If you know a thing or two about the education system in Korea, perhaps you’re already familiar with suneung (수능), Korea’s university entrance examination for third grade high schoolers. The importance and emphasis placed on this exam in Korea cannot be overstated. This single exam could determine how bright or bleak their future could be, it could determine what their social status for the rest of their life could be. It could even be a determining factor in the kind of future partner they pick. CNN described the exam as “the chance to make or break one’s future” and the statement couldn’t more accurate. Here are 6 very interesting facts about suneung (수능), Korea college entrance examination.
1. Studies for suneung begin from middle school – “Usually, from middle schools, Korean students get enrolled in a private academy or paired with a private tutor”, said Lee Kang Min who wrote his seneung on Thursday.” “I started studying for suneung when I was in elementary school. My dad got me my first tutor when I was 9 or 10 years old and I’ve had at least one since then. He always told me I’d become a bus driver or a janitor if I didn’t pass my suneung and I’ve been studying for it for 10 years now.
2. All planes are grounded during the listening exam – Apart from offices and shops opening late to make way for the students, with lots of cheers as they go to their examination halls, the government grounds all flight from taking off or landing during the English listening examination. “You literally could hear a pin drop”, Kang Min said as he described how quiet the hall was.
3. Leading cause of stress, depression and suicide among teenagers – I asked 20 high students, grades 1 ~ 3, what their leading cause of stress is. A whopping 98% of them attributed suneung as the leading cause in some form or fashion. As much as Korean parents put pressure on their kids about this exam, they are still highly critical about it. Korea’s very high suicide rate is hardly a secret and one major contributing factor to stress and suicidal tendencies among teenagers is suneung. “Two years ago when I was in first grade, one of my high school senior who lived on the 17th floor of our apartment jumped from his room window and committed suicide. We later found out he was severely depressed about his upcoming suneung and stress from his parents, which they didn’t know about,” Juyoung Kim, 19, who just wrote her exams on Thursday said.
4. It lasts for 8 hours – The total examination lasts for about 8 grueling long hours consisting of 6 major subjects – National language (국어), Mathematics, English, Korean history, Social studies/science and foreign language (usually Hanja – Chinese characters) – which are further broken down into sub-categories like geography, ethics, law, economics, politics etc.
5. The panel in charge of making questions are immediately cut off from civilization – To protect the integrity of the examination and ensure questions leaking out beforehand is next to impossible, examiners, professors, high school teachers and the rest of the panel are taken far away to an isolated location and are literally cut from civilization with no phones, internet or other means of communicating to the outside world. They’re given very strict instructions and are moved to a secret location usually about one month before the examination. They aren’t allowed to leave and must remain in their designated location until the examination day.
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