Korean testing season is renowned worldwide, because It coincides with the dates where suicide rates amongst the youth peak. It is during this time that adolescents will traipse through the streets like the walking dead. They appear to be living off convenience store snacks and coffees, as they’re never at home long enough to truly recuperate. Students religiously stay up past midnight during this season, only to rise again in the early hours in order to repeat the grueling process of studying with the purpose of achieving that all important 100%.
Growing up in England, only the most impeccable student would ever achieve full marks in a test. To put it simply, human error was almost guaranteed to cause you to drop a few marks, but Korean’s don’t seem to have this problem. Many students achieve the prestigious 100% grade, and those who drop a few measly marks act as though they have failed the test. Understandably, it is these high levels of expectation that drive the youth through these insane study periods.
Of course English tests in Korea are quite different than those in many other countries. The room for error is very small due to all the questions being multiple choice. Study preparation generally consists of completing hoarders of past papers until you’re guaranteed minimal mistakes.
As a foreign teacher, working in an academy, these test seasons can be quite daunting. Many students will appear pale and they’ll always be complaining that they’re hungry and tired. There’s a guilty weight on teachers shoulders during this period. Our jobs are created because of this highly competitive culture, which feeds their desire to overwork. When you see a child’s eyes dropping in class because they’ve stayed up too late the night before, it is our fault by proxy.
Personally, I feel this guilt rather strongly. I don’t set any homework during testing season, because I can see how overworked and exhausted the students are already. Also, I tend to incorporate more game and free time into my lessons. Obviously, this isn’t what the student’s parents are paying for, but if it was one of my students who decided to end their lives because the burden of their studies, I would never be able to forgive myself.