Finally, the college entrance exam is just around the corner in Korea; it will take place on Nov. 16 (Thursday) this year.
The years of hard work, endless hours attending private academies, and sleepless nights studying by hundreds of thousands of high school seniors will come to an end when they take what many consider the most important test of their lives — the College Scholastic Ability Test (CAST) known as “Suneung” in Korean.
Some 593,500 students — 7,100 from Jeju will be taking the exam this year, which is accepted by all Korean universities.
In Korea, before the exam, many mothers pray at churches and temples; on exam day, businesses delay opening to avoid traffic so that students arrive on time. Planes pause takeoffs during the English-language listening section of the test. For students running late for the test, local police offer taxi services. It’s as if the entire nation of South Korea comes to a halt for students to focus on the test and ensure they perform as well as they can.
In addition, the gift-giving culture to exam candidates is seen everywhere just before the test or even on the exam day among families, relatives, friends, or the same school seniors-juniors.
What types of gifts do Koreans give to them to bring good luck and ensure the student has a positive mind set?
Yeot (Korean hard taffy) and Chapssaltteok (glutinous rice cake) are the most common and popular.
The conventional gifts of Tteok, Yeot and chocolate, are changing in shape and taste, though. In Korean, the verb “Butta (붙다)” has dual meanings – to stick to something or to pass the exam. As Yeot (엿) or Korean hard taffy and glutinous rice cakes (찹썰떡) are sticky in nature, giving them as a gift to an exam candidate is the expression of the wish that the candidate will pass the exam.
That’s the reason why exam candidates do not eat seaweed soup (미역국) on the exam day. As seaweed is slippery, it is difficult to stick to something. Most old people in Korea still believe if they eat seaweed soup, they will not stick to the exam which means the students “will fail in the exam.”
Some tteok stores release some special “entrance exam” tteok gift sets when the exam nears. Some tteok sets feature fillings made with yogurt, cranberry, mugwort and black sesame while ordinary tteok is filled with sweet red bean paste. Also, tteok is often made with a four-leaf clover design to deliver the message of good luck.
A roll of toilet paper (화장지)
There are different meanings of the verb “풀다 (pulda)” or “풀리다 (pulida)” in Korean- to solve (a problem, question), to be solved, or unroll (a toilet paper, or scroll).
As a roll of toilet paper unrolls easily, Koreans give a toilet roll as a gift to an exam candidate to wish their hope that the candidate will solve all the problems easily in the exam just as a toilet scroll unrolls easily.
Fork or fork-shaped chocolate/axe or axe-shaped chocolate
In Korean, the verb “찍다”(ggikda) means - spear (with a fork), to chop (with an axe), or to pick out (the right answer). Giving a fork or fork-shaped chocolate as a gift to an exam candidate is an expression of the wish that the candidate will pick out the right answers from the multiple-choice questions in the exam. The same applies to an axe which is not as common as the fork.
Blueberries, herb teas which help relieve anxiety
Products such as blueberries or herb tea are also popular as they are known to relieve eye strain and anxiety, and to help stimulate brain function.
Tonic water drinks, oxygen mask cans, and red ginseng candies, or mobile gift certificates are also becoming popular suneung gifts recently.