Essay test goes too farMany universities across the country are scheduled to administer essay tests for high school students this weekend. As the College Scholastic Ability Test was relatively easy this year, the essay test has become a major factor in the college application process. At some schools that admit freshmen solely based on essay test scores, the admission rate is one in 50. As a result, test-takers crowded into private academies that specialize in essay writing immediately after taking the CSAT on Nov. 10. The cost to parents - 1 million won ($878) a week in some cases - was enormous.
If this year’s CSAT was easy, the level of difficulty in the essay test goes way beyond our imagination. Ewha Womans University, for instance, presented students with a convoluted question that quoted an academic thesis reprinted from the journal of the American Sociological Association. Yonsei University presented students with math questions that would have been difficult even for top-caliber students.
Colleges are racing to set exam questions and the tests sometimes include incomprehensible scientific terminology. The schools need some way to choose, and the CSAT and high school grades no longer function as an effective way to assess students.
Of course, universities have a right to select students in their own way, as they themselves can be competitive only when they are able to attract excellent students. But it is wrong for them to abuse this right. Lee Byung-min, a professor of English education at Seoul National University, has criticized some professors for not having a sufficient understanding of the high school curriculum and for drawing questions for the essay test from tests they administer to their undergraduate or graduate students.
As a result, high school teachers have almost given up on teaching their students how to take the essay test. Kwon Young-bu, who has taught essay writing for the past 10 years, admitted that it is increasingly difficult to guide his students, adding that many teachers have trouble understanding what is expected of students in the essay test.
Universities need to set questions for the essay test in an open way by listening to high school teachers and inviting them to participate in the examination committee. Establishing a channel for dialogue would be a good start.