A lot of people in South Korea had November 13 circled on their calendars. That was College Entrance Exam Day, an annual event that affects and perhaps reflects modern South Korean society as much as any on the calendar.
In South Korea, 80% of high school seniors attend college, and the results of last week’s 9-hour mostly multiple choice test will strongly impact the college they attend. Years hence, it will impact their success in securing desirable entry positions in large companies and the public sector.
Offices and the stock market opened an hour late to assure the roads were open just when students needed a stress-free trip to the Exam sites. Non test-taking school children were given the day off to minimize noise. The nations’ national utility had 4,000 people on standby in case the power went out. Airplane take-offs and landings were halted during listening comprehension.
By 6pm though, it was over. Newspapers had published every question and the correct answer. Poorly performing students could hope for a better showing next year. The test prep industry began a new cycle and media outlets shelved their tip lines which had helped students improve concentration, study habits and dietary intake in the days before the test.
Many colleges and government officials feel it’s not right to have so much riding on a single test. They want to add essays, recommendations and related subjective material to college acceptance criteria.
But others like things as they are. They like a system that gives every student the same chance to succeed and the objectivity with which grades are assigned.
No matter, everybody’s holding the date in 2009.