Suneung: Test Time

Yesterday, over 600,000 Korean seniors strapped themselves in for day long testing. It’s over nine hours long and known as Suneung, the College Scholastic Ability Test. For these kids and their parents, this is one of the most important days of their entire lives. Some will get suitable scores their first time around. Others will take the test multiple times (it’s offered once a year), repeating the stress and expense of preparation over and over until their scores are high enough to get them into a “decent” national university.

The Korean educational system is an intense one. Everything builds up to Suneung, when the die are cast. Will your life be worth living? Is your future bright? Will you be doomed to live a life of blue collar mediocrity, or will you rise to corporate greatness? These are questions that are asked in Junior High, and prepared for in grade school with extra-curriculars and tutoring that make a kid’s work day about as long (sometimes longer) as that of their parents.

On Suneung, parents, younger students and empathetic citizens rally in support of the students taking the test. Juniors, second year students who are soon to face the same fate, line up outside the testing centers before dawn to get a good spot to yell rallying cheers, and offer snacks and juice to the students heading in for the test. Parents pray outside the testing centers. They pray in Christian churches and at Buddhist temples. In Jeju, the airport avoids takeoffs and landings during the listening portion of the test.

I’m not sure if today is any easier for the kids that tested yesterday. I want to believe they slept well last night, with the hurdle of Suneung completed, but it’s not over yet.  Their test results will be released in December. The admissions process continues for those with scores they can live with. For everyone else… it’ll be ok. Relax, and try to take it easy while you get ready for November 2013. Don’t do anything crazy, and don’t let your parents get you down. You can do it!