More than 4.6 million Brazilians will sit their university entrance exam tomorrow and for many universities and students it will be their first experience of the Enem, the new standardized test that is being held nationwide to replace the vestibular.

The vestibular tests were set by each individual university, meaning that each student had to actually go to the university he wanted to attend and take the test there.

That was impossible for many students living far from their preferred venue and expensive for others. It also meant that many students spent several consecutive weekends sitting entrance exams at different universities.

As I write in my latest Chronicle of Higher Education piece here:

“The government’s goal is to reduce costs for universities and students and expand access to the country’s publicly financed, and best, universities.”

Last year the government revamped the Enem and many universities adopted it. This year even more publicly financed institutions are using the new test.

The new Enem is standardized and based on the national high school curriculum. Simpler than the vestibulares, it comprises 180 multiple choice questions grouped into four subjects: languages; the human sciences; the natural sciences; and mathematics. It is followed by a short written comprehension test.

The new Enem has had its troubles. Personal data on applicants leaked from the Education Ministry’s computers earlier this year and last year the test had to be completely rewritten at the last minute after thieves stole it and tried to sell it.

But it is touted as being beneficial to both students and universities as well as bringing Brazil more into line with a national entrance system like that used in the US and most European countries.

“(This) is a system that is national, progressive, a test that gives all Brazil’s high school students chance,” said Clélio Campolina, the rector of the Federal University of Minas Gerais.  “All the developed countries have a national assessment system and not this conventional vestibular system that we still use.”