Fear and loathing in South Korea as university exam postponed by quake

Fear and loathing in South Korea as university exam postponed by quake

SEOUL: South Korean test-takers expressed confusion and dejection on Thursday as the country’s highly competitive annual university entrance exam, called a “life assignment exam” by some, was postponed a week for the first time ever due to safety concerns.

South Korea postponed the exam after a rare earthquake rattled the country on Wednesday, causing damage to buildings including some schools.

The exam is life-defining for many high school seniors, as a prestigious university on one’s resume is seen a minimum for securing a place in limited corporate jobs in Asia’s fourth-largest economy, which is dominated by conglomerates.

Because the wrong answer to a single question in the roughly 200-question exam can mean dropping in the national ranking and failure to enter one’s choice of university, tensions ran high.

“It’s a bit hellish thinking I have to do this for one more week,” said 20-year-old Cho Hyun-lee, studying at one of Seoul’s largest cram schools to take the test again after last year. “People are dispirited, lying with their faces down.”

Some scrambled to recover books they’d thrown away yesterday or buy new ones, two test-takers told Reuters, while others “gave up”, uploading pictures of classmates sleeping or reading online comics on social media. Still others agonised over missing concerts of their favourite singers or South Korea’s largest online game exhibition this week.

Meanwhile, South Korean society, geared for the exam’s smooth progress, prepared to do it all again next Thursday.

Airplanes, barred from taking off or landing for 35 minutes on Thursday morning to prevent their noise from interfering with the exam’s listening section, were allowed to land or take off, the transport ministry said.

But the stock market and banks still opened an hour late on Thursday — a device to help keep roads clear for students getting to test sites.

The defence ministry allowed extra leave for soldiers in mandatory military service who had taken personal leave to sit the exam.

Four police officers were stationed on double shifts at each of the 85 locations exam questions are kept and police patrolled the premises every two hours to prevent their leaking.

As fainter aftershocks continued on Wednesday and Thursday, many Koreans said they support the postponement — but some were inconsolable.

“It feels like I was turning the handle on the exit door from hell then returned to square one,” said Lee Yoon-mi, a high school senior in Incheon.

“If you’re not a test-taker, you could never understand.”