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Korean students taking the CSAT last year. Image via Koreaboo

APEX Insight: University entrance exams in Korea are taken so seriously that flights are diverted to prevent airplane noise from breaking the students’ concentration.

Have you ever taken a test so important, so intense, that even the noise of an airplane flying overhead could wreck your concentration? If you live in Korea, the answer is, “Yeah, totally!” The College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) is the stuff of terrifying legend: an eight-hour exam which determines teenagers’ university prospects and arguably their career paths, too.

The CSAT is so important, the Korean government has mandated that ambient distractions must be minimized, and that extends to aircraft noise. On exam day, flights in and out of the country’s airports must adjust their flight plans so that they don’t take off or land during a sensitive part of the exam.

It’s Very, Very Real
This image of diverted flights, which suggests a CSAT ripple effect on global air travel, went viral last year:

Korea CSAT Diversions

Korea-bound flights diverted for CSAT. Image via Korea Times

Han Jong-Bong, general manager of Korean Air, tells us via e-mail, “Yes, you have the correct information.” The whole CSAT-airspace-silence thing in Korea is really real, and it’s taken really seriously.

Han explains that these flight diversions have been going on since 1997. The CSAT itself became the official standardized test recognized by Korean universities in 1994, so the first several cohorts of examinees had to deal with background whooshes as they listened to foreign-language exam questions.

As above, so below: Public transit is also ramped up to avoid traffic jams since over 600,000 students must show up on time to write the exams.

Unfortunately, flight diversions and transit adjustments can do nothing to prevent errors by those who create the CSAT, as has happened for five times since 1994. Kim Sung-Hoon, president of the Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation (KICE), resigned over the most recent round of mistakes, the third president to do so since the CSAT was standardized.

The Longest Half-Hour

The CSAT exam is eight hours long, but Han clarifies that the diversions only take place during the English-language listening portion of the exam. If you’re flying into Seoul on CSAT day, get ready to adjust your flight plan to stay three kilometers (1.86 miles) away until cleared by the tower. This year, the CSAT takes place on November 12 and the English-listening portion takes roughly half an hour… though it probably seems longer for the students.

If you find your flight circling over Korea on November 12, send some positive thoughts to the students below, as they face the biggest academic challenge of their lives.