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Korean Exam Day

November 19, 2010


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This November 18th was one of the most important days in the life of a Korean high school student: Korean Exam Day. High school students in their last year of high school (also known as 3rd grade) took their university entrance exams. This exam is what most of them have been studying for their entire high school careers. Some students start preparing for it in middle school. Middle school! WOW! Once the students reach high school, they stay late for “self study” time. School begins roughly around 7am and goes until 10pm, 11pm, or midnight. Third grade high school students stay the latest, and even after midnight, some of them would go to a private study room for another hour or so, then sleep a few tiny hours and go back to school the next day to do the same thing. If they’re not at a study room, they might be at a “hagwon”, a private after school tutoring centre that costs parents a lot of money. For majority of students in Korea, middle/high school is your entire life.

This test is such a big deal that police are there outside of the doors to monitor who goes in and out of the school, and to control the crowds. Work is pushed back to 9am that day so all the students can get to their high school smoothly. Korean celebrities, like SHINee and other SM artists, posted videos wishing the students good luck the day before. The day before the exam, the schools are emptied of all material, and all reflective surfaces are covered in the classrooms to prevent cheating. Students must bring their own lunches that day, because the school cafeteria doesn’t want to be blamed if the food makes a student feel sick and do poorly. No one, including the teachers, can go in or out of the school that day. No food delivery, no leaving to get food.

But some things are a bit too extreme. Teachers can’t wear perfume or wear clothing that might distract the students from their test. Supervising teachers must remain in one place for the whole exam; if you walk around too much to check for cheating, a student might complain that it distracted them. If a student is sick, other students can complain on or blame the sick student for distracting them.

The internet becomes a scary place for teachers after the exam. It can get to the point that some students with low marks will report their supervising teacher for being a distraction, and the student’s poor grades are a result of that supervisor. In turn, that teacher can get into a lot of trouble because of these distraction. In other words, the stress level is extremely high, for both students and teachers alike.

And that’s why the junior students wait outside to cheer their fellow seniors from 5am – 8:30am. With all the stress and heaviness placed on that day, everyone could use a little cheering. Hopefully all of the students did well that day, and didn’t notice Martina’s terrible bowing skills. Fighting! So here’s a video of them cheering from wayyyy early in the morning. We think it was really cool, and we’re glad to have been a part of it.



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Teaching in Korea