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Official tables twice-a-year CSAT

Education minister broached the topic in a recent interview
Dec 15,2017
Education Minister Kim Sang-gon raised the possibility of a twice-yearly College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) system during an exclusive interview with the JoongAng Ilbo this week, saying the recent earthquake in Pohang, North Gyeongsang, which forced the government to postpone the exam by a week, compelled local authorities to give extra thought to the alternative plan.

The only time high school seniors were allowed to take the CSAT twice a year was in 1994, when the country first adopted the CSAT system. But it did not work out, as the levels of difficulty between the two tests were different, causing chaos in college admission procedures. From 1995 onward, the college entrance exam has been held only once a year, usually in November.

The idea of holding two CSAT exams a year, and having test-takers choose their highest score for college admissions, has been around for years, but always faced administrative hurdles.

The Education Ministry said Wednesday it was “open to all possibilities” regarding changing the CSAT system from “square one,” adding it would soon start hearing a wide range of suggestions.

“When we decided to postpone the CSAT, I saw that people had several opinions” on how the government could change the current system, Kim told the JoongAng Ilbo Tuesday. “Some said the CSAT should be held two or three times each year, and we’ve actually been looking through the option.”

Kim added, “For years, we couldn’t hold the CSAT multiple times a year because the exam is graded on a curve. But hardly is there any other developed country like ours that grades its college entrance exam relatively.”

Kim said the ministry would overhaul the CSAT system, starting by changing students’ scores to be marked on an absolute scale. Then the government will review how many times the CSAT should be held each year.

For 19-year-old Jeon, who took his second CSAT this year and declined to give his full name, Kim’s remark came as a relief.

“It’s so stressful to have a test, which you can take only once a year, determine your course of life,” he said. “I caught a cold the day before the CSAT last year and trashed the Korean language exam. My scores turned out to be way lower than what I used to get on the mock exams, so I had no other choice but to study for another year for a second try.”

Kim Un-yong, 41, the father of an elementary school student in Goyang, Gyeonggi, is sure that the twice-yearly system will help his daughter take the exam with less pressure.

“She’ll be able to take the test way more comfortably,” he said. “Kids in the United States can take the SAT [Scholastic Aptitude Test] multiple times. Why can’t we?”

But Ahn Yeon-geun, a teacher at Jamsil Girls’ High School in Songpa District, southern Seoul, who co-heads a group of teachers, fears that holding the CSAT twice a year could mean each test covers different scopes of the textbook, which would cause confusion in the public school system.

BY YUN SEOK-MAN, NAM YOON-SEO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]