Architecture professor at D university said, More than half of the students cant understand math at the university level because they did not take the relevant courses including calculus in high school. I cant teach them. I am even tempted to ask sophomores, who cant catch up with their major, to attend private cram schools for math.

A chemistry professor at S university said, Some students are very good and have competed in the International Chemistry Olympiad while others dont even know basic formulas. So much so that sometimes I feel like I am a high school teacher.

Under a curriculum that did not have math and science as required courses, students simply did not opt for those subjects. Problems arose when those students chose to major in science and engineering as undergraduates. These students are a headache for many universities, and some of them have come up with solutions: sorting out students according to their performance.

In 2004, Seoul National University (SNU) administered a placement test before beginning math lectures. Starting in 2007, the university has decided to do the same for science lectures and to give private tutoring. Other universities have drawn up other measures to deal with differences in students learning ability such as pretests before signing up and offering make-up class.

Starting this year, SNUs College of Natural Science has decided to make three different levels for chemistry, physics and biology classes: advanced, intermediate and beginner. Students in advanced classes will be graded by absolute evaluation. The ones in the intermediate classes will be graded on a bell curve. Those in the lowest level will get only two grades: pass or fail.

The prestigious university will grade students after factoring in the students school performance and their rankings in international competitions. The top five percent will be exempt from basic courses, and the bottom five percent will be required to take high-level lectures in the first semester and liberal arts during summer vacation.

SNUs College of Engineering has decided to introduce private tutoring where juniors and seniors, who received an A in math and physics, teach freshmen who can apply for tutoring if they cant keep up with the regular classes.

From 2007, Sogang Universitys engineering college will offer high school-level calculus lectures in the first term and college level calculus during summer vacation to students with poor math performance. Students who have a hard time catching up in physics, chemistry, and biology are required to take an extra class per week.

Soongsil University has decided to administer a math test for students of natural science. Those who do not take the test cannot sign up for the basic math courses.

Other universities too are coming up with their own measures to upgrade their students performance: asking them to attend private institutes or to form study groups.

Mr. Park graduated from a vocational high school and came to a university in the Seoul metropolitan area to major in engineering thanks, in large part, to special admissions policy for those high schools. He said, I once considered dropping out of my university because of math. It is winter vacation now and I am studying with my classmates who are having difficulty in calculus and trigonometry.

foryou@donga.com

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