We, both culturally and individually, tend to take tests like the SAT and ACT seriously because of the opportunities high scores can unlock. However, most students and families maintain perspective about the exams, while others can only be described as lackadaisical in their approach. All in all, on the national level, we tend to get worked up about the concept of the tests and not so much their ongoing administration.
But imagine if we in the United States observed each test day by doing the following:
- Ban airport landings and departures for 40 minutes to assure quiet during a critical listening portion of the test.
- Open markets and businesses an hour late so that city traffic would clear up for students on way to the exam sites.
- Issue emergency numbers so students stuck in traffic can request police escort rides before gates to the test sites close.
- Delayed or cancel military drills and live-firing exercises for a full day.
- Assign tens of thousands of police officers to patrolling exam centers.
This–and so much more–is exactly what happened in South Korea this week as nearly 650,000 students sat the annual college entrance exam. Success on this exam opens doors to the nation’s most prestigious universities, which in turn secures positions at the most elite corporations. Even a student’s prospects for marriage are linked to performance on this ultimate high-stakes test. No wonder the entire nation turns out in support of test takers:
At Seoul’s Pungmoon Girls’ High School, junior students huddled together in the -3°C cold held good-luck banners and shouted encouragement as their seniors entered the exam room. For the equally stressed parents, there was little left to do after a final hug at the school gates. Many immediately made their way to nearby churches and temples in search of some divine intervention.
Major internet portals and social networks were flooded with good-luck messages, and “test-takers” and “jackpot for the test” were among the top-trending topics for Korean Twitter users on Thursday morning.
Talk about test anxiety! Such singular focus on this single test comes with predictable problems, from emotional issues to burnout to reports of suicide. But, on the other hand, I can’t help but wonder how much better the test day experience would be here in the U.S. if students were cheered as they entered the test centers!