CSAT English section to take absolute grade scaleThe country’s current first-year high school students will be able to receive a first grade designation in the English section when they take the 2018 Korean College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT), even if they miss three or four questions.
That means at least 90 points or higher will be considered equal to a full score - 100 points - and within the first grade, or the top tier.
Furthermore, because only graded classifications, without numerical scores, will appear on students’ academic records, students in the same graded classification will all be considered on an equal playing field in the college admissions process, regardless of their numerical scores.
According to the general planning guidelines for the 2018 CSAT, announced by the Ministry of Education on Sep. 1, the exam’s English section will still consist of 45 two- or three-point questions, adding up to 100 points overall.
The section will also be scored on an absolute grading scale - meaning that grades are assigned based on certain cut-off levels - starting from 2018.
Ninety points or higher will fall into the first grade, while scores between 80 and 89 points will belong to the second grade and so on. Therefore, students who miss five two-point questions or three three-point questions will still stand a chance of making it into the first grade.
“We will maintain our principles to make questions that students who faithfully attend their high school classes can solve,” the Ministry of Education stated, reconfirming its plans to continue easing CSAT standards.
According to the announcement, a much higher rate of CSAT takers will be able to achieve a first-grade level on the exam’s English section compared to current test-takers. In the last mock exam in September, 23 percent of total examinees scored in the first grade while 19 percent fell into the second grade via the new structure.
Regarding the results, the ministry said: “Under an absolute grading system, it is difficult to predict the percentage of students who belong to each grade classification, and a target percentage for each grade has also not been established.”
The adoption of the absolute grading system aims to reduce excessive competition among test-takers.
“We are trying to alleviate unnecessary and exorbitant competition between students who are competing with one another to gain one or two points more,” said Kim Doo-yong, a ministry official.
The exam’s current relative grading system - grading on a curve - sets a certain percentage of test takers who can make it into the first and second grade.
The ministry’s pursuit of eased guidelines, however, resulted in a number of perfect scores, meaning that students who missed only one or two questions fell into the second-grade classification.
In the last mock exam, only 4.64 percent of total examinees received perfect scores, which by current standards means they would have been the only ones to classify in the first grade.
The ministry will maintain a relative grading system for the rest of the sections in the CSAT except for the English and Korean history sections, and declared that there are no plans yet to adopt an absolute grading scale for other sections.
Additionally, from 2017, the Korean-language and mathematics sections will no longer be divided into A and B types - A being easier and B being more difficult - based on students’ achievement levels.
Korean history will also become a compulsory subject and will adopt an absolute grading system with nine grade classifications.
However, the changes have prompted concerns over high school students’ academic English abilities.
“Students who think their English abilities are enough for the test will no longer attend English classes with a sincere attitude,” said Kim Hye-nam, a teacher at Moonil High School.
Another high school English teacher, who asked for anonymity, also expressed concern that students’ English abilities would decline overall if achieving a first-grade classification became more attainable.
Nonetheless, officials foresee that the introduction of an absolute grading system will at least reduce the fervor for private English education in Korea.
“So far, a few difficult questions were set in place in order to differentiate English levels among students, even within the first grade,” said Kim Jong-bok, a teacher at Sangmoon High School. “So students had to receive private education to get the correct answers for those difficult questions.”
Still, other educators fear that the result could be that private education may begin to lean more toward other subjects. “Mathematics, in particular, will be viewed with greater importance,” said Lee Young-duk, a counselor at Daesung Intensive Clinic, a hagwon.
BY SUNG SI-YOON AND BAEK MIN-KYUNG [email@example.com]