2021 Suneung 수능 questions (from the Dec 2020 test)

As usual, the full test and answer sheet for the Korean SAT, also known as CSAT or the Suneung (수능), from  대학수학능력시험) exam, were released. They were actually released last year, and I had bookmarked them to share here but promptly forgot until now after hearing my coworker talk about how his son is panicked about it being just over a month away again. 

Some background

The Suneung is the standardized college admissions test all Korean university hopefuls must take in their final year of high school. It makes or breaks your future, so much so that many students who score below their desired range will delay university applications for another year in order to try again (Suneung can only be taken once per year in November, for admission in spring of the following year, therefore the "2020" version of the test applied to college entrance year 2020 although it was taken in 2019). 

However this last year was a historically important test date. Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, the test was delayed by a month. I believe this was only the 2nd time such a delay has ever occurred, the 1st being due to precautions following a shock earthquake in 2017.

Anyway, I thought I would take a moment to highlight some of the questions from this year's Suneung in the English language section. Readers seem to find this interesting. Here we go.

Question sheet of the Korean 2021 CSAT test English language section

Some sample 2021 Suneung questions

2021 Seuneung - Listening Comprehension section

Here are a few selected questions from the listening section. Students must listen to the short dialog (painfully, right after lunch time, leading many poor students to fall asleep) and answer the questions that appear on their test sheet. 

Question 4 - Dialog

In this sample question, the test sheet includes this picture, asking students to choose the item in the picture that is incorrect according to the dialog.

Here's the dialog students would hear:

4. 대화를 듣고, 그림에서 대화의 내용과 일치하지 않는 것을 고르시오.
W: Wow, Sam. You turned the student council room into a hot chocolate booth. 
M: Yes, Ms. Thompson. We’re ready to sell hot chocolate to raise money for children in need.
W: Excellent. What are you going to put on the bulletin board under the clock? 
M: I’ll post information letting people know where the profits will go.
W: Good. I like the banner on the wall.
M: Thanks. I designed it myself.
W: Awesome. Oh, I’m glad you put my stripe-patterned tablecloth on the table. 
M: Thanks for letting us use it. Did you notice the snowman drawing that’s hanging on the tree?
W: Yeah. I remember it was drawn by the child you helped last year. By the way, there are three boxes on the floor. What are they for?
M: We’re going to fill those up with donations of toys and books. 
W: Sounds great. Good luck.

The answer, of course, is ⑤ because the dialog mentioned 3 boxes while the picture shows just 2. 

Questions 16-17 - Monologe

This narration is used for 2 questions. Have a listen:

16번부터 17번까지는 두 번 들려줍니다. [16∼17] 다음을 듣고, 물음에 답하시오.
M: Hello, students. Last time, I gave you a list of English expressions containing color terms. Today, we’ll learn how these expressions got their meanings. The first expression is “out of the blue,” meaning something happens unexpectedly. It came from the phrase “a lightning bolt out of the blue,” which expresses the idea that it’s unlikely to see lightning when there’s a clear blue sky. The next expression, “white lie,” means a harmless lie to protect someone from a harsh truth. This is because the color white traditionally symbolizes innocence. Another expression, “green thumb,” refers to a great ability to cultivate plants. Planting pots were often covered with tiny green plants, so those who worked in gardens had green-stained hands. The last expression, “to see red,” means to suddenly get very angry. Its origin possibly comes from the belief that bulls get angry and attack when a bullfighter waves a red cape. I hope this lesson helps you remember these phrases better.

Now answer the following 2 questions.

[16~17] 다음을 듣고, 물음에 답하시오.

16. Which topic best describes the man's speech? 

16. 남자가 하는 말의 주제로 가장 적절한 것은?
  1. color change in nature throughout seasons
  2. various colors used in traditional English customs
  3. differences in color perceptions according to culture
  4. why expressions related to colors are common in English 
  5. how color-related English expressions gained their meanings

17. Which color is not mentioned?

17. 언급된 색깔이 아닌 것은?
  1. blue 
  2. white 
  3. green
  4. red
  5. yellow

Both answers are ⑤.

These questions are all each worth 2 points. Let's look at a slightly harder one.

Question 14 - Dialog

14. 대화를 듣고, 여자의 마지막 말에 대한 남자의 응답으로 가장 적절한 것을 고르시오. [3점]
[Cell phone rings.]
M: Hello, Joe Burrow speaking.
W: Hello. This is Officer Blake from the Roselyn Police Station.
M: Oh, it’s good to speak to you again.
W: Nice to speak to you, too. Do you remember the boy who found your briefcase and brought it here?
M: Sure. I wanted to give him a reward. But he wouldn’t accept it.
W: I remember you saying that before.
M: Yeah. I’d still like to somehow express my thanks in person.
W: Good. That’s why I’m calling you. Are you available next Friday at 10 a.m.? 
M: Yes. I’m free at that time. Why?
W: The boy will receive the Junior Citizen Award for what he’s done for you. 
M: That’s great news!
W: There’ll be a ceremony for him at the police station, and he invited you as his guest. I was wondering if you can make it. 
M: ___________________________

14. Which of the following is the most likely response from the man? 

14. 대화를 듣고, 여자의 마지막 말에 대한 남자의 응답으로 가장 적절한 것을 고르시오. [3점]
1.  Don’t worry. I already found his briefcase.
2.  Of course. You deserve to receive the award.
3.  Don’t mention it. I just did my duty as a citizen.
4.  Definitely. I want to go to congratulate him myself.
5.  Wonderful. It was the best ceremony I’ve ever been to.

The answer is ④.

Each question above was worth 2 points overall in the test. All questions were either 2 or 3 points so now I'll look at some 3 point questions. Remember, could you deal with a foreign language at this level when you were a high schooler? I know I couldn't have. I doubt I could in Korean even today after living here for several years. 

2021 Seuneung - Reading Comprehension section

The bulk of the test involves reading so I'll pick a few more samples from this section. I've tried to focus on a variety that demonstrates the types of questions present. The most popular types of questions are:
  • Identify the topic of the passage
  • Place the sentences or paragraphs in the correct order
  • Identify words that are incorrectly used in the passage
  • Choose the most appropriate words or sentences to complete the passage

Question 23 - Topic

Read the following paragraph and choose the most appropriate topic.

다음 글의 주제로 가장 적절한 것은? [3점]

Difficulties arise when we do not think of people and machines as collaborative systems, but assign whatever tasks can be automated to the machines and leave the rest to people. This ends up requiring people to behave in machine-like fashion, in ways that differ from human capabilities. We expect people to monitor machines, which means keeping alert for long periods, something we are bad at. We require people to do repeated operations with the extreme precision and accuracy required by machines, again something we are not good at. When we divide up the machine and human components of a task in this way, we fail to take advantage of human strengths and capabilities but instead rely upon areas where we are genetically, biologically unsuited. Yet, when people fail, they are blamed.

  1. difficulties of overcoming human weaknesses to avoid failure 
  2. benefits of allowing machines and humans to work together 
  3. issues of allocating unfit tasks to humans in automated systems
  4. reasons why humans continue to pursue machine automation 
  5. influences of human actions on a machine’s performance

The answer is ③. This was a 3 point question.

Question 25 - Graph reading

Although this question was only worth 2 points, I've heard that these question types that rely on skill for reading a graph or chat are often some of the most difficult for students.

25. Look at the graph and choose which fact in the reading is wrong according to the graph's data.

25. 다음 도표의 내용과 일치하지 않는 것은
The graph above shows the online shares of retail sales for each of six countries in 2012 and in 2019. The online share of retail sales refers to the percentage of retail sales conducted online in a given country. ①  For each country, its online share of retail sales in 2019 was larger than that in 2012. ② Among the six countries, the UK owned the largest online share of retail sales with 19.7% in 2019. ③ In 2019, the U.S. had the second largest online share of retail sales with 16.5%. ④ In 2012, the online share of retail sales in the Netherlands was larger than that in France, whereas the reverse was true in 2019. ⑤ In the case of Spain and Italy, the online share of retail sales in each country was less than 5.0% both in 2012 and in 2019.

The answer is ⑤. This was a 2 point question.

Question 37 - Arrangement

Read the following paragraph, then arrange the next 3 paragraphs in the most logical order.

주어진 글 다음에 이어질 글의 순서로 가장 적절한 것을 고르시오.

Experts have identified a large number of measures that promote energy efficiency. Unfortunately many of them are not cost effective. This is a fundamental requirement for energy efficiency investment from an economic perspective.

And this has direct repercussions at the individual level: households can reduce the cost of electricity and gas bills, and improve their health and comfort, while companies can increase their competitiveness and their productivity. Finally, the market for energy efficiency could contribute to the economy through job and firms creation.

There are significant externalities to take into account and there are also macroeconomic effects. For instance, at the aggregate level, improving the level of national energy efficiency has positive effects on macroeconomic issues such as energy dependence, climate change, health, national competitiveness and reducing fuel poverty.

However, the calculation of such cost effectiveness is not easy: it is not simply a case of looking at private costs and comparing them to the reductions achieved. [3점]

[Blog author note: vocabulary that is considered highly specialized or difficult are provided with Korean translations in the test. For this question, the following 2 words and their translations are included.]

* repercussion: 반향, 영향 ** aggregate: 집합의

  1. (A)-(C)-(B) 
  2. (B)-(A)-(C) 
  3. (B)-(C)-(A) 
  4. (C)-(A)-(B) 
  5. (C)-(B)-(A)

The answer is ⑤. This was a 3 point question.

Question 42 - Incorrect word

[41~42] 다음 글을 읽고, 물음에 답하시오.

Our irresistible tendency to see things in human terms ― that we are often mistaken in attributing complex human motives and processing abilities to other species ― does not mean that an animal’s behavior is not, in fact, complex. Rather, it means that the complexity of the animal’s behavior is not purely a (a) product of its internal complexity. Herbert Simon’s “parable of the ant” makes this point very clearly. Imagine an ant walking along a beach, and (b) visualize tracking the trajectory of the ant as it moves. The trajectory would show a lot of twists and turns, and would be very irregular and complicated. One could then suppose that the ant had equally complicated (c) internal navigational abilities, and work out what these were likely to be by analyzing the trajectory to infer the rules and mechanisms that could produce such a complex navigational path. The complexity of the trajectory, however, “is really a complexity in the surface of the beach, not a complexity in the ant.” In reality, the ant may be using a set of very (d) complex rules: it is the interaction of these rules with the environment that actually produces the complex trajectory, not the ant alone. Put more generally, the parable of the ant illustrates that there is no necessary correlation between the complexity of an (e) observed behavior and the complexity of the mechanism that produces it.

42. Which word is used incorrectly in the passage?

42. 밑줄 친 (a)~(e) 중에서 문맥상 낱말의 쓰임이 적절하지 않은 것은? [3점]
  1. (a)
  2. (b)
  3. (c)
  4. (d)
  5. (e)

The answer is ④. This was a 3 point question.

Final Thoughts

These are just a few of the questions from the actual test. The full test has 45 questions, all of which from every year are released reliably just minutes after the completion of the test and can be found on Naver simply by searching 2021학년도 수능 문제/정답 (2021 school year Suneung questions and answers). 

Naver will return a convenient onebox result linking to all the relevant question and answer sheets from all main subjects in the test, including English, Korean, math, Korean history, other foreign languages (particularly Chinese), and other subjects like social studies, etc. All of this material is made available free for students' personal study use. 

I hope this post is not only entertaining but also helps you to understand some of the difficulty and pressure faced by Korean students. Europeans may understand this a little better, but as an American myself, I can't begin to imagine if my college admission had required me to answer questions like these even in a relatively similar language like Spanish. 

I think it also gives a hint about the average English level of most Koreans. As you can see by this test, they focus extensively on written problem solving, often at the expense of expressive speaking. I certainly know plenty of middle aged men whose spoken English is terrible but their ability to read and understand English language equipment manuals is impressive. I myself am the total opposite. I can get by fairly well in spoken Korean, but my writing and reading is terrible (I often find myself speaking written content out loud to spark my understanding). Don't ever ask me about Korean spelling. I never know my 에 from my 애 or my 의 from my 외 or even my ㄷ from my ㅌ sometimes. 

For more sample questions from real Suneung tests, see my other posts under the Education tag: