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Grading in Korean Universities

Grading in Korean Universi...

The vast majority of South Korean youngsters graduate from high school, and of these, 82% go on to university. This is the highest rate in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).   Korea again ranked first in 2010 among OECD countries when it comes to the percentage, 98%, of students who graduate from post-secondary institutions (junior college, university or graduate school)

As described on our page entitled College Entrance Exam, high  school students study night and day to prepare for the critical College Scholastic Aptitude Test. On the day of the exam – always the second Tuesday of November – every 4th year 17 year old student in Korea is facing the same exam questions and feeling the same immense pressure from family/parental expectations.

Once they arrive at university, Korean students are often burned out and completely fed up with studying. Having had to go from school to hagwons (private institute)and often home to private tutors, with little or no time for R&R, most university freshmen (male and female) want to date, party, take up sports or hobbies and pursue extracurricular activities for the first time in their lives. While this also happens in other cultures, this reluctance to work and sense of entitlement to play may be more pronounced in Korea as attested by many professors/English teachers with university/college teaching experience in their home countries.

It is very common to see students sleeping in class, sending and receiving text messages on their phones, doodling, playing games on their smart phones or tablet computers or even showing up with extreme hangovers or even still drunk. Assignments often go undone or are done by one student for the group, etc. ‘Ghost students’ who show up on the first day of class and are never seen again include scholarship athletes, major (and even minor) celebrities.

This situation changes somewhat as students get closer to graduation. However, there is still reluctance on the part of many universities to actually fail students. And if they do manage to get a failing grade (that is not changed by the department/university administration), students just have to take the course again. If the mark is higher than the first time around, the first will be expunged from their record. In fact, some universities have a policy that allows students with a C grade to take the class over (more than once if they wish and have time) and their record will only show the highest grade they get.

A study by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology published in 2011 using nationwide statistics from 2010, “revealed that 90% of graduating students at most universities received at least a B average, and 74% of undergraduate students received at least a B, demonstrating that grade inflation remains the norm. According to the statistics at 190 four-year universities, across all courses, 37.8% of students received A’s and 36.2% received B’s, a total of 74%.” 

Foreign professors may discover that their university controls grades to some extent, by requiring instructors to apply a standardized grade curve. Students of English, for example, may be divided into three class categories: beginner, intermediate and advanced. The distribution of A’s, B’s and C’s in varies by the class type. The teacher has some limited control over the distribution, in that s/he can decide whether or not to give the full allotment within each grade category. For example, s/he he can assign the maximum number of B’s allowed, but give fewer than the maximum A’s, etc.
Korean universities use a letter as opposed to a percentage grade. Because of the curve grading model, these Korean letter grades are not necessarily in line with the grades (percentage usually but also letter) earned by students in other countries. Regardless of how strong the class may be or individual students, professors are required to give a minimum/maximum number of A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s and even F’s. While it doesn’t always happen, it’s possible for students who scored less than 80% to end up with an A+.

K4E Editor's Note: Korea4Expats.com wants to provide you with as complete and accurate information as possible, so should you find any errors or omissions in the contents above please let us know at info@korea4expats.com

Last Updated on 2015-04-13

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