be sure to memorize all of Hanna’s mnemonics like Have No Fear Of Ice Cold Beer for diatomic molecules or ICE for equilibrium problems.


Text: Frederick Lalu

Artwork: Elina Toivonen



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