South Koreans take first mask-free college exam since pandemic

By Daewoung Kim and Jimin Jung

SEOUL (Reuters) – Half a million South Koreans took the annual nationwide college entrance exam on Thursday, the first time in four years that the exam, often seen as life-defining in the fiercely competitive society, was held without pandemic rules.

This year, nearly 505,000 high school students, graduates and others registered for the one-day, five-session College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT), held at 1,279 testing sites across the country, according to the Department of Education.

In contrast to the previous three years, test participants were not required to wear face masks.

The annual exam is widely considered one of the most important exams in the country. Even airline flights are suspended during the listening portion of the English test.

South Korean financial markets opened an hour later than usual at 10 a.m. (0100 GMT) to ease traffic.

Outside schools, parents cheered on their children, hugged them and some wiped away tears.

“I am so nervous. Maybe I’m more nervous (than my daughter),” said Kim Mi-jae, mother of an 18-year-old student, after sending her daughter to take the exam at a high school in Seoul.

The difficulty level of this year’s exam has yet to be confirmed, but South Korean officials have said it would not include the so-called “killer questions” that typically come from material not covered in the public school curriculum.

President Yoon Suk Yeol blames such issues as the cause of excessive spending on private education, one of the reasons for the country’s declining birth rate.

South Koreans spent a record 26 trillion won ($19.97 billion) on private education last year, even as student numbers fell, according to a government report.

(Reporting by Daewung Kim, Jimin Jung; Writing by Soo-hyang Choi. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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