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"It's possible that, due to time constraints, the matriculation exam in mathematics did not pass through all the filters that check the test's level of difficulty," Prof. Miri Amit, the head of the graduate program for science and technology education at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, said. Amit has also been in charge of mathematics studies in the Education Ministry in the past.

The ministry yesterday rejected claims that the exams given for the highest levels of study were particularly difficult. However, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar added that if it turns out yesterday's exams were more difficult than those given in previous years, "we'll know what to do so the students will not be harmed."

By early July, prior to the second exam session for math, the ministry should know whether the scores on yesterday's exam noticeably differ from past results. Several student manifestos were posted on the Internet yesterday, calling for exam grades to be adjusted in various ways.

According to Amit, the students showed up at yesterday's exam "exhausted from study marathons, and on top of that you have to add the fear of the matriculation exam - which is especially high in mathematics - along with the delay at the start of the exam." (The administering of the mathematics exam had been delayed following reports that some questions had been leaked. )

"The combination of these factors caused many students to feel that they did not do well on the exam," Amit said.

The exam included "very long questions, and under pressured conditions it's difficult to answer them," she added. "According to the teachers' reports, the problem yesterday apparently had less to do with the level of the exam and more to do with the large amount of work demanded of the students."

The test administered yesterday was based on questions that were supposed to appear on the later exam, as well as questions taken from a bank adapted to every level, which is why the ministry rejected claims that the test had been particularly difficult.

Sa'ar said the questions "were checked by teams of teachers and underwent all the [necessary] examinations." These checks are meant, among other things, to catch mistakes and to determine the questions' level of difficulty.

"Dealing with the matriculation exam in mathematics has been the most important lesson in education," Sa'ar said yesterday at the ministry's award ceremony for outstanding schools.

"The message we insisted on conveying is unequivocal: There is no compromising on clean exams or achievements attained through cheating," he continued.

Earlier Sa'ar said that he is "aware of what the students are going through, and certainly those who take the matriculation exams." Regarding the complaints about the level of difficulty and the delay in the start of the exam, the minister added that "the claim heard about some of the questionnaires will be looked into.

The postponement was only an hour - that's not a great tragedy, and the important thing is that in the end all of the students were tested."

According to assessments, the cost of canceling the questionnaires on which the students were supposed to be tested totaled hundreds of thousands of shekels. This sum includes payment to the teams that wrote the exam and distributing it in branches of the post office.