The surprising results of Israel's matriculation exams

Haredi students' standardized test scores prove doubly surprising.

David Rosenberg,

Students taking the 'bagrut' matriculation exam
Students taking the 'bagrut' matriculation exam

Every year, thousands of Israeli high school students take the Education Ministry’s official matriculation exams, referred to collectively as the “Bagrut” tests.

The Bagrut tests include a number of mandatory exams, ranging from Bible studies,Hebrew writing and grammar, English, civics and history, to mathematics. Talmud is mandatory in religious schools. Somme of the examinations are given on different levels and students must choose one subject in which they are tested at the highest level. Like the SAT tests in the United States, students can take additional exams in other subjects.

Because of the test’s emphasis on secular studies, few haredi schools prepare their students for the matriculation exams. According to the Education Ministry, in 2009 only 22% of haredi 12th graders were eligible for a matriculation certificate (Bagrut certificate).

Among those who do pursue certification, however, haredi students on average performed well above the national mean in a number of fields.

According to a report by Israel Hayom on the results of the 2016 Bagrut exams, haredi students received scores well above the average in civics, English, and mathematics.

In civics, haredi students received an average score of 81%, beating out every district. The Tel Aviv district came in second with 77%, followed by the center region with 76%. Southern Israel came in last with 72%.

At all three levels of English, haredi students also came out on top, with an average of 81% for those who pursued three units of study in English, 85% for those who took four units of study, and 88% for those who took five units of study. The regional districts ranged from 69% to 76% for three units of English, 76% to 81% for four, and 85% to 88% for five units.

Haredi test-takers also performed well in mathematics, averaging the highest scores among those taking three and four units of math. Haredi students received middling scores on average in literature and history.

Surprisingly, for those who do not know the haredi world, haredi students came in dead last in Bible studies (Tanakh), averaging just 49%, compared to 73% to 79% for the regional districts. Haredi schools emphasize Talmud (the Oral Law , with minimal Bible studies, and the students are not prepared for the type of questions asked on the Tanakh bagrut.