On Thurday, the country came to a halft as its high-school seniors took the national college-entrance exam – a test that many students have been preparing for since kindergarten.
On Thursday in South Korea, hundreds of thousands of high-school seniors sat down to take the Suneung, or the college scholastic ability Test. As studnets walked to the eam centers, well-wishers handed out yut a type of taffy and a sign of good luck, so that test-takers would stick to the university they want. Some of the students’ parents prayed at churches and temples; some may have even waited, pacing outside th egates, while their children endured the eight-hour test. Businesses delayed opening to keep traffic off the streets, and planes paused takeoffs during the English-language listening section of the test. For students running late, local police offered taxi services. It’s as if the entire nation of South Korea is focused on gettign students to the test and making sure they do as well as they can.
The best result is admission to one of the country’s top universities : Seoul national Unviersity. Those who don’t do woll, don’t pass, or aren’t satisfied with their score can retake the test – in one year. That’s after 12 years of education spent preparing to tkae it the first time, the last three of which involve hours of extra study time daily in a sprint toward the Suneung.
As a point of comparison, the major college – entrance tests in the United States, the SATs and ACTs, clock in at under four hours each. Whereas for most SOuth Korean studnets, the Suneung is the determining factor for wher they go to college.
Mothers and grandmothers pray for their family member’s success in the college entrace examinations at jogye Buddhist temple in Seoul in 2011
Another complaint is that the exam, the score, and university acceptance form such an acute focal point in the South Korean education system that all other aspects of scholarship seem to fall aside. Dongyoung recalls, In my three years of high school, not once did any teacher ask me what I would like to do or what I would like to sutdy in collge. No one really cared about my interest or what I’d be better at.
Regardless, Thurday will be a cold day in South Korea, former test-takers assure me. Even though the test date change from year to year, they say that examination day always has a distinctive chill to it.