SEOUL, Nov. 16 (Korea Bizwire) – While the city of Pohang and its surrounding regions continue to deal with aftershocks from the 5.4-magnitude earthquake that struck the day before, the government delivered its own stunning blow by postponing the state-administered college entrance exam to November 23.
Originally scheduled to take place on November 16, the government’s decision shocked the public, as the college scholastic ability test (CSAT) has never before been delayed since it was first implemented in 1993. The announcement was made late in the evening on November 15, less than a day before the exams were to begin.
A follow up announcement was made on November 16 that all dates relevant to the college application process were to be delayed by a week. Education officials convened an emergency session with postsecondary institution union heads in the morning to discuss the matter.
A full postponement was deemed necessary due to the structured nature of the college application process. Under the initial arrangements, the following two weekends after the CSAT (Nov. 18-19, 25-26) were filled with college-administered testing and interviews. But once the test date was moved, postsecondary institutions became concerned that test takers would face too much pressure, as they would have to study for the college exams before preparing for the CSAT.
It is difficult to truly capture the significance of the CSAT, and what a good score on it means in this resource-strapped country of 50 million. Education is not seen as a pathway to success; it is “the” pathway to success. It is not uncommon for high school seniors to take a year off, sometimes more, to re-take the exam, spending a full year buried in books and sitting in hakwons (after school academies that offer tutoring in specific subjects). With a good score opening doors to universities in Seoul, and a great score potentially leading to placement at one of the revered SKY universities (Seoul National University, Korea University, Yonsei University), the South Korean equivalent of the Ivy League, the importance of the CSAT cannot be understated.
This explains the air of consternation and concern that hung over the nation’s parents and youth after the official postponement was made public yesterday. Reactions were mixed; while some (mostly test takers) expressed relief, a significant number felt the opposite.
One 18-year-old said, “[After the news], my friends burst into tears, and everything was very confusing. I had been mentally prepared, but now that the test is postponed, I don’t know what to think. I wish they had found a different solution.”
A mother of a high school senior said in great distress, “Postponing the exam is a death sentence to these kids. My son threw out his books already, so now I have no idea what we’re going to do.”The too early disposal of books appears to be a problem not restricted to this one mother’s child. According to bookstore Kyobo Book Centre, sales of CSAT practice exams went through the roof after the government’s postponement announcement, recording 2,500 sold, 2.5 times higher than sales on November 14, and 1.5 times higher than on Thursday the week before.
Others are seeking to retrieve their review materials, provided that they can find them in the piles of books, papers and notebooks mixed in with other test takers’ discarded notes.
On the top floor of one hakwon in Pohang, the sight that beheld onlookers was one of chaos; young men and women rummaging through papers strewn all over the floor, conducting what appeared to be a hopeless search for what have once again become terribly valuable possessions.
When asked if he had had any success so far, a young man answered, “Because I threw all my books away, I went to the local bookstore, only to find it swarming with people.” In a dismayed voice, he continued, “I think the postponement was the right decision, since the buildings here in Pohang were on the verge of crumbling down. But with just one week to prepare, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to really study for the exam.”
While the young man reflected on his circumstances, behind him stood a girl peering ruefully into a plastic garbage bag stuffed with books. “I think my books are in there somewhere,” she said to no one in particular.
Kevin Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)