The parents of North Korean students continue to use illicit means to obtain test questions appearing on college entrance exams to ensure their kids get into good schools, Daily NK sources recently reported. 

“The test questions were sold over just one week in January this year, similar to past years,” a Pyongyang source told Daily NK on Jan. 23. “What’s different from last year is that this year there was a flurry of people traveling up from the provinces [areas outside of Pyongyang] as early as the beginning of January to get the test questions.”

north korean students
A group of North Korean students in Pyongyang / Image: fresh888, Flickr, Creative Commons

Every December, after the graduating class at Pyongyang’s regular high schools and elite “First Middle Schools” finish their semester finals, North Korea holds the State Administration Council Preliminary Examinations, which is similar to South Korea’s College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT), or sunung. Students who wish to enroll at a university must assemble at locations determined by each province to take the test, which they must pass to then apply to universities. 

North Korea’s university entrance examinations are usually administered over the course of three or four days in early February. Although formats vary by university, the basic structure reportedly consists of one or two written tests each day, along with a physical examination, fitness test, and an interview. 

The scores students receive on the test determines the selection of universities they can apply to. After that, students must begin preparing for the entrance exam specific to the university they wish to attend. This is the stage where parents begin to engage in the secretive and organized buying and selling of test questions, Daily NK sources said.   

AN ILLICIT TRADE IN COLLEGE ENTRANCE EXAM QUESTIONS

Daily NK sources provided an overview of how parents illicitly purchase test questions: First, parents make contact with brokers who pass their phone number onto peddlers of test questions; the sellers then directly contact the parents, who then request exam questions for specific subjects; finally, the sellers inform the parents of the prices of the test questions, as well as the location and method of the exchange.

Sellers of exam questions only respond to phone numbers that have been relayed to them by brokers. Brokers use fake numbers so that the parents find out as little as possible about their identities, sources said. 

“Test questions are usually sold for USD 250 per subject, with the most important subject – the Kim family’s revolutionary history – costing USD 300,” one source told Daily NK. “There is no negotiating the price.”

Revolutionary history carries the most weight of all the subjects tested during university entrance exams and, consequently, test questions for the subject command high prices. Recently, however, test questions for subjects associated with university majors are even more expensive at times, sources told Daily NK. 

kim il sung university elite
The main entrance of Kim Il Sung University. / Image: Kim Il Sung University website

One source even provided Daily NK with specific places in Pyongyang where test questions for various university entrance exams have been sold: Kim Il Sung University (“in the street behind Samhung Station and the alley behind the subway museum”); Kim Chaek University of Technology (“next to the International Cinema House and behind the Isang Yun Concert Hall”); Pyongyang Medical University (“the park in the Taedonggang District’s Ever-Victorious Apartments and behind the East Pyongyang Grand Theater”); and, the Jang Chol Gu Pyongyang University of Commerce and Han Tok Su Pyongyang University of Light Industry (”in the alley near the six auxiliary group sculptures surrounding the Tower of Juche”). 

BEATING THE COMPETITION – AT ALL COSTS

Students from areas outside of Pyongyang reportedly ventured to Pyongyang with their parents much earlier than in the past to prepare for their university entrance exams this year.  

The standard practice had been for parents to arrive in Pyongyang first and joined later by their children in late January. This year, however, students, along with their parents, have been arriving in Pyongyang since early January to busily complete preparations for the exam: securing lodging near their universities of choice, visiting university campuses, and, of course, studying for the exam.

“This is likely because university enrollment has become that much more competitive,” one source explained. “The government has raised the bar to ensure that only the top students are accepted into universities. That hasn’t stopped people from trying everything to get into a university in Pyongyang to ensure success in life.”

Parents even go to such lengths as bribing professors who grade the entrance exams, the source said. 

“Once the university exams begin, we will start to see parents visiting the homes of professors tasked with grading the tests and slipping a few dollars to their wives along with a note bearing their children’s test number,” he added.

*Translated by Violet Kim

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.