For 30 minutes, South Korea was at a standstill today as flights were grounded and loud machinery on construction sites were switched off to allow students taking the college entrance exam nationwide some much-needed quiet during the language listening test.

This is how seriously the country takes the exam. 

Over 600,000 teens nervously trooped into the 1,183 test centres across the country to sit for the annual exam which will determine the course of their futures.

In the highly-competitive country, doing well in the gruelling eight-hour exam is the key to a successful life, such as securing a place at an elite university and getting a well-paying job.

In support of students taking what is probably the most important exam in their lives, the stock market and businesses opened later than usual so that roads remained clear for students on their way to test centres.

For students who were running late, police vehicles and motorcycles were on hand to help escort them straight to their venue.

In the afternoon, transport authorities halted all airport landings and take-offs and bus drivers travelling near test sites were discouraged from sounding their horns for half an hour to coincide with the  listening test.

Before the start of the exam, parents, relatives, and friends wished students good luck with hugs, banners emblazoned with encouraging messages, and the traditional gift of sticky rice cake.

Lee Se-la, 19, as quoted by Reuters, said just before she went into the exam hall: “I won’t get nervous and I will work hard to solve problems in exams as I’ve been preparing.”

After tearfully wishing their children well, worried parents then flocked to temples and churches to pray. Monks and pastors even held special prayer sessions for students.

“My little boy is taking the exam for the third time,” said Kim Yong-woo, 59, a mother who was at the cathedral with other parents fervently praying for their children’s success.

“All I can do is pray as his mom and I came out here hoping that he can manage his condition well and get a good score he wants,” she said.

Image via the Associated Press

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