Changes to the Finnish Matriculation Examination effective from Tuesday mean that students must in future take a minimum of five subjects in order to pass the exam.
The matriculation exam is taken at the end of secondary education and is a key factor in deciding whether students qualify for entry into university.
"We have quite a few people in our group of friends who study five or six subjects," Lappeenranta High School student Aada Skippari told Yle. "I have a few other friends who I think would find it easier to study just four subjects, because of their life circumstances."
"Many people think that the change is a positive thing, some will even take seven subjects. It doesn't hurt anyone," Niko Demirci, who attends the same high school, said.
Effects already visible
As recently as five years ago, less than 20 percent of matriculation students chose only four subjects for the exam, with that figure falling to 10 percent by last year.
"The aim is to strengthen general education," Tiina Tähkä, Secretary General of the Matriculation Examination Board, told Yle.
"When eighteen subjects and a fairly large number of courses are studied in upper secondary school, more and more skills in a variety of different subjects will be seen in the matriculation exam in the future."
The change is a direct consequence of a recent reform introduced by higher education institutions, in which applicants receive points for five or in some cases six subjects for entry to a bachelor's degree course.
The reform of the matriculation exam also seeks to alleviate some of the pressures that students have previously faced during the examinations. For example, repeating exams will now be easier than before.
This is a source of comfort for students now stressing about having to study five subjects.
"There is no need to have very high targets for all five subjects. Even an approbatur [the lowest passing grade in the Finnish system] is enough to show that a lot of knowledge has been accumulated during primary and secondary school," Tähkä said.
Extra work does not motivate all students
However, not everyone is happy with the change.
The Union of Upper Secondary School Students as well as Sakki — which represents vocational school students — are opposed to the reform.
The number of dual degree graduates — students who complete their high school studies at the same time as taking a vocational training course — has steadily decreased over recent years, and Sakki chair Jutta Vihonen said there is growing concern that the examinations will be too difficult.
"The decline in the number of dual degree students must be monitored. If the number continues to decline, then it seems that this reform has caused that decline," Vihonen said.
Asta Kaapro, a study counselor at Saimaa Vocational College Sampo in Lappeenranta, added that she was worried about the long days that dual degree students would face.
"Studying has become very stressful even before this change, but taking a fifth subject will further increase the number of high school courses being studied," she said.
Reversal of changes not likely
In a dual degree programme, the student completes both a vocational course in their chosen field as well as the matriculation exam. The possibility to pass the matriculation exam with four subjects had been especially popular among dual degree students.
The Sakki student union said it regrets that a proposal in which a student could replace one of the five matriculation subjects with their own vocational degree course was not introduced.
Tiina Tähkä of the Matriculation Examination Board dismissed the possibility that a reversal of the changes would happen any time soon.
"Such a solution would require changes in the law, as it is not a small change. This is something that MPs and also the ministry need to consider. That's not likely in the near future," she said.