Nam Meng Ang, 18, had little confidence in his ability to pass the grade 12 national exam this year—which determines which students get to enter university—having failed last year’s test, and the retake offered several weeks later.
“My dream is to study law as a lifetime specialization, but I have much less hope of achieving that dream after failing again and again last year,” he said Tuesday.
Mr. Meng Ang is among the nearly 60 percent of students who failed the two-day exam last year after the Ministry of Education clamped down on rampant cheating and bribery. If he fails again, he said, he will give up on his goal of becoming a legal expert and go back to working at his family’s shop.
Over the past two days, Mr. Meng Ang sat the exam at Wat Koh High School in Phnom Penh, a dedicated test center for “svai rin,” an overarching term for dropouts, homeschoolers and those who have failed at least once already and number about 15,000 nationwide.
In an interview Tuesday, Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron said the ministry separated the svai rin from those completing Grade 12.
“We don’t mix them. We just do [it] separately because the level of knowledge is different for them. It is easier to monitor, and easier to correct the papers also, if we do it separately,” he said.
While the majority of test-takers nationwide choose to take a version of the test that focuses on “natural science”—such as chemistry, biology, physics and math—all of those taking the exam at Wat Koh chose to sit for the easier “social science” version, which focuses on Khmer literature, history, geography and civics, according to Mr. Chuon Naron.
Sot Phorng, 22, a garment worker who dropped out of high school in Svay Rieng province during the 8th grade, also sat the exam at Wat Koh this week after failing last year.
Ms. Phorng, who has been pursuing an associate degree in her free time, said she was able to study only sporadically for the test and was mentally prepared for another failure.
“I’ll put all my effort into trying again next year if I don’t make it this year,” she said.
According to Mr. Chuon Naron, 83,341 of the 84,930 registered test-takers completed the exam. He said the results would be announced in Phnom Penh and Kandal province on September 15 and everywhere else the next day.