Grade 10 students across Quebec are calling on the province's education ministry to rethink its decision to disqualify an essay question on their final history exam after the answer was leaked online.

Students have launched a petition just one day after writing the mandatory exam, which they must pass in order to graduate from high school.

'It raises the question whether this type of exam — sending out these sealed packages to schools — is the right way of evaluating kids in 2016.' - Suanne Stein Day, chair of Lester B. Pearson School Board

"That's the exam you work for for two years," Olivia Hicknell, a grade 10 student at Beaconsfield High School, told CBC News.

"They tell you that the history exam is what you need to graduate, it's what you need to do well, it's what you need to get a good job in life." 

The essay question counted for 25 per cent of the mark.

The online petition calls on the government to consider either:

  • Counting the question.
  • Giving students all the points for the question.
  • Allowing students to rewrite the exam.
  • If a student fails after the essay question is disregarded, allowing that student to pass nonetheless.

Education Minister Sébastien Proulx told Radio-Canada Thursday morning that the ministry was trying to figure out how the exam answer leaked online the night before the exam.

The Chemin-du-Roy School Board in Trois-Rivières has confirmed one of its students was involved.

Sébastien Proulx

Quebec Education Minister Sébastien Proulx says he's still trying to get to he bottom of the leaked exam answer. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Confusion on social media

Hicknell said rumours of the leak and the disqualification of the answer started to spread on social media hours after the exam Wednesday afternoon, when someone posted an internal Education Ministry memo. 

The memo said that due to a "breach of confidentiality," question 22 on the exam would be cancelled, and the final mark would be calculated based on the other answers, most of which were to short-answer questions.

"My friends texted me saying they were crying. It was crazy, because they didn't want it to be cancelled. They wanted this to count," Hicknell said.

The confusion among students and parents was heightened after another letter started circulating online, this one suggesting the entire exam result would be cancelled. The second letter turned out to be a fake.

Some students have told CBC they saw all the answers to the exam online, but weren't able to say when they were posted. Those posts have since been deleted.

Herzliah High School student Adam Ben David told CBC he doesn't think it's fair to discount the essay question.

"I spent a week, maybe more, studying for this exam, and to have your mistakes on the short answer questions count for a lot more than they might originally is very hard to hear," Ben David said.

"Now you're just basing the mark off short-answer questions where you circle a letter or you write a couple of words down, but the true understanding of history — you get to that part in the essay," Ben David said.

Not the first leak

Suanne Stein Day, chair of the Lester B. Pearson School Board, told CBC that many students are upset.

"It raises the question whether this type of exam — sending out these sealed packages to schools — is the right way of evaluating kids in 2016," Stein Day said.

For Lorraine Normand Charbonneau, president of the Quebec Association of School Principals, it's a tipping point.

"Ever since social media became popular, it seems we have this problem every year," she said. "This is why it's important for the ministry to sit down with partners and find a solution."

With files from Ryan Hicks