Still a long way to go after maiden college exam sans “killer questions”

2023.11.17 13:06:02 | 2023.11.17 16:07:49

[Photo by Yonhap]이미지 확대

[Photo by Yonhap]



South Korea’s national college entrance exam, also known as Suneung, took place on Thursday without any so-called “killer questions,” as part of the government’s effort to reduce reliance on private cram schools. Killer questions in this context refer to the most difficult questions drawn from material not covered in the public school curriculum.

“This year’s exam has no killer questions to ensure that it has questions of all levels of complexity that can be solved from the materials in the school curriculum,” according to Jeong Moon-seong, a professor at Gyeongin National University of Education and this year’s head of the test writers.

If the exam successfully maintains a level of complexity comparable to the previous year, it will serve as an opportunity to curtail additional spending on private education.

But this year’s exam also raised alarms about an overwhelming number of test retakers. Of the total test-takers, as much as 35.3 percent, or around 160,000, were retakers, the highest in 28 years. The number of retakers has been on the rise every year despite the decline of the school-age population attributable to the country’s low birth rates.

This trend was led by a surging number of top-tier retakers seeking to attend medical schools, combined with mid-tiers seeking a modest advancement in college ranks. In addition, with the first exam without killer questions this year, many college students took the exam as they expected the test to be easier.

However, the root cause of rising retakers lies in academic elitism that has plagued the country, where there is a prevalent misbelief that degrees from elite and medical schools are the only path to social mobility and recognition. More and more young Koreans get stuck in a cycle of entrance exams, postponing their entry into the workforce and wasting years of time, which is problematic to society. With an average of 100,000 college students seeking to retake the entrance exam annually, the quality of college education has diminished.

The government should thus take the rise in retakers seriously, as the issue has led to a surge in social costs, including education costs. Bold yet effective educational and labor reforms are needed to overcome such pervasive elitism and social stigma associated with college hierarchy.

By Editorial Team

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