The vestibular is one of the selection methods utilized by institutions of higher education in Brazil. The Enem, on the other hand, is the High School National Exam (Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio), which was created by the Ministry of Education to evaluate the knowledge of students who either are finishing high school or who have just finished. The Enem started out merely as a way for the government to rank high schools nationally based on which school had the overall brightest students, but its purpose in recent years was expanded to act as an alternative to the vestibular. The reason for the expansion was to level the playing field for lower-income students who couldn’t afford both the price of the expensive vestibular prep courses, called cursinhos, as well as the cost of taking the actual test (one for each university the student applies to). The vestibular registration costs generally range from R$70-90 each, which can easily add up to R$500-R$1000 per student, depending on how many universities they are applying for. The ‘cursinho’ costs anywhere from R$60-R$300 or more. The Enem, however, costs on average about R$40, though I’m unsure if there are prep courses for it.
From what I can gather, both require the answering of questions (multiple choice and short answer) and essays (called redação in Portuguese). More specifically, the Enem is composed of an essay and “180 multiple-choice questions, equally divided into four areas of knowledge: languages; human sciences; natural sciences and mathematics. Due to the size of the test, it is applied in two consecutive days” (Wikipedia), one lasting for 4 hours and 30 minutes, and the other lasting for 5 hours and 30 minutes. As for the vestibular, “several Brazilian universities follow the FUVEST (University of São Paulo’s entry exam) pattern, which is divided into two stages or “phases”. The first stage consists of around 80 multiple choice questions, including subjects such as Portuguese Language, Portuguese and Brazilian Literature, Math, History, Geography, Biology, Physics, Chemistry and Foreign Language. The best scoring candidates from the multiple-choice stage proceed to the second stage, which contains write-in questions about subjects related to the candidate’s major (Wikipedia)”. More on some other differences later on.
In recent years, institutions have used the Enem score in substitution of the vestibular, thus, if a candidate has a certain score on the Enem, his or her acceptance (into a specific university) is practically guaranteed – it only depends on the availability of the vacancies and on the other candidate’s scores. As a compliment to the Enem, the federal government last year created the SiSu – System of Unified Selection (Sistema de Seleção Unificado), which is exactly that, a new system of selection. Using the score from the Enem, one can apply for a vacancy at any one of 59 federal universities. So, depending on where a student intends to study, the Enem is fundamental.
As I’ve neither taken the Enem nor the vestibular, I can only relay information via second parties (sites that specialize in such tests and opinions of those who have taken them). One student summed the differences up by saying the vestibular is a test of knowledge you “should” have (or can attain), while the Enem is about testing to see what knowledge you have (attained). In other words, the vestibular is about memorization while the Enem is about using your logic and about interpreting texts. While in Brazil, I saw a list of the kinds of subjects students study when preparing for the vestibular and let me just say it’s no walk in the park.
Problems w/ the Enem
In 2009, the Enem was somehow made available on the black market, which made the MEC (Ministry of Education) push the test forward two months from October to December so they could redo the test. A few months ago, detailed personal information on students who took the exam in previous years was leaked on the Internet. Then, this month the actual template used for the test contained errors and thus it was suspended again.
Thanks to Fábio for suggesting the topic.