When I was 16 I sat my GCSEs. In the month leading up to the exams I seem to recall studying sporadically and half-heartedly on a friend’s bedroom floor with multiple and increasingly lengthy ‘study breaks’, in which we ate many custard creams and quested on the N64. My mum did hire a Maths tutor for me (in vain) but I was more committed to ‘discovering’ the far-flung corners of my town on my bicycle than solving maths equations.
When it came to taking the exams I imagine I felt a degree of anxiety and afterwards I probably celebrated with more biscuits and the Legend of Zelda. If you were to ask a Korean about their memories of taking the CSAT exams (the equivalent of GCSEs) I suspect they would be somewhat less vague.
The CSATs are a national obsession here in Korea. To say that today (Nov 7th) will be the most pivotal day in the current high-school seniors’ lives is not an overstatement. Unlike in the UK, where test results are just one of many considerations in university admissions decisions, here in Korea a student’s CSAT score alone will determine the university they enter, and as a consequence, the course of the rest of their lives.
This video shows the extreme and unusual measures Korean society goes to, to try and ensure students’ exam success.