The Fuss About 수능, Korea’s College Entrance Test
November 13, 2014, Temperatures were reported to have dropped down to -1 degree Celsius. Truly the coveted 수능날, (Suneung nal), or College Entrance Test Day, would be the start of the cold days in Korea. The country has prepared to give a lot to the future college students of Korea, so the students have to take the 8-hour test taking up the entire day.
But why the fuss with this said event? In other countries, having a college entrance test is considered important to assess the ability of a future college student. This is done by the government to ensure the future of its future kin. However, in other countries, where it is done in a private system, the stigma of how it is in Korea differs. Other countries also show the importance of taking a similar test for one’s future. But in Korea, the day is considered to be most important other than one’s birthday.
The College Entrance Test taken by high school students in Korea are almost the same as the SATs in America. Subjects taken during high school are again taken into a whole day test to assess the level of learning a student has gained and if he/she is capable of succeeding in college. However, how Koreans treat 수능, makes it more special than anything else in the world.
Despite the fact that it is only one of those tests you take in your life, people of Korea, make the day conducive for students to take it without any problems. To name a few, the test starts in the morning and goes on until 6’o clock in the evening. Students are allowed to dial the emergency hotline or ask for help with any police or emergency officers, if they lose their Test Identification cards or are just late for the test. From one article, I have read, a student was so deathly nervous to death, she forgot to bring her ID card for the test, and without any despair dialed the number of the police station to ask help. And like any normal emergency situation, the officers went to the student’s house and obtained the ID card for the student to take the test. To hinder any nuisance while taking the listening part of the test in the afternoon, the government issued an ordinance that all cars around the 200km circumference of any testing areas, are only allowed to drive slowly or hence not drive there at all. Another is the fact that airlines, are immediately requested to not even fly around the country or if not fly higher than the normal flight paths to avoid any noise during the test.
And like any holidays, workers and normal students, may not come to their respected schools or working place, or hence consider it a non-working day to avoid any type of nuisance to the test takers. Stock market employees start their bidding in the mid-afternoon compared to the usual working days, Employees are not seen rushing through subways in the morning, as working time is moved to a later time and everyone in Korea has their eyes and ears stuck to what would be the future of Korea. Mothers of test-takers support their children to the best of their ability, enrolling them in the best academies or 학원 (Hagwon) would not be enough. Rather on the day of test, these mothers would flock to nearby temples to pray and bow 3000 times, as according to the Buddhist principles, for the betterment of their children’s test. And as religion follows, every mother would spend the whole the day either at the church or at the temple praying with all their might.
This type of support can also be seen in friends, younger and older students, as they prepare for the test. Cluster of juniors can be seen standing around the test area gates showing placards of supports and gifts to lift the spirits of everyone. Candies and snacks are given and even medicines believed to help students to concentrate are given as gifts.
This phenomenon has always been considered unconventional and at the same time interesting by the foreign communities. One would even wonder why such great concern is give to a college test but in Korea the whole nation concentrates to it. With this behavior, the country’s literacy level has increased and that education has become the supporting platforms to its growth.
However a big concern on its stigma in society has always been questioned. Amidst the advantages and high regards the test recieves, also comes the embarrassment of failing it. Since the test is only taken once a year. Those who failed would have to wait to take it again for one whole year. That is why for test-takers, they consider it an once-in-a-lifetime ticket to their future, the only lifeline they can take to succeed. Of course, one would certainly feel the great disappointment a student would have if he/she fails. The 17 years of education and preparation to take the test can all go down the drain with just one error and with regrets about it filling their mind. Worst-case scenarios usually end in Suicide aslmost all Koreans have been familiar with it all can tell you, the day after the test, some students would surely take their life to avoid the embarrassment of failure. And as the previous test had just finished up, it is believed that three students have already taken their life for losing the chance of a lifetime. Another is that mothers and Families of some test takers can also be affected once the student fails. Most mothers lose their social connections as they might feel a sense of embarrassment for the failure of their son or daughter.
This taunting social stigma makes the whole phenomenon a catastrophe as a well, as law-makers are now trying to change this strict practice of taking the test. They are now questioning the importance making a fuss with the test, as students should focus more once they are in college rather than kill their youth as they prepare for the test. The amount of time they study and prepare for the test is really alarming, as mostly students won’t have any free time anymore, killing their days of youth. Companies are now being asked not to favor specs and stigmas for future workers.
In general, the fact that these exams are considered to have great influencein Korea shows the attention it has constantly received. However, the truth of the matter is the sickening social stigma it has. Which is simply that it takes away the student’s childhood and ability to manage their lives. Making the test a ticket to the future is too much, when we know as adults, that there is more to life than having the CSATs. Gaining a diploma in an Ivy-league university is quite promising, but without a healthy childhood a person can never function in society all to well. The point of the matter is that we are bound to where we are bound too. And we mustn’t lose ourselves due to the point of failing when we all have an equal chance for a better life.