Classical Chinese on the Korean College Scholastic Ability Test (Suneung)


The College Scholastic Ability Test (大學修學能力試驗, 대학수학능력시험), or more colloquially referred to as Suneung (修能, 수능), is the standardized entrance exam for universities in Korea. (I attended high school and university in America and have never taken the test). It is held on the first Thursday in November. The test includes questions on various subjects: Korean; English; Mathematics; Social Studies, such as Ethics, History, Geography, Politics, Economics, and Sociology; Sciences, such as Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Earth Sciences; “Vocational Education”; and Foreign Languages. The Foreign Languages section has 30 questions and test takers are allotted 40 minutes. One of the possible “Foreign Languages” that test takers can choose is Classical Chinese (漢文, 한문, Hanmun). First added in 2005, about 10-15% of test takers have chosen Classical Chinese for the Foreign Languages section on the Suneung in the past five years. Although the percentage of test takers declined last year, whether this decline will continue is inconclusive as the percentage actually increased slightly from 2011 to 2012. Prestigious universities, such as Seoul National and Korea University, continue to give extra points in their admission process to applicants who take Classical Chinese for their Foreign Languages section. Here are some sample problems from the 2012 Exam:

Sample Problem 3

3. When searching for Chinese Characters (漢字, 한자, Hanja) in the Character Dictionary (字典, 자전), which choice matches for both (ㄱ) and  (ㄴ)? [1 Point]

(1) 手  7      (2) 手  8      (3) 手  9
(4) 田  7      (5) 田  8

Explanation: This problem tests the structure of Chinese Characters and how to use a Chinese Character Dictionary. Note that the space (ㄱ) is for the radical (部首, 부수) and space (ㄴ) is for the number of strokes (劃數, 획수). The radical for 抽(추), meaning “to pluck,” is 扌which is another form of 手. The number of strokes is somewhat tricky. As mentioned in a previous post, the number of strokes in a Chinese Character Dictionary is the total number of strokes for the entire character, minus the strokes for the radical. Therefore, the number of strokes for 踏(답), meaning “to step,” is 7. The answer is thus (1).

Sample Problem 8

Girl: “On every [store] sign on this alley, there is “OO(ㄱ)” written on them.”
Boy: “I know. Every [store] claims that they were the very first to start.”

8. Looking at the content of the conversation, what best matches with (ㄱ)? [1 Point]

(1) 大衆 (The masses)      (2) 元祖 (Originator)      (3) 眞味 (True taste)      (4) 專門 (Expert)   (5) 最高 (The best)

Explanation: Test takers must figure out the missing word from context. The boy stated that every store on that alley claims to be the very first. Hence, (2) is the correct answer.

Sample Problem 14

“When the tube is lengthened, [one can] see things even bigger”
► Seonghojeonjip (星湖全集, 성호전집)
“[One] can [see] more than a hundred Li (里, 리), and look and gaze at small and tiny things in enemy camps.”
► Gukjobogam (國朝寶鑑, 국조보감)

14. What thing is related to the contents of the text?

(1) Pistol      (2) Cannon      (3) Unicycle carriage      (4) Magnifying Glass      (5) Telescope

Explanation: This problem requires test takers to interpret Classical Chinese text and then figure out what thing it is describing. Based on the translations above, it seems to be describing some sort of telescope, and the best answer would be (5).

Sample Problems 19-21

“King Yeongjo (英祖, 영조, 1694-1776, r. 1724-1776) personally came to pick [a spouse for the prince], and gathered noblemen and women to(ㄱ) the palace. The Queen (ㄴ)alone left her seat and sat. The King asked, “Why did you leave [your seat]?” The Queen responded, “My father’s name is there. How dare I take that spot and seat?” It was because when [the King] picked, he wrote her father’s name on the seat cushion. The King asked all the women, “What is the deepest thing?” One said that the mountain was the deepest; another said that the waters were the deepest. Everyone argued not the same thing. The Queen alone said, “A person’s heart is the deepest.” The King asked for the reason. The Queen responded, “(____(가)____).”
► Daedonggimun (大東奇聞, 대동기문, “Strange Musings from the Great East”).

19. Without changing the meaning, what character can replace (ㄱ)?

(1) 了      (2) 乃      (3) 已      (4) 于      (5) 而

Explanation: The character in question is 於(어), which is a locative grammatical particle. It can be used interchangeably with 于(우). Therefore, (4) is the correct answer.

20. What was the reason for (ㄴ)?

(1) Because the it was before she received the King’s choice
(2) Because she did not receive her father’s permission
(3) Because she could not  violate the King’s order
(4) Because she was lower in status compared to others
(5) Because her father’s name was written on the seat cushion

Explanation: This question tests reading comprehension. The Queen in the passage states that it is because her father’s name is written on the seat cushion (書其父名於方席之端故也). The correct answer is (5).

21. Based on context of the passage above, what best fits (가)?

(1) At another person’s party, some said pears and others said chestnuts.
(他人之宴, 曰梨曰栗)
(2) Physical things can be measured; a person’s heart cannot be measured.
(物深可測, 人心不可測也)
(3) If the waters are very deep, then there are no fish; if a person is very pure, then there will be no followers.
(水至淸則無魚, 人至察則無徒)
(4) To not know tomorrow’s rooster is only to know today’s eggs.
(不知明日之鷄, 但知今日之卵)
(5) Do not worry that others [will] not know about you; worry about not knowing others.
(不患人之不己知, 患不知人也)

Explanation: Test takers must try to figure out which of the answers best fits the flow of the passage. Since the Queen said that a person’s heart is the deepest (人心最深), it seems that the best answer is (2) (物深可測, 人心不可測也).

Sample Problems 28-29

(가) “The snowy moon is the beauty of the (ㄱ)previous dynasty / The cold bell is the tune of the old country / In the south-facing loft, in anguish I (ㄴ)stand alone / (ㄷ)On remaining castle walls, there arises the evening’s smoke”
Songdohoego (松都懷古, 송도회고) by Kwon Gyeok (權格, 권격, 1620-1670)

(나) “In Weicheng (渭城, 위성, Wiseong), the morning rain makes wet the light dust / (ㄹ)At the guesthouse, blue and lush is the newness of the willow’s colors / I suggest to you again to empty one glass of wine / From the West, out from the Yang Gate (陽關, 양관, Yanggwan), I have no (ㅁ)old friends.”
► Sending Off Yuan Er to Anxi (送元二使安西, 송원이사서안) by Wang Wei (王維, 왕유, Wang Yu, 699-759)

28. Which of the follow translations for words labeled (ㄱ) through (ㅁ) is not correct?

(1) (ㄱ) – Yesterday morning
(2) (ㄴ) – To stand alone
(3) (ㄷ) – Remaining castle walls
(4) (ㄹ) – A guesthouse
(5) (ㅁ) – Friend

Explanation: The translation for 前朝 is not “yesterday morning.” 前 means “prior to” in time or in place. The translation for the word is “previous dynasty.” Thus, (1) is the correct answer.

29. In the excerpt below, which of the following statements are a correct explanation of the poetry in the passage above?

ㄱ. The first line and he second line (가) are opposing pairs (對偶, 대우).
ㄴ. The poem in (가) evokes visual imagery and aural imagery.
ㄷ. The format of the poem in (나) is a heptasyllabic truncated verse (七言絶句 칠언절구).
ㄹ. The riming characters in (나) are 酒 and 人.

(1) ㄱ, ㄷ      (4) ㄱ, ㄴ, ㄷ
(2) ㄱ, ㄹ      (5) ㄴ, ㄷ, ㄹ
(3) ㄴ, ㄷ

Explanation: This question requires test takers to know the rules of Classical Chinese Poetry (漢詩, 한시) at a rudimentary level, although one of the statements here is quite obviously wrong. The statement in ㄱ is true: “snowy moon” (雪月) is an opposing pair of “cold bell” (寒鐘); and “the beauty of the previous dynasty” (前朝色) is an opposing pair of “tune of the old country” (故國聲). The statement in ㄴ is true: the author evokes both visual (色) and aural (聲). The statement in ㄷ is true: it indeed is a heptasyllabic truncated verse based on the tonal meter it follows. The statement in ㄹ is false: “ju” (酒, 주) does not rime with “in” (人, 인). Thus, the correct answer is (4).

How did readers fare on this exam? I studied Classical Chinese on and off since high school as a hobby and thought some of these questions were fairly tricky. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for a Korean high school student earnestly studying for this plus all the other subjects.

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