The Korea Herald


Suneung to take place Thursday, but without 'killer questions'

Quarantine measures relaxed, while ratio of retakers soars

By Lee Jung-youn

Published : Nov. 12, 2023 - 15:52

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On Nov. 6, 10 days before this year's Suneung, students post messages of support for those taking the test on a bulletin board. (Yonhap) On Nov. 6, 10 days before this year's Suneung, students post messages of support for those taking the test on a bulletin board. (Yonhap)

The Suneung, South Korea's national college entrance exam, is less than a week away, with this year's test seeing a number of changes.

The Education Ministry in June announced that it would exclude "killer questions" -- excessively difficult questions, the material for which is often not covered in the public education system. The change came following President Yoon Suk Yeol's comments that such questions might create an excessive dependence on private education.

The ministry formed a Suneung committee earlier this year, which operates in addition to the preexisting committees that design and review exam questions. The new committee consists of 25 incumbent high school teachers who have more than 10 years of teaching experience, but no experience in Suneung question design, to review the questions with a fresh set of eyes.

Concerns remain that the absence of killer questions may make the exam too easy. The number of students with perfect scores in the mock math test in September, which was designed without killer questions, was 2,520 across the country, 2.7 times higher than the 937 who achieved a perfect score in last year’s Suneung math test.

Meanwhile, the total number of applicants for the test decreased this year, while the percentage of retakers has reached its highest level in 28 years.

The Education Ministry on Tuesday announced that 504,588 applicants have registered for this year’s Suneung, a decrease of 3,442 from last year. Among them, 326,646 are high school graduates, accounting for 64.7 percent, while 159,742 students, representing 31.7 percent, are retakers, often referred to as "N-soosaeng," who are taking the test for the Nth time.

Although the total number of test takers has significantly decreased, the number of retakers has risen by 12.2 percent compared to last year. The proportion of retakers and applicants other than high school graduates now stands at 35.3 percent of the total, marking the highest ratio in 28 years since 1996.

The prediction that this year's Suneung will be easier than usual appears to have contributed to the increase in the number of retakers.

Ongoing discussions on expanding the medical school quota may have been another factor contributing to the influx of students who have already gone to college but wish to retake Suneung. In a government survey, 40 medical schools nationwide said that they can afford to increase their medical student numbers to over 2,000.

The Suneung will take place for the first time since the official conclusion of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following the easing of quarantine measures, confirmed patients and students with symptoms of COVID-19 will take the exam at the same test site with other test-takers, without separation.

Separate test sites or test rooms and temporary test sites in hospitals, which were installed in the previous year for those subject to COVID-19 isolation, will no longer take place.

While it is not mandatory, the Education Ministry recommends those with confirmed or unconfirmed cases of COVID-19 to wear a mask at all times during the test. Such students will be provided with a separate lunch space.