Reading & writing done, students wait for arithmetic

Thousands of high schoolers try to pass English 'bagrut' test.

Henry Koor, 17, of Efrat, sounded happy over the phone as he described the bagrut, or matriculation exam, he had just taken. "It was quite easy," he said. "Nothing you can't find in the dictionary." Koor was one of thousands of students all over Israel who sat for their English exam yesterday, part of a series that will allow them to graduate high school and prepare for university. Koor, who was born in Israel, speaks English at home with his British parents. Even so, he said that portions of the exam were unclear even to him, a native speaker. "There was a sentence I didn't understand," he said, referring to a reading section. "I asked another English-speaking student, who didn't understand it either." Koor's friend, Elchanan Ahiman, 16, didn't sound as confident. "It went OK, I hope," he said. He had found the section requiring him to compare similar phrases using different words difficult. He speaks English only as a second language and took a different version of the test than Koor, which did not require a writing sample. Ahiman, who is considering studying broadcasting in university, said that he thought the portion of the exam that featured the "American test" - Israeli nomenclature for multiple choice questions - easiest. The English exam can last up to four hours and consists of various reading, writing, and listening exercises. According to the Education Ministry, it is designed to assess four areas: social interaction, ability to access information, written presentation, and ability to evaluate literature, language, and culture. Students are asked to define the meaning of words, answer comprehension questions on a passage they have not seen before, and listen and respond to a passage which is broadcast on the radio. Students also have a chance to take the exam again if they do poorly. The test has drawn criticism from some teachers who say that it does not adequately prepare students either for the rigors of university, or, more importantly, the psychometric exam, which determines whether students will be admitted to university at all. On Monday, though, Elchanan Ahiman was just relieved the ordeal was over. "I'm happy when any bagrut is done," he said.