Cho Hyeon-jeong, a final year college student in Seoul, spends a couple of hours daily studying for TOEIC, while working as an intern at a media company. Her goal is to get a score of over 900 out of 990 before May.
“I would like to discard the TOEIC stress before the format changes. Even a little change to the test template will add more burden to job seekers like me, when having one or two questions wrong affects the overall score,” the 24-year-old said.
The Educational Testing Service, which is in charge of the Test of English for International Communication program, announced late last year that it would include more complicated listening and reading question types, citing the changing use of English. This is the first format change since 2006. The changes will take effect in Seoul on May 29.
Despite her busy internship schedule, Cho registered for a two-week course at a TOEIC preparation academy, which will start later this month. It costs about 100,000 won ($83), she said.
Although the ETS said the number of questions, test time and level of difficulty would remain the same, many Koreans, who are obliged to submit their scores in the test for college graduation and job-hunting, expressed concerns over the new test.
According to a survey conducted by Pagoda Academy last year, 95 percent of some 900 TOEIC class students responded that the new test format would add to their burdens.
“Adjusting to the new test format will take not only more time but also more cost for academy courses and textbooks. This is too much for people like us, who have to prepare other things for job-hunting such as resume, various certificates and GPA,” said another 24-year-old job seeker surnamed Shin, who is to graduate this summer.
The TOEIC score has served as an essential criteria for many Koreans for their university graduation or job-hunting.
Of 202 local universities which are members of Korean Council for University Education, 99 schools require students to submit the TOEIC score for graduation.
Of more than 260 public and private companies that recruited new employees in the first half of last year, a total of 187 companies used the TOEIC score as part of the recruitment process, according to YBM, a private education provider which also runs TOEIC in Korea.
As concerns grow over the new exam, test takers are rushing to reach their target score in the test before May.
According to YBM, the number of test takers in January rebounded by 10 percent to around 2 million. It hit a high with 2.11 million in 2011, but has been declining since to below 2 million until 2014.
As more test-takers are rushing for help at private institutions, the industry has taken various promotional programs and benefits to attract students.
Some offer free textbooks for the first 10,000 new students while others are running a “boarding school” style program that gathers all students in a dorm and runs intensive English classes all day in a tight schedule.
Consequently, the private education industry has seen a rise in the number of students.
“Compared to last year, the number of students rose by more than 10 percent in the first two months this year. The online class registration also jumped by 15 percent on-year, an official at YBM Education told The Korea Herald.
By Lee Hyun-jeong (firstname.lastname@example.org