The sleepless nights, heightened emotions and days spent with heads in books that have long been depicted in songs and movies will look a little different for the more than 460,000 Italian students in their final year during this unprecedented time.

And we’re not just talking about the vastly different exam format compared to previous years (there will be no written tests, but students will take a 60-minute oral exam in which they’ll have to condense all the knowledge they’ve acquired in three years).

The final exam comes after three months of remote learning in a climate of great uncertainty.

“For these 18-year-olds, the real rite of passage will be the pandemic,” linguist Luca Serriani, who helped modify the final year exams, said.

So what do the students think?

What have they learned from this period of forced isolation?

Francesco Viganò is in his last year at the Senior High School of Applied Sciences in Merate, Lombardy, the Italian region hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.

The school closed on February 22 due to the health crisis.

“During this time, I’ve had the chance to think about my future much more calmly,” Viganò said.

“I’ve learned to re-evaluate everything I do a little bit.

“The society in which we live pushes us to do many things without understanding exactly why we’re doing them.

“Being forced stop for a moment has allowed me to reassess some things, such as the value of family.

“I don’t believe the pandemic will change people, but it will lead us to see our daily lives through different eyes.

“Maybe it will allow us to have a more realistic approach to everything we do, understanding its importance.”

The closure of Viganò’s school came in a “really unexpected way”.

“In the beginning it was somewhat exciting and fun to study from the comfort of my own home,” he said.

“I’m certain that my school responded to the situation to the best of its ability, and it has us always kept us informed.”

Furthermore, the teachers took immediate action with different methodologies depending on the subject, and new assessment formats were adopted: presentations, written pieces, text analyses, and a greater focus on students’ ability to reason.

“We must give credit to technology but there are limitations on a human level,” Viganò said.

“In fact, we see each other through a screen every day and this is the biggest challenge.”

Students have struggled with not having the opportunity to discuss topics with teachers in a classroom setting, especially when it comes to humanities subjects.

“We can send questions by email but it’s not the same,” Viganò said.

Not to mention, there are no breaks in which students can chat with their friends like in a normal school setting.

“It’s hard on our attention levels, eyesight and posture,” Viganò said.

“At school, I could get up and stretch a little between classes.”

Regarding the exam, which is definitely simpler than the usual format, Viganò is relatively relaxed, having always studied well.

“But I’m worried about the schedule: we have very little time to demonstrate our knowledge on all of the subjects,” he said.

“If one question goes wrong, I don’t even have the physical time to make up for it.”

It’s hard to say for sure what the immediate future holds for Viganò .

“Until the situation clears up I don’t know how my future tertiary career will go,” he said.

In line with the scientific path he’s taken so far, he would like to enrol in physics, but due to the pandemic he’s been unable to attend university open days to get a better idea of what exactly he wants to do.

“My future has somewhat been postponed,” he concluded.

“One question is whether I’ll start my university studies from home.

“There are a few unanswered questions and we can only invest our hope in scientific research.”