Twice a year thousands of people without a high school diploma, and some with, sit for the examination that, if passed, will allow them to apply to university or college studies in South Korea. These applicants are adult learners who dropped out of high school before earning their graduation certificates, or completed high school, earned a diploma, but did not attend college and instead deferred tertiary matriculation for work or other endeavors. The years passed, and now the only way to earn a berth at a post-secondary institution is to sit for the graduation equivalency examination. Each year thousands of former students pass the Korean High School Graduation Equivalency Examination, known in Korean as Geom-jeong-go-shi (검정고시) and known outside of Korea as the Korean GED, to re-enter the academic stream.
The high school graduation equivalency examination was first offered in 1950. The Elementary and Secondary Act of 1969 established a committee that enforced the recognition of alternative benchmark qualifications based on passed examinations at the elementary, junior secondary, and upper secondary levels of the education system. Any student who completes and passes the examinations is legally the holder of the equivalent academic qualification. In accordance with the provisions of Article 27-2 (Academic Achievement Test) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the equivalency examination system provides opportunities for those who have not completed the formal education program to be recognized as equivalent to those who have graduated from elementary, middle, and high school.
Examinations are conducted by the municipal and provincial departments of education. Municipal and provincial authorities issue all official documentation.
While the examinations are designed for self-study, there are thousands of privately-operated for-profit schools called ‘Hogwans’ that provide preparatory courses for adult learners. I used to teach at one. Our clientele included individual workers, people with incomplete secondary, immigrants, and employers providing continuing education opportunities to their employees.
Each examination comprises 20 to 25 multiple-choice questions based on the Ministry of Education approved curriculum. Grading is derived from a 100-point scale for each subject. The minimum passing grade is 60. Any failed examinations can be retaken, and the candidate will receive the average score.
For most subjects the examination is made up of 25 questions that are scored four points apiece. The exception is mathematics, which consists of 20 questions worth five points apiece. Registration for the exams begins in early February for the April sittings and early June for the August sittings.
The high school graduation equivalency examination requires seven passes. There are six required subjects and one elective.
High School Graduation Equivalency Examination
Korean (Includes Korean Levels 1 and II)
Mathematics (Levels I and II: Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry)
English (Practical English I)
The mathematics curriculum covers Numbers and Operations; Geometry; Equations and inequalities, functions, quadratic equations, exponents and logarithms – essentially high school algebra and geometry.
These are comprehensive tests that cover the material studied during the three years of senior high school as approved by the Ministry of Education.
Korean High School Graduation Equivalency Examination Statistics in 2018:
Candidates (Applicants who sat for the examination)
Number of Successful Applicants
High School Graduation Examination
Total / Average
Sample from the English examination:
For more information and a complete guide to the Korean GED:
Visit the Ministry of Education’s website regarding lifelong learning and the equivalency examination system.
William Bellin is a Senior Evaluator who has been with ECE since 2008. William has contributed to several publications including the ECE® publication Education in the Commonwealth Caribbean. He is the author of The Islamic Republic of Iran: Its Educational System and Methods of Evaluation