National college entrance exam day

Today I returned to school after taking Monday off with some, what I believe to be, awful but mild case of food poisoning.  (I have no idea what I ate that was bad, but it’s clear I ate something bad) And then, after having fasted an entire day I decided to take Tuesday off as well, since I didn’t want to be in a super weakened state in a germ-filled school where kids were dropping like flies due to the swine flu outbreaks.

Upon my return, I am informed that the second half of the school day I can go home, as there will be school – wide meetings on how to conduct testing in light of the swine flu pandemic.  The following day is the Korean SAT’s, and except for test proctors and seniors, everyone else gets to go home.  Did I pick a great week to get sick, or what?

Here’s a little post I didn’t finish on exam fever from last mid-terms:

Next week is mid-terms.

I know, I know.  We haven’t even been back from summer vacation for a month, and it’s already mid-terms coming up?  This is because of the college entrance exam in November.  I believe the entire school gets that day off.  I heard all of Korea has to be quiet on that day.

Something I may have forgot to write about last time, due to other dramas, was about last semester’s mid-terms and finals.  It’s kind of crazy.  The parents’ association sends gift boxes to all of the teachers.  (they also sent kim bop to the teachers during summer classes because the cafeteria was closed) In the recent past, parents sent bribes to teachers, but I guess that was outlawed.  Supposedly these bribes continue to vice principals and principals, but who can really say…In all of the classes, the parents send pizza to the classes afterward.  Last time (and this time) home room teachers are asking me to switch around my class schedule so they can best optimize their student’s cramming.

For the last two weeks, the teachers have all been staying late preparing the tests.  Occasionally they will come ask me to verify the correctness of the grammar.  The tests are very hard and sometimes.  If, for example, I tell them that the question doesn’t make sense, I am sometimes told that the question was made by someone else and can’t be changed – is this answer good or bad?  There doesn’t seem to be room for me to tell them it’s irrelevant if the answer is good or bad because the question doesn’t make sense…Anyway, these tests are then put under lock and key and the answers (at some point, don’t know when) are entered into a test card reader.  The card reader is also under lock and key in its own special room.  Each and every test has to be counted, again and again and again, to make sure not one has disappeared…

On test day, each class is divided in half and sent to different classrooms and each class gets students from different grades, to discourage cheating. The rows are grade A, grade B, A, B, A, B.  The students are put in numerical order as well.  The teacher’s podium is removed and put in the hallway so the desks can be spaced further apart.  The rest is typical – we must have tests prepared for instant distribution the second the PA announces the test is to begin.  Every score card has to be stamped with the instructor/test proctor’s stamp.  Students can raise their hands and get a blank score card should they make a mistake, which we must immediately destroy.  Most students wait until the final five minutes before filling out their cards, to leave room for the possibility of changing their answers.  But like the Monte Python bridge question, “what is your favorite color?”  I’ve seen indecision kill a student.   He kept trading in his card and then, finally happy with his choice, he made a mistake filling in a wrong circle and the test had ended.  I’m sure you could hear his scream of anguish across the entire school…Fortunately, the kids get the afternoon off of school, but they will go home and study from the time they get home and all night.  By the third day of the week, they are falling asleep during their tests.  By the last day, some of them no longer look human.

The SAT’s tomorrow are the apex of the student’s entire time in high school, and actually their entire time in school.  Period.  The entire nation will be hoping and praying for someone they know taking the exam.  Social status STILL hinges on the prestige associated with what university you attend, and there are only about three universities in Korea that have any credibility in the world stage.  There are actually a lot of minor technical colleges too, but for the most part, Koreans tell me there aren’t enough schools for everyone applying.  So a foreigner would then ask – why?  Why not open more?  (but I’m learning that sometimes, just to keep from being angry, it is better not to ask why)  They only thing I can figure is the fierce competition preserves the class screening process, but I’m hoping I’m wrong and it is something more pragmatic.

Tomorrow the school will be open.  The schools swap students to eliminate the possibility of  test corruption between teachers who have been bribed by parents, or teachers who show favoritism.  Taxis and policemen will be on alert to ferry late students to the test on time.  I heard that all flights are rescheduled during the exams so as not to disturb the students!

If my stupid video camera was working, I could go down and film the cheerleading going on at the entry gates of my school, but unfortunately, it’s been filming everything red for some reason.

No matter, here is some other footage of the madness other foreigners have taken in years previous..

This one has some really thoughtful comments from the students:

If you can suffer through the trite first few minutes, this is an interesting collection of interviews with Koreans about the national college entrance exam pressure:

Korean supporting/cheering each other on the most stressful day of their lives:


The temples are inundated with moms praying for their students good text scores

(boring to watch & not recommended, but just documenting)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s