Gov’t to drop ‘killer questions’ from CSAT to reduce private education spending

June 26, 2023

The Ministry of Education announced Monday that extremely difficult questions not taught in schools will be eliminated from the annual college entrance exam as part of the government’s efforts to reduce private education expenses.

The ministry said it will push for a “fair College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) centered on public education” by cracking down on a suspicious collusion between public and private educators that has led to the appearance of the so-called “killer questions” on the test.

The announcement came as spending on private education for primary, middle and high school students soared to a record 26 trillion won (US$20 billion) last year, despite a 0.9 percent fall in the total number of students.

Education Minister Lee Ju-ho announces measures to reduce private education expenses during a news conference in Seoul on June 26, 2023. (Yonhap)
Education Minister Lee Ju-ho announces measures to reduce private education expenses during a news conference in Seoul on June 26, 2023. (Yonhap)

As the inclusion of killer questions in the CSAT has driven parents and students to seek private education, the government has vowed to terminate what it calls a cartel between public educators and the private education industry. Some former CSAT test-makers have been accused of selling practice killer questions, mostly based university curricula, to private cram schools or being hired by private academies as teachers.

The ministry said it will ensure the CSAT would not be advantageous to students who have been repeatedly trained in problem-solving skills by cram schools and that students who have studied diligently in public education would be fairly evaluated by the test.

To that end, an independent state committee will be established to filter out killer questions from the CSAT and examine the fairness of the test, the ministry stressed. Test-makers will be selected mainly from among high school teachers, beginning with the CSAT administered in November next year, it added.

Moreover, former test-makers will be prohibited from selling practice CSAT questions to private academies or offering CSAT-related lectures or consulting for a certain period, the ministry said, noting that false or exaggerated advertisements by cram schools will also face a crackdown.

Shedding light on the seriousness of killer questions, the ministry said it has singled out 22 extremely difficult questions from CSAT and mock CSAT tests administered over the past three years.

The ministry also unveiled a set of other measures to reduce the private education expenses, such as revamping of educational channel EBS programs and reinforcement of after-school tutoring.

The CSAT, held on the third Thursday of November every year, is one of the nation’s most important academic events, as it is the culmination of years of hard work for many students anxious to enter top universities.