Suneung – the Korean abbreviation for College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) – is the examination that determines a lot for a South Korean student. It dictates if one can enter university and can also affect job prospects, future income, where they would live, and even future relationships. It is an eight-hour day of back-to-back examinations.

Students even retake this examinations multiple times just to get the chance to enter their desired higher institution. An extreme level of stress surround this admission process as many young people aspire to get into the three most prestigious universities in South Korea known as ‘Sky’ universities. Every year, only less than 2% are admitted to these three universities, compared with 70% of high school graduates who will go to university.

Read the full article on BBC: Suneung: The day silence falls over South Korea


This is another case study of how social inequality is entrenched through education. Preparations for the important national examinations start early and there is a booming industry of cram schools in South Korea that prepare students for them. The examinations were once a vehicle for social mobility, but now cram schools give students who can afford expensive private tutoring an advantage. It becomes easier for those with good family backgrounds to reach the top of the ranks and gain access to well-paying jobs.

The strong culture of competitiveness also affects the mental health of students in South Korea. Suicide rates in South Korea are high and it is the only OECD country where suicide rates have increased. It has been found that the leading factor of suicide in adolescents is education. Family prestige is often based on where the child goes for higher education, and in a culture where family is emphasized, a child would not want to disappoint their parents. With limited opportunities available in reality, unmet expectations have led to immense stress for students.

Questions for further personal evaluation:

  1. How can the pressure on students be lessened?
  2. What other sorting mechanisms can be introduced to reduce the importance of a once-off national examination?

Useful vocabulary:

  1. ‘shrouded’: cover or envelop so as to conceal from view
  2. ‘conglomerates’: a large corporation formed by the merging of separate and diverse firms
  3. ‘overhaul’: take apart something n order to examine it and repair it if necessary.

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