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Mere Months Left Until the Korean College Scholastic Ability Test
Written by Esther Brenner | Published. 2019.09.15 16:46 | Count : 1437

Students across South Korea continue to prepare for the Korean CSAT called the College Scholastic Ability Test (Suneung) as they continue school for the semester. With the highly competitive social environment throughout the nation concerning academic success, hard-working students fill independent study-rooms, libraries, and especially test-prep academies in preparation for the upcoming examination day.

[Test-prep book in a library. Photo Courtesy: Esther Brenner]

The test is practically considered to be a final determinant for many an individual in Korean society.  It represents the culmination of numerous years during which students have invested hours upon hours of focused studying. Not only does a successful score on the test mean a validation of personal recognition and respect, but it also promises bright future prospects and opportunities. High Suneung scores can be a prerequisite for successfully entering a highly ranked university, which, in turn, can be a prerequisite for securing a respectable and lucrative job.

Constant studying has long been the norm for most high school seniors in Korea, and the amount of pressure for students to do well rises as the test date nears. For students who began preparing for the exam from an early age to those cramming for the test only now, the exam date does not seem to be very far away. At this time of a year, Suneung prep-books are displayed ominously at the front of all large bookstores, while public libraries are full of determined — or panic-stricken — students studying late into the night.

[Suneung books in a library. Photo Courtesy: Esther Brenner]
[Outside a library. Photo Courtesy: Esther Brenner]

Because of the notorious difficulty of the exam, the sheer number of various test-prep companies’ offering guidance is difficult to count. Also, the fact that Suneung is only offered once a year inevitably leads to many high-school students taking it year after year until they achieve the score they want. The test also casts more influence on college admittance than do most other standardized tests around the world. As students continue to experience great stress over the exam, encouragement, support and guidance from friends and family play a vital role for the embattled students.

[Bookstore selling test-prep books. Photo Courtesy: Esther Brenner]
[Bookstore selling test-prep books. Photo Courtesy: Esther Brenner]

The overwhelming pressure of Suneung has often produced negative consequences. Gi-Wook Shin, director of the Asia–Pacific Research Center (APARC), is quoted in the South China Morning Post stating, “It is both physically draining and mentally not healthy to spend one’s young adulthood studying for exams after exams.”

Suicide has notably been the highest cause of death among teens and young people in South Korea. The sense of failure often leads to dangerous chronic stress for many Korean students. The South Korean Health and Welfare Ministry approximates that 90% of people who committed suicide in 2016 suffered from depression or anxiety, which are often attributed to high levels of stress from seemingly end-less hours of studying.

So long as students’ exam scores alone are considered the defining factor in evaluating his or her ability and worth in society, the suffering of the Korean students facing Suneung is likely to continue. All Korean students hope against hope for a more holistic approach to learning.




Esther Brenner
Senior (Grade 12)
Cornerstone Collegiate Academy of Seoul

Esther Brenner  student_reporter@dherald.com

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