A Test For the Ages

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Dozens of South Korean students are suing the government because their high-stakes college admission examination ended 90 seconds earlier than scheduled, with plaintiffs saying the error affected their results, and possibly their future, the BBC reported.

The lawsuit, filed this week by around 40 students, claims that the bell rang earlier at a test site in the capital Seoul during the first subject of the exam – Korean.

Some students protested immediately but their tests were removed. When proctors recognized the mistake, they gave students another one-and-a-half minutes, but only to answer blank questions, not change existing answers.

The students said they were so upset that they could not focus on the rest of the exam, which is an eight-hour marathon and known as one of the hardest exams in the world.

The students are now asking for $15,400 each in compensation – the cost of a year’s studying to retake the exam.

The country’s college admission test, known as Suneung, is the most important test in a young Korean’s life because the stakes are very high: The test not only determines university placements and future jobs, but even future relationships, the broadcaster said.

As a result, many students spend most of high school – and thousands of dollars a year – preparing for the exam, with 13-hour days spent mostly on academic study and test prep that commonly end at 10 p.m. for students, the Washington Post wrote. Hiring private tutors or going to expensive after-school prep academies known as hagwons is the norm.

The test is recognized as so important that when it is held annually, the country closes its airspace, starts work later to clear roads of traffic, and delays the opening of its stock market to allow students to concentrate.

Meanwhile, this is just the latest suit over an early bell. In April, a court in Seoul awarded $5,250 each to students who claimed they were disadvantaged during the 2021 exam because their bell rang about two minutes early.

And in 2012 in China, a man was given a one-year suspended sentence for ringing the bell four minutes and 48 seconds early during the national college entrance exam at a school in Hunan province.

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