S. Korea put to the test for high-pressure exam

S. Korea put to the test for high-pressure exam
South Korean students prepare to take the College Scholastic Ability Test, a standardised exam for college entrance, at a high school in Seoul.

SEOUL - South Korea fell silent for annual college entrance exams Thursday, rescheduling flights and restricting traffic as 650,000 students sat a test that will define their adult lives in an ultra-competitive society.

Preparation for the crucial exam starts from primary school, and so does the relentless pressure which has been blamed for everything from early burnout and teenage depression to suicide.

Success in the exam - meaning a secured place in one of South Korea's elite universities - is seen as the key to everything from future careers to marriage prospects.

With so much riding on the outcome, the day of the test - simultaneously in 1,257 centres nationwide - sees the entire country go into "hush" mode.

The transportation ministry bans all airport landings and departures for a 40-minute period to coincide with the main language listening test.

The military also reschedules airforce drills and live-firing exercises and traffic is barred within a 200-meter radius of the test centres.

Public offices and major businesses, as well as the stock markets, opened an hour later than usual Thursday to help keep the roads relatively clear and ensure the students arrived on time.

Anyone who did get stuck could dial the emergency number 112, and request help from police cars and motorbikes on standby to rush them to the centres.

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