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South Korean female students outperform boys in college entrance exams

Whether the superior performance of South Korean women on standardized tests translates into social improvements remains to be seen.

By Elizabeth Shim
South Korean female students outperform boys in college entrance exams
South Korean teens celebrate the completion of their university exams. Female students are now outperforming their male counterparts on the competitive standardized test that is the most important criteria for admission. File photo by Yonhap.

SEOUL, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- South Korean female students are scoring higher than boys on the country's highly competitive college-entrance exam, but the report is drawing criticism from educators who take issue with a system that overemphasizes test performance.

The results from Seoul's Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation released on Tuesday showed girls closing the gap in subject areas once dominated by male students, The Korea Herald reported.

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Female students on average scored 5.4 more points in the Korean language category for advanced learners than boys, and surpassed them in the advanced math category – in which boys had last outperformed girls in 2013. In math, girls scored on average 0.4 points more than boys.

Analysis of data for the last five years indicated the male lead in the math category declined annually. In 2010, boys scored on average 3 more points than girls.

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The results reflected scores from a nationwide exam conducted in South Korea in November. On test day, special arrangements are made to avoid distractions for students: Stock markets open late and public transportation operates at a higher frequency to facilitate student schedules. Many South Koreans have said the scores are the most important guarantee of admission to a top university.

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Score disparities also prevailed between students from cities and those from rural areas. Students from large cities with a population of at least 500,000 scored on average 11.6 points more than those from rural districts.

The report has drawn criticism from Seong Gi-seon, a professor at the Catholic University of Korea. The standardized test, Seong told Kyunghyang Sinmun, does not take into account the challenges faced by students from less privileged backgrounds and could continue to have a negative impact on the country's education system.

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Whether the superior performance of South Korean women on standardized tests translates into social improvements remains to be seen.

South Korea ranked 117th on the World Economic Forum's gender gap index, falling behind the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, but staying ahead of Nigeria.

Women in the workplace are discouraged from pursuing careers after childbirth and the disappearance of women workers is costing South Korea $13.3 billion annually, according to the Korean Women's Development Institute.

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