The Korea Herald


Suneung might not see perfect scorer for first time in 13 years

By Park Jun-hee

Published : Nov. 21, 2023 - 14:56

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High school senior students at a school in Seoul (Yonhap) High school senior students at a school in Seoul (Yonhap)

Controversy over the difficulty of the Suneung, South Korea’s college entrance exam, is likely to persist as this year’s exam has so far not seen a perfect score in tentative grading, giving an inkling that the test might not see a single perfect scorer for the first time in 13 years.

While test-takers are to receive notice of their scores on Dec. 8, none of the high school senior students who took the test received full marks after tentative grading of their answers, according to the National Association of Career and College Counselors, a group of schoolteachers across the nation dedicated to university admissions counseling, Tuesday.

Students in Korea are able to grade their scores by themselves right after the test, based on the answer sheet released by the examination authority, the Korea Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation. News about a perfect scorer would spread fast after tentative grading, but no such news has circulated, according to the teachers’ group.

Megastudy, one of the country’s leading franchise tutoring services with scoring information for some 120,000 Suneung test-takers, also found that no students nor retakers from the institution had earned a perfect score.

This year’s Suneung was expected to be more manageable than previous years, as it saw the scrapping of highly difficult “killer questions” that use materials not taught in public schools.

But test-takers and education insiders assessed the exam to be more grueling, as it saw around five “tricky” questions in each section that were found to be as onerous as the killer questions of previous years.

Immediately after the Suneung on Thursday, a survey conducted on 2,764 students by the Educational Broadcasting System -- a state-run public broadcaster specializing in education -- showed on Friday that some 85.9 percent of test-takers found the overall exam to be arduous.

Some 64.5 percent of respondents found the Korean language section “extremely difficult,” while another 23.2 percent found it “moderately hard.” Some 38.2 percent of examinees reported that they found the English section to be “very difficult,” and 32.1 percent found the mathematics section to be “extremely demanding.”

Question No. 33 of the English section on this year’s Suneung (KICE) Question No. 33 of the English section on this year’s Suneung (KICE)

Meanwhile, a total of 288 objections have been issued concerning this year’s Suneung exam as of Monday at 6 p.m., down 375 from last year, according to the Education Ministry on Tuesday. The Korean language section had the most complaints, with 69, while question No. 33 of the English section received the most objections at 13.

In particular, test-takers alleged the controversial English question, which was about psychological studies and asked test-takers to choose from five answers to fill in a blank space, was extremely confusing as the text failed to provide enough context to solve the problem. The passage of the No. 33 question discusses the importance of context in identifying emotions from facial expressions.

Jung Seung-ick, an English lecturer at EBS, judged that students would have found the answer options for the questions tricky to understand, rather than the text itself, he said in a video on the solutions to this year’s English Suneung questions.

Test-takers expressed frustration online.

“How can the Suneung without killer questions be harder than the one with killer questions? This year’s Suneung did nothing but hurt the feelings of test-takers,” one post read on the online community, Orbi.