While 수능 doesn’t determine absolutely everything about one’s future academic and professional career, it does determine a whole lot more than the SAT. A high score on the 수능 is the primary admissions requirements to get into one of the SKY universities (Korea’s answer to an Ivy league school or the Big Three).
I don't work at the high school level and so have no real direct relationship to this test and what goes on. However, the other day JH sent me a pdf file of the English section of this test. I remember he showed it to me last year, although it was a print out. This post will be meant to share with you parts of the English section and my critique of it.
At first there are mostly questions with Korean and English.
But still there are 9 pages of this and 50 questions to get through. Here is what one of the pages looks like:
Let's look at one of the questions:
here, I think the answer could be either #5 or #1. The actual is #1. Bravo! What did you think? Or was this actually easy?
The thing is I teach English to elementary students and often wonder where it is all leading up to. Teaching my kids, "I like apples" and showing them different fruits, I stop and think "why?" Is it to get them to be comfortable and familiar with English or teach them sentence structure and a list of vocabulary? The thing is I have been told to teach in a very active and outgoing way. As I have said before my coteachers basically want me to perform like a clown in the class making English a form of entertainment. I am fine with getting away from the typical rote-memorization that is found here, but I don't really have the energy to bounce off the walls with every class and on every day. However, I can't help but feel perplexed that this "Clown English" leads them to this really strict high school SAT test.
How does this test really measure their English skills? The test does include the different levels, such as reading and listening. So I guess they get to use all of that. Of course what test could there be based upon non-memorization preparation.
Even the American SAT requires some preparation that isn't very exciting. The "Critical Reading section is laid out like this:
The Critical Reading (formerly Verbal) section of the SAT is made up of three scored sections: two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section, with varying types of questions, including sentence completions and questions about short and long reading passages. Critical Reading sections normally begin with 5 to 8 sentence completion questions; the remainder of the questions are focused on the reading passages. Sentence completions generally test the student's vocabulary and understanding of sentence structure and organization by requiring the student to select one or two words that best complete a given sentence.Oh, that is bringing back memories. As you can see, from the following picture, the American SAT version isn't that much different in style.
Another Korean example:
The answer is...#5.
Do you think this question was hard? Do you think it would be hard for a Korean high school student? Let's not forget they are taking the test all day along with other subjects such as Korean and Science, and that they have likely been studying all night for the past year. I never really enjoyed taking these types of test and knowing that my score determined a certain future. I should be grateful, because whatever score I got on my SAT it never got in the way of my life. I went to college, graduated and have since been doing well. Unfortunately, Korean people live in a world where their test score determines whether or not they will get into the top 3 Universities, which means whether or not they will get hired by the top companies (LG, Samsung, Hyundai) and to some who they can marry.
I have talked to JH about this and how someone's test score shouldn't be how the world judges them. Instead, it should be about their character and life experience. Of course, I said taking tests and measuring your skills can come along with that, but to base one's qualities just on a score is harsh. He agreed with my reasoning but said, "This is Korea. We have to do like this." Why? Essentially he brought it down to that Korea is a small country without a lot of competition and everyone wants to do better than the other person. He said, "If I see someone else study 3 hours, then I will study 4." So I said, "Then the person behind you will study 5 and so on..." I tried to tell him that Korea being a small country and crowded isn't going to change, but that the way people function and accept each other can change. I told him there are crowded parts of America, like New York and LA, where there is a lot of competition. But to get ahead people usually work hard and pull themselves up through networking and starting their own businesses..etc.
The conversation huffed out as I was getting a big headache. I wasn't trying to change JH's mind but help him see how I see it all. Of course, he helped me how he sees it.
To me this English section of the Korean SAT test points to a critical conversation that many expats have with each other about Korean society. Over time things have been changing little by little here. I don't expect Korea to suddenly do a 180 flip and look like the West. But I can't help but think that someday the young folks will rebel or break out of the mold and make their own path. Maybe that is already happening, but from underground or from the inside-out.
All in all, my views are strictly that of someone with surface knowledge of this all. I wanted to share the English version of the test so those who teach English here can kind of see what it amounts to.
What are your thoughts on all this and by all means feel free to correct me.