It is also an important rite of passage: the results are broadcast simultaneously for everyone, and national television spends the day capturing tears of joy and disappointment when adolescents discover their results.
Unlike the United States, many European systems have traditionally focused on the final exam, while grades throughout the year are less meaningful.
Schools in the United States have canceled graduation ceremonies, robbing youth of all the memories associated with caps, dresses, speeches and celebrations.
Britain has canceled the GCSE exams that students take at 16 and the A-Levels that determine admission to university.
Schools were asked to provide predictions of the grades that students would have obtained, based on past performance, class work and other factors. This led to accusations of injustice.
The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Serbia have all postponed the end of high school exams.
In Italy, the most affected country in Europe, the government has not yet made a final decision on the matter.
In Germany, the Abitur exam has been maintained so far.
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PA journalists Angela Charlton in Paris; Jill Lawless in London; Amer Cohadzic in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina; Colleen Barry in Milan; and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.