‘Hacker’ school has full classes despite scrutiny

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‘Hacker’ school has full classes despite scrutiny

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A Toeic examination preparation class is filled with students at the Hackers academy located in Gangnam District, southeast Seoul on Friday even though the Hackers Education Group is currently under investigation for illegally retrieving standardized English examination questions and using them as teaching material. By Son Kook-hee


For some job seekers, achieving a good test score is more important than how the school that helped them get the good score acquired its material.

Though six people, including its CEO, from the popular Gangnam-based test preparation academy, Hackers Education Group, were indicted on Feb. 6 for illegally obtaining Toeic (Test of English for International Communication) examination questions, classes were bustling and fully in session when the JoongAng Ilbo reporter visited the hagwon (private institute) on Friday.

Students lined up to register for classes early in the morning, and in the case of Hackers’ Gangnam branch, its most popular location with a reputation for pinpointing exam questions, of its 250 classes, 80 percent were already full.

Students still flock to the nefarious hagwon, indicating that they prioritize high Toeic scores whatever it takes to get them - despite the Hackers Education Group being currently investigated for infringing upon copyright laws by using illegally obtained Toeic as well as TEPS (Test of English Proficiency, developed by Seoul National University) questions as teaching materials for five years. Hackers’ supervisors were questioned by prosecutors last week for obtaining test questions for the standardized English tests by dispatching dozens of their employees to register for the exams and retrieve questions through memorization and recording. Hackers posted the exam questions on their Web site and also used them for lectures.

Kim Ji-hee, 28, a student at Hackers, said, “In a situation where English grades are the essential gateway for graduation and employment, it is only natural that people flock to the places that can improve your score the most.”

Last year there were 2.11 million Toeic test takers nationwide and of these, 80 percent were in their 20s. Meanwhile, 58.4 percent of test takers were taking the exam for employment or graduation reasons.

And most students of the cram school were of the opinion that the issues plaguing the hagwon were irrelevant when asked if they “feel uneasy about attending a hagwon with such problems.”

Kim Do-yun, 27, a student who commutes one and a half hours from Namyangju, Gyeonggi, said, “Even if the Hackers method is illegal, there is a difference between leaking questions before the examination and revealing them after.”

He further stated, “The College Scholastic Ability Test reveals the questions and explanations after the exam, so can’t Toeic do the same?”

Toeic currently doesn’t show its questions after the examination and test takers do not know what questions they got wrong. Furthermore, test takers have to wait a whopping 19 days for their scores, which leaves many of them feeling impatient and nervous because if they score poorly, they need to start preparing for the next examination.

“There is a problem with the ETS [Educational Testing Service] not properly revealing the problems and the scores,” said 24-year-old Yong Sang-eun, another student of the hagwon. “With the Korean educational, societal and employment system, craze over scores is fundamentally unavoidable.”

Meanwhile, exam prep schools like Hackers can market their high-priced classes through tactics such as “reconstructing” the test problems. And students overlook possible illegal activities of the cram school for any means to improve their scores in a short period of time, even if it means paying to have a peak at illegally obtained test questions.


By Jung Won-yeob, Son Kook-hee [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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