Suneung: The Korean Student’s Nightmare

I’m updating twice today because I didn’t feel I should mix Suneung with more pleasant things (like writing synopses).

Today is 수능, the day Korean students spend their entire high school lives dreading.

If you’re a fan of Japanese culture, as I was long before I ever thought of stepping foot into the Land of the Morning Calm, you might know that instead of looking at transcripts, Japanese colleges look at test scores. The same is true in Korea as well, to the extent that on the day of College Entrance Exams, the entire nation goes all-out to cheer on the poor high school seniors who have to take them.

This, but outside every high school in the country.

Imagine if colleges in the States threw out all the other parts of your application and looked solely at your SAT scores. “That’s fine,” some of you might think, “I did pretty well on the SATs.”

Now imagine that instead of looking at your score, what they’re actually looking at is your percentile — your rank out of every single person who took that test.

So you want to go to Seoul University (or Harvard) and you got a 1500/1600. By most standards, that’s amazing! But the problem is that you live in a country full of students who believe that test scores are everything, so there’s a good few hundred who scored higher than you. They fill up the entry slots for the country’s most prestigious university.

And you’re bumped right off the list.

So it’s not just about taking home a high score; it’s literally about being better than everyone else. This is why I don’t teach the seniors at my school: the younger grades already stay on campus until 10pm and then study at home until 2am. My seniors do all this AND prepare for Suneung.

And I just get the day off…



1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Communicative Language Teaching | Sand from a Distant Shore

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