Demands to fix CSAT flood inKim, a high school senior in Seoul, took the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) on Nov. 13. To prepare for the exam, he memorized 100 questions and answers from workbooks provided by EBS, a state-run educational television channel, because he knew the questions could appear on the CSAT.
EBS, a state-run educational television channel, broadcasts supplementary learning material and makes workbooks to help students study for the CSAT.
Since 2005, the government has pushed to reflect EBS material in a portion of the questions on the CSAT. The rate was increased to 70 percent in 2010.
The policy was put in place to encourage independent studying and to reduce the advantage of students who flock to hagwon, or private academies, after finishing school for the day.
But this year, the EBS material included on the CSAT created controversy after education authorities announced 11 days after the test that two disputed questions were based on EBS information. One was in the English section and another was in the second biology section.
The dispute then spread to other issues, including the content of EBS workbooks and whether the high rate of EBS-originated questions had actually contributed to normalizing public education.
Kim, the senior, memorized the 100 problems because the content was too difficult to understand. He checked the explanations of the answers at the end of the EBS book, he said, but they were not well explained.
“The reading texts were difficult,” he said. “So I decided to memorize the answers rather than understand the reading.”
For the English section of the CSAT, seniors must study about 2,000 to 3,000 reading passages for a year to prepare, said a high school English teacher in Seoul.
“It is especially difficult for lower- to mid-level students to study by themselves,” the teacher said.
In response to the two misleading EBS-based CSAT questions, President Park Geun-hye said on Tuesday that the overall process for writing CSAT questions should be re-examined, including the amount of EBS material used.
The president said the government will launch a committee next month to lead the CSAT review. The team will present its plan by March.
“The current CSAT system is problematic because it makes students obsessed with practicing questions based on EBS material,” said Bae Sang-hoon, a professor at the College of Education at Sungkyunkwan University. “The CSAT should be a test that verifies the basic knowledge of a high school graduate and their ability to think logically.”
When the test was first implemented in 1995, the original purpose was to avoid teaching that focuses on memorization and to encourage logical thinking instead.
But as the government began trying to normalize public high school education, the CSAT has turned into a memorization-centered exam, because of the large amount of EBS material, said Park Do-soon, first head of the Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation.
Park said the CSAT originally aimed to assess logical thinking at a high level using problems that cannot be solved based on memorization unlike the achievement test, which was the annual college test before the CSAT was introduced.
As for normalization of public high school education, some high school teachers said they were dissatisfied over the effect EBS content has had on the CSAT.
A Korean teacher at a high school in Seoul said the normal learning system of studying with school textbooks to gain basic knowledge has collapsed.
“It is such a bitter situation that EBS workbooks have become school textbooks,” the teacher said.
At a discussion held by New Politics Alliance for Democracy Rep. Park Hong-keun on Nov. 25 at the National Assembly building in Yeouido, panelists talked about how much EBS material should be on the CSAT.
“Because of the reflection rate of EBS material appearing on the CSAT, it seems we are going back to the achievement test era,” said Cho Wang-ho, a teacher at Daeil High School who participated in the discussion.
“We have to look back on if reflecting EBS on the CSAT has positively affected students’ abilities of understanding, creativity and problem solving.”
Meanwhile, students were worried over the possibility of the EBS policy changing next year.
“If the policy ends up changing as of next year, most of what I have studied might be pointless,” said Lee Ji-hyeon, a sophomore at Myung Duk Girls’ High School.
BY YUN SUK-MAN, CHUN IN-SUNG AND PARK YUNA [firstname.lastname@example.org]