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South Korean Students Stressed Over College Entrance Exam



This is the VOA Learning English Education Report.

More than half a million South Korean students in their final year of high school recently took the university entrance examination. Many people consider success on this test the first step toward a good life. But South Korean students say they feel stressed from the pressure.

Seventeen-year-old student Lee Jee-woo is not ready yet to take the test. But he has a strong opinion about it. He says, “This test can determine the rest of your life."

South Korean high school students spend years studying for the university entrance examination. People say good scores guarantee entrance to a top university and the possibility of a high-paying job. Some say good test results even improve chances for a good marriage in the future.

The test is multiple choice, meaning that the student may choose among several possible answers to a question. Some observers say this system does not help the students learn to think for themselves. They also say South Korea is not the only country to use these tests.

Jasper Kim is a professor at Seoul’s Ewha Women’s University.

“I think you’ll see similar things in China and to a lesser degree in Japan. It became the end all, be all, the standardized test, what you got on it. What it created was a system of teaching to the test. So everyone was geared, in terms of, getting to the right answer … and not knowing why that is the right answer.”

Vietnam also is known for its university entrance examination.

Professor Kim says this system of learning by memorization produces a lot of stressed students. A recent government study found that South Korean children are the least happy compared to children in 29 other developed countries. Many South Koreans blame educational pressure for this unhappiness.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has promised to reform her country’s educational system. She urges the system to increase creative thinking and reduce student tension.

But Jasper Kim does not feel sure that reforms by the top government alone will solve the problem. He says, “The bureaucrats, they can say all they want. But it really starts at home.”

Still, getting South Korean parents to ease the pressure on their children might not be so easy. Shin Jeong-yeon says she would like not to put so much pressure on her daughter. But, she says there is a lot of competition, so it is impossible for parents not to do so. For now, all Ms. Shin and other parents can do is hope that the pressure brings good results.

And that’s the VOA Learning English Education Report for today.

I’m Jeri Watson.

Jason Strother and Malte Kollinberg reported this story from Seoul, South Korea. Jeri Watson wrote it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

stressed – adj. feeling very worried or anxious

nervous – adj. having or showing feelings of being worried and afraid about what might happen

standardized – adj. changed so that things are similar and consistent and agree with rules about what is proper and acceptable

memorization – n. (the process of) learning something so well that you are able to remember it perfectly

bureaucrats – n. people who run a government or big company and who do everything according to the rules of that government or company

Now it’s your turn to use these Words in This Story. In the comments section, write a sentence using one of these words and we will provide feedback on your use of vocabulary and grammar.

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