Every year in November, a nationwide silence descends on South Korea. On this day, shops are shut, banks close, the stock market opens late. Most construction work halts, planes are grounded and even military training ceases. What is this day that’s so highly respected? It is none other than, the “Sunseung”.

The Sunseung is an abbreviation for College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) in South Korea. This eight-hour long exam, not only determines whether a student will go to a university, but it also determines, where they will work in the future, how much they will earn, where they will live, and even who they are going to get married to.

This exam is the most important exam in the life of every Korean student, and they spend twelve years of their lives preparing for this one exam. On the day of the exam, there is a nationwide silence all around South Korea. The government improves the transportation system so as to help deliver students on time for their exams. Occasionally, the police use their motorbikes to deliver students running late. Parents visit Buddhist temples all around the country with photos of their child praying on behalf of them.

Parents praying at a temple with photos of their children.
A parent on behalf of her child

This writing of this extremely difficult exam itself, is covered in mystery. Every September, about 500 teachers around the country are chosen, and taken to a secret location in the mountains of the Gangwon province. There are phones are seized, and they are cut off from the outside world for a month.

Failure is not option, and for students taking the suneung, failing it means they won’t be able to get into a university, which means they won’t be able to get a job. In fact, it means they won’t be able to get a good life. This is why many students who fail this exam, rewrite it over and over again until they pass.

Going to a university is a big deal in South Korea, but yet it doesn’t guarantees that you will get a job. Even though South Korea has one of the most highly educated populations on the planet, a third of its unemployed population, has a university degree. The country has a high youth unemployment rate, and yet, getting into a university is becoming more and more difficult.

What’s even more difficult is getting into the country’s most prestigious schools, the “SKY”, which stands for the Seoul, Korea, and Yonsei University. 70% of high-school leavers in Korea will go to a university, but less than 2% will gain admission into one of SKY institutions.

Because of how difficult this exam is, preparation starts early. Children start attending Cram schools ( or Hagwons as they are called in Korean) from a very tender age. 80% of kids in Korea attend the country’s more than 100,000 Hagwons. In fact, crcram schools are a 20$bn industry in the country, and some of country’s top teachers earn millions a year. Students are also required to go to ‘Dokseosils’ ( revision rooms) every weekends.

Because of the high cost of educating a child in Korea, parents are giving birth to very few number of children. In fact, South Korea has the lowest birth rate in the world with a fertility rate of 1.0892 per woman, and 6.902 per 1000 people.

The mental stress youths are going through in the country, is having a negative effect on them. Suicide is the leading cause of death in South Korea. The country has a high suicide rate of 24.6 per 100,000 people. Suicide is the leading cause of death among youths in South Korea. The fear of failing exams, the fear of not becoming successful, the fear of not gaining admission into SKY, econo

Students protesting about the Suneung.


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