Although this is only around 10 per cent of the total candidates, the idea that the exam can be failed is a novelty in the Italian school system, which is struggling to modernise.
The exam is taken by all final-year pupils in upper secondary schools (for 14 to 19-year-olds). For years the pass rate stood at around 97 per cent, despite giving automatic access to a university degree course - where drop-out rates can exceed 70 per cent.
The new exam, called esame di stato (state exam), is, in the opinion of the ministry, more serious and in line with European standards. In the old exam, the maturita, pupils wrote an essay on a general topic, and a subject-linked one. (The subject set was selected randomly.) Candidates are now tested in all subjects, through two essays and a cross-curricular multiple-choice paper.
Twenty per cent of the final mark is now based on continuous assessment, known as credito formativo. As extra-curricular activities can count towards it, teachers have received a flood of certificates which pupils produce from private language schools and gyms.
The final part, an hour-long oral, is unchanged, except that this year candidates going into the oral already know their mark in the written parts. For low scorers, the oral can mean failure, but good students can earn bonus marks - making top marks a possible outcome for an estimated 10 per cent of pupils.