South Korea cuts “killer questions” from college entrance exams

Did you hear that the Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation is getting rid of those killer test questions in their college entrance exams? They’re trying to make things more fair and inclusive.

The South Korean government is taking a bold step to build a more inclusive education system. The Education Minister, Lee Ju-ho’s announcement in June 2023, has gained global attention as a game-changer in South Korea’s education system.

These infamous ‘killer questions’ are hard to answer and often aren’t covered in public schools, worsening educational gaps. The government’s decision showcases a committed dedication to break the vicious cycle of private education that erodes fairness in education.

Understanding "killer questions" from college entrance exams

By the time South Korean teenagers reach high school, most of their lives revolve around academics and preparation for CSATs— College Scholastic Abilities Test.

Teenagers who attend CSATs face a life-changing exam that lasts eight hours and includes killer questions. ‘Killer questions’, also known as mind bending questions or tricky questions, are highly complex questions featured in South Korea’s competitive college entrance exams.

Students are tested on their critical thinking, problem-solving, and application of knowledge through these questions. The designation of “killer” implies the difficulty level of these questions, instilling fear in test-takers.

However, the inclusion of these questions raises concerns about the impartiality and accessibility of the education system. South Korea has taken a radical step to change the college entrance exams process. This will support students from underprivileged backgrounds who may lack access to the resources necessary to tackle such questions effectively.

Is it hard to get into college in South Korea?

Achieving admission to college in South Korea is undeniably demanding, owing to the cutthroat competition among students.

The college entrance exam, popularly known as the “suneung,” is a life changing exam that significantly influences students’ prospects of gaining acceptance to prestigious universities. The exam spans a wide range of subjects, including Korean language, mathematics, English, social studies, and natural sciences. Besides this, the presence of puzzling “killer questions” has intensified the pressure on students striving to excel in the exam.

The hyper-competitive college admission landscape in South Korea casts considerable stress among students. This, in turn, prompts concerns about their mental well-being. Since Korean students face such tough odds, many enroll in extra tutoring or lessons at private cram schools called “hagwons.” The majority of students attend hagwon sessions in the evening after their regular school classes, and then study by themselves into the early morning.

Due to this, South Korea’s hagwon industry is highly lucrative and massive. In 2022, South Koreans spent a total of 26 trillion won (almost A$30 billion) on private education, according to the Ministry of Education.

The elimination of “killer questions” is expected to ease some undue strain and foster a more well-rounded and supportive educational arena for students.

How is college exams in South Korea?

College entrance exams in South Korea are renowned for their rigor and difficulty.

“Suneung” is a standardized test that assesses students’ knowledge, comprehension, and problem-solving skills. The exam plays a role in shaping students’ futures, influencing their choice of higher education institutions and career trajectories.

In response to the challenges posed by “killer questions” and the high-stakes nature of the exam, the government’s decision to remove these questions marks a profound stride. This move represents a significant step towards reconfiguring South Korea’s education system. The move displays an unwavering commitment to fostering impartiality, inclusivity, and a more wholesome appraisal of students’ potential beyond standardized test scores.

The end of the "Suneung" era...

South Korea’s resolute decision to remove “killer questions” from college entrance exams signifies a leap towards establishing a more equitable education system.

By encouraging fairness, inclusivity, and reducing undue burdens on students, the government sets a trailblazing precedent for a healthier and more balanced academic environment.

As South Korea forges ahead with these transformative changes, it charts a course towards a brighter future. In this future, students can flourish academically and holistically without confronting unnecessary obstacles on their educational journey.

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