SEOUL - Every October, hundreds of South Korean teachers and professors are sequestered - like jurors in a mafia trial - in a secret, guarded compound: prisoners of their country's obsession with education.
For one month, they are kept in complete isolation under conditions that resemble house arrest, with everything down to their food waste subject to rigorous examination.
Their sole task is to compile the annual college entrance exam - the importance of which in the minds of stressed-out students and their often equally stressed-out parents is almost impossible to exaggerate.
Success in the exam - meaning a secured place in one of South Korea's elite universities - is seen as the key in a hyper-competitive society to everything from future careers to marriage prospects.
"The stakes are simply too high... and that's why we have to eliminate any possibility of a leak," an official at the state-run Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation (KICE) told AFP.
Altogether, some 700 people are secluded away in an undisclosed location every year to put the test-paper together.
As well as the compilers, there is a sizeable support staff of domestic and medical personnel, whose main role is to ensure that the question writers have no reason to leave the compound.
The process begins in mid-September, when state education authorities handpick prominent college professors and school teachers in subjects from maths to English across the country.
Participation is voluntary, and there is a financial incentive with the average compiler paid around $10,000 (S$12,372) for their efforts.