The Korea Herald


[Newsmaker] How Korea held its nationwide college entrance exam with COVID-19

Government, industry collaborated on monitoring up to the last hour

By Lim Jeong-yeo

Published : Dec. 3, 2020 - 16:02

    • Link copied

COVID-19 confirmed students take Suneung at hospital (Yonhap) COVID-19 confirmed students take Suneung at hospital (Yonhap)
South Korea on Thursday held the nation’s annual rite of passage -- the Suneung, the standardized college entrance exam -- on which it’s an understatement to say that students stake their future.

The question of how to hold a college entrance exam during a global pandemic has been a headache for many. In the US, the Educational Testing Service has made its graduate admissions test, the GRE, available at home in the interest of social distancing, while the College Board went back on its plans to do the same for the standardized US college admissions test, the SAT, citing lack of infrastructure.

In Korea, the Suneung was postponed to Dec. 3 from the original date, Nov. 19. This is the country’s first Suneung in December.

More than 490,000 people took part in the 2020 Suneung, the lowest number since 1994, when the test was officially introduced.

Among those who took the test, 35 people were confirmed COVID-19 patients and 404 were self-quarantined on suspicion of carrying the disease.

All of them were physically present in specially prepared testing spaces. For the confirmed COVID-19 patients, 25 hospitals and four clinics were assigned to accommodate them in advance until the testing day. Quarantined students were placed at designated test centers where they could enter via personal vehicles or regional government vehicles and 119 ambulances.

Industry players like GC LabCell also helped bolster safety.

According to GC LabCell -- a company that transports samples taken from suspected COVID-19 carriers for testing -- extra workers were deployed from 9 a.m. to midnight a day prior to the exam, specifically for this year’s Suneung-takers.

If a registered test-taker came in for a COVID-19 test, GC LabCell rushed the samples to laboratories.

A student in Incheon was declared COVID-19-positive on the morning of the Suneung. He was taken to a hospital to take the exam.

In Daejeon, a day before the Suneung, 19 people who were to supervise the exam were found to have the coronavirus and were replaced.

By Lim Jeong-yeo (