High school marks the most demanding phase of Canadian public education — both educationally and socially — and spans the late teenage years. It concludes with a fancy graduation ceremony at the end of grade 12, when most students are 18 years old. For many, high school marks the rite of passage from childhood to adolescence, and heralds the start of interest in “adult” activities like dating, driving, and alcohol, along with all sorts of new emotions and personal drama.
In high school, classes are now much more specialized and specific. Rather than simply “science,” for example, students may take courses in physics, biology, or chemistry, offering much more emphasis on honing academic knowledge in one particular direction. Written assignments and tests become significantly longer and more detailed, and teachers stricter and more demanding.
In order to successfully complete high school, and thus their entire grade school education, students must pass provincial exams in several subjects. These are written by the provincial government and intended to provide definitive assessment as to whether or not students have learned everything the government considers important. Failing to get decent marks on provincial exams can make it quite difficult to get admitted into a good university, while failing to pass them all is a pretty intense social taboo that can severely limit one’s ability to find decent work. With such high stakes, exam time is generally the most stressful period of a student’s K-12 education.