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Gov’t expands CSAT admissions

Colleges must choose 30% of students based on the exam by 2022
Aug 20,2018
Universities will have to expand the portion of students they admit based on standardized testing by 2022, the Ministry of Education announced Friday as part of its long-awaited reform measures to the national college entrance system.

From 2022, universities will be required to admit at least 30 percent of their new students based on their College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) scores, the ministry said.

Students in Korea start preparing for the CSAT at a very young age. The test can be taken only once a year, and many high school seniors decide to postpone their admissions and study for another year if their scores are not high enough for acceptance into the country’s top universities.

This year, 22.7 percent of students were admitted to universities based on their CSAT scores, a record low, according to the Korean Council for University Education. The rest were admitted through the early admission process.

Early admission in Korea takes place from December to January and assesses an applicant’s transcripts, extracurricular activities, academic awards, volunteer work, recommendation letters and grades. Regular admission takes place in February and is largely based on applicants’ scores on the CSAT, which is held every November.

The ministry hopes the change will provide a more equitable college admissions system. The Moon Jae-in administration has been calling for a simpler college admissions system to reform the country’s education system, which is stratified by wealth and status.

The amendment to the portion of admissions based on standardized testing affects mainly universities in Seoul. Many universities outside of Seoul already select around 30 percent of their new students based on their CSAT scores.

Seoul National University in southern Seoul, starting in 2022, will have to select 324 more students based on their CSAT scores than it had planned to do in 2020. Korea University in central Seoul will have to admit 587 more students based on their test scores than it had planned to do in 2020.

A total of 15,990 students will be selected based on their CSAT scores in 2022 as a result of the policy change.

The policy, however, will not apply to specialized universities like Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology or two-year colleges, the ministry said.

The Education Ministry’s announcement Friday came along with a set of amendments to the CSAT.

Only two subjects on the CSAT, English and national history, have been graded absolutely since November 2017. Two more subjects - a second foreign language and Chinese characters - will be graded absolutely starting in 2022.

In absolute grading, a student is evaluated solely on his or her performance irrespective of the scores of other students in the pool. On a curve, a student’s grade is determined relative to the performances of others, so the poorest performers invariably fail.

Absolute grading lowers the stakes in an exam, because all test-takers have the possibility of passing.

Scores on other subjects - Korean language and literature, mathematics and two elective subjects from the social or natural sciences - will continued to be evaluated on a curve.

From 2022, students will also be able to choose sub-sections within each subject to be tested on. In the Korean language and literature subject, all students will be tested on reading comprehension and literature, and must choose one additional section - speech and composition or language and media. In the current system, students are tested on all the sections.

In the mathematics section, all students will be tested on algebra and precalculus and can choose from statistics, calculus and geometry. In the current system, students are also tested on most of these sections.

The Ministry of Education was originally supposed to release a plan to revise the CSAT last August, but it delayed the announcement by a year after the public criticized two of the ministry’s proposals. The first option was to end grading on a curve for most subjects except for Korean language and literature, mathematics and one elective. The second option was to end grading on a curve for all subjects and only grade absolutely.

The ministry in the end decided to stick with grading on a curve except for the four subjects, which also ended up provoking criticism.

“Education Minister Kim Sang-gon must resign over the failure to carry out the president’s educational reform policies,” read a placard that members of civic groups and teachers’ unions held in a rally in Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul on Friday.

The groups said the amendments are not ambitious enough. Groups including the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union have been calling for absolute grading on all subjects on the CSAT and for elite high schools like foreign language or independent private school schools to switch their status to become regular schools.

Some experts said the change will actually encourage more parents to try to send their children to elite schools.

“It is known that students at foreign language or private specialized schools tend to score better on the CSAT,” said Kim Kyeong-beom, a professor at Seoul National University who is an adviser to the Education Ministry. “Increasing the portion of admissions based on standardized testing will strengthen these schools.”

BY SUNG SI-YOON, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]