Psychometric Exam: Haredi Jews Do It Better

Thirty ultra-Orthodox men who studied for their psychometric exams in Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox college passed with a score well above the national average, despite not having studied mathematics and English.

"Studying maths and English in the yeshiva would have been a terrible waste of time," said Haim Glick, 29, of the Haredi town of Elad, a computer science student. "I hear from people who did matriculation exams in high school that it's a waste of time, because anyone who wants to go to university must study everything all over again," he said.

Glick got 730 in the exam and 70 percent of his classmates scored higher than the 400 national median. Four of them scored higher than 700 (almost 15 percent compared to 5 percent of the overall examinees and 45 percent received marks higher than 610, compared to 27 percent of the national results).

These figures support the overall breakdown of the psychometric exam results for 2007, which were published in Haaretz a week ago. The data indicates that the formal education system plays a small part in an examinee's chances of succeeding in the test.

The law enacted by the Knesset on Wednesday anchors the existing situation in which the high school yeshivas receive state funding although they don't teach the core subjects such as mathematics, English and civics.

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox men who study in ultra-Orthodox courses are required to begin the secular subjects from scratch and to pass matriculation and psychometric exams within one year. The ultra-Orthodox college in Jerusalem provides students with preparatory courses for psychometric exams in the EZ Way method.

"The courses for the ultra-Orthodox are completely different," says EZ Way manager Ehud Zeltner. "These are groups with no background knowledge, who two weeks before the course encountered the ABC for the first time."

"They get low marks in exams before the course and three and a half months later almost half the class gets over 610," he says.

Zeltner said that his instructors "fight to get the ultra-Orthodox course. It's a pleasure to teach this course because it's a class that improves drastically. It's an ego boost."

The exam took place in April but Zeltner only received the list of official scores few days ago. These figures are not an accurate reflection of the situation among the general ultra-Orthodox community.

Although the number of ultra-Orthodox men and women applying to universities increases every year, they are still a minority and usually receive scholarships from private and public bodies.

Education Minister Yuli Tamir, who supported the new law, said yesterday that the main effort in the ultra-Orthodox community must be made after high school in vocational training courses, rather than by forcing them to study secular subjects in high school.

This is in keeping with the ultra-Orthodox approach - that an ultra-Orthodox person without formal schooling can catch up if he chooses to and get marks that are even higher than a person who graduated from the state education system.

Glick says that a graduate of the ultra-Orthodox education system has an advantage in studying for exams.

"Most of the guys at college came with a very basic third-grade knowledge of mathematics and English. What we lacked was knowledge, but we all had a strong ambition and great studying capability. At yeshivas they accustom us to apply ourselves and aim high, and that's how we approached the psychometric exams. Don't forget we're all married with families, and we had to put in hours of homework at home, including on Friday until the Sabbath began."

Zeltner attributes a large part of the success in the ultra-Orthodox course to "the ultra-Orthodox student's marked capacity for learning. It's not just the developed logic of those who studied gemara but the habit of perseverance. It's like long-distance running."