Thursday marked one of the most stressful days of the year for South Korean students as well as their parents, with over 690,000 students taking the annual college entrance exam.
The test, which is given once a year, is largely believed as the key to students' future success in South Korea as it determines admission to the country's top universities, which then would pave the way for a successful job for life.It is the annual rite for younger students to turn out at a test site and cheer and encourage high-school seniors from their schools on the exam day.
At Pungmoon Girls' High School in central Seoul, one of 1,207 exam locations throughout the country, scores of students ardently shouted words of support to arriving students. They also handed hot tea and sweets that were prepared to help relieve the anxiety and stress of test-takers.
"I'm a bit nervous but not too much. I've taken practice tests a lot and will take the exam just as I do usually. I'm a little burdened, but it gives me strength to see younger students cheer for us," said Lee Da-hee, a high-school senior.
"This is my first time taking the exam and I wish I do well on it. I want to receive scores good enough for me to get into my dream college," said another high-school senior, Lee Jung-hee.
The college-entrance exam day is so important in South Korea that every possible measure is being taken to ensure students take the exam well.
Many offices and the stock market open at 10 a.m., an hour later than usual, to prevent students from being caught in traffic on their way to the test. And while students are taking the listening sections of the test, aircraft can't take off or land, and drivers are forbidden from sounding their horns.
And on the exam day, it is not unusual to find police vehicles escorting tardy students to the exam locations to make sure they don't miss the test.
The test day is a big day not only for students, but also for their parents, especially mothers. Many anxious mothers of test- takers could be found at the Jogyesa Buddhist temple in central Seoul, attending special prayer sessions to wish for their children's success on the exam.
"I must say every mother in the country is desperate for a good future for their children. When the college-entrance exam day comes, mothers need something to rely on, and I think that is why we are here at the Jogyesa temple," said Kim Mi-kyung, the 49- year-old mother of a high-school senior.