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Admissions scandal in background as South Koreans sit for gruelling college exam

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High school boys cheer on their senior schoolmates taking the college entrance examinations in front of the exam venue in Chuncheon, about 90 km (55 miles) northeast of Seoul.

[SEOUL] A record low number of South Korean students sat for the annual college entrance exam on Thursday, a test that many of them have prepared for since day one at school, and for which the country delayed work hours and put flights on hold.

A college admission scandal involving a former justice minister hung over the half-million test takers and their parents, many of whom fumed that nobody should be allowed to use their position to unfairly help their children.

Families and peers cheered as students walked into exam centres around the country by 8.10 am for the gruelling eight-hour tests on subjects ranging from languages to mathematics and science.

Financial markets and offices opened an hour later to allow smoother traffic for the students, and commercial flights were grounded for 35 minutes during the listening comprehension section of the English test.

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The Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation said 548,734 students applied for the exam this year, the lowest figure in 27 years, reflecting a falling birthrate.

The recent corruption scandal involved the family of former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, whose wife, Chung Kyung-shim, a college professor, is on trial on charges of forging documents for their children's college admissions and improper financial investments.

Local media reported prosecutors summoned Cho for questioning on Thursday as part of the investigation.

Im Ok-nam, 48, who came to cheer her daughter, said: "It (the Cho scandal) is extremely unfair and it showed what the haves do with the privileged they enjoy ... I think my daughter is far better than his."

Fighting back tears, Mrs Im added that her daughter had lived and studied for this day for 12 years.

Park Jin-woo, whose brother was sitting for the test, said he believes admission scandals are rampant.

"I wish everyone could enjoy equal opportunity and start from the same starting line," Mr Park said. 

REUTERS