Korean Exam Day

Here’s a piece for families dealing with teens hoping to get into a good university. In Korea they take the big exams very seriously. This is from yesterday’s i paper:

Aircraft in South Korea were grounded and financial markets closed yesterday to recreate silence for students as they sat a gruelling 8 hour exam that can make or break their university ambitions.

About 600,000 secondary school students sat the suneung, or College Scholastic Attitude Test (CSAT) to fight it out for a place at South Korea’s top colleges, while their parents headed to places of worship to pray for their children to be successful. Stock markets closed until 10 am to make sure commuters didn’t clog the roads at a time when students would be rushing to exams. Fro 25 minutes, during the listening section of the English language test, the take-off and landing of aircraft is prohibited and bus driers are encouraged not to honk their horns. Police cars and motorbikes are enlisted to escort students who are running late.

The exams involve a minimum of 5 subjects and a maximum of 7… The exam has drawn controversy in a country where only 2% make it into the elite SKY universities, an acronym for Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University.

Many object to students getting just one shot at the big test. Although students can retake the exam, initial failure carries with it a heavy stigma. “My little boy is taking the exam for the third time,” said Kim Yong-woo, 59, who joined other parents at cathedral to pray for their children. “All I can do is pray as his mum and I came out here hoping he can manage his condition well and get a good score he wants.”

Children begin practising for the exams 2 years before they take it and by their final year many are holding mock exams monthly. Students have been reported to alter their sleep routines and diets before each mock as they try to land upon the perfect conditions for success. At test sites, students arrived with mixed feelings of hope and trepidation. “I won’t get nervous and I will work hard to solve problems in exams as I’ve preparing,” said Lee Se-la, 19, steeling herself for the day-long test.”

This sounds horrific for all concerned. I also struggle to see that it can produce well balanced adults.

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