The high school exit examination, which grants diplomas and allows entrance to university, is perceived as a passport to a better life. A poor teenage orphan who works in the markets before and after school to survive, Joël serves as a guide and conduit into the violent, cynical and unjust world that is the final year of high school. Although they absolutely need, or think they need, to attend the last year of high school in order to have a chance on the exam, the students who cannot afford to pay for the third trimester are ruthlessly excluded. The feeling of injustice is even more acute as many classes from the preceding terms, for which the students did pay, never took place: often working without pay, teachers frequently go on strike. Alongside this administrative confrontation, multiple magic practices participate in the effort to ensure good results on the exam: Christian priests hawk supposedly salvific benedictions while shamans offer various magic recipes. Students excluded from the school for financial reasons band together to study in an atmosphere also marked by corruption and power struggles. Ultimately, all are counting on cheating during the exam in order to obtain their diplomas. This organized cheating on a national scale reflects an environment where corruption is the rule, a rule known and accepted by all even if officials make a big show of their respect for procedure. As it brings these processes to light, Examen d'état also offers, through Joël and his classmates, a series of portraits of some extraordinarily keen young people, who are capable of mobilizing a wide range of strategic skills in the attempt to reach their goal.