Final exams for this year’s second term are underway. Most of the girls approach their term finals, which cover everything they’ve learned since the beginning of their high school studies, with relaxed optimism. But if you mention the exam that the Form 3 girls will be writing next autumn, the girls respond with the unusual combination of nervousness, exasperation and confidence.

At the end of high school, Kenyan students are required to sit for a final exam that covers all four years of secondary school – the KCSE (Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education) exam. It is an enormous cumulative test that is delivered over an exhausting stretch of almost one month. The grade a student gets on this test determines if she can attend university, and what kind of university she can attend.

To be considered for university with government subsidies, a student needs to achieve a B average. Students with lower scores may be ad