Editor's note: To take a sample Samsung Aptitude Test, click here or at the end of this story.
For weeks, young people who have already taken plenty of tests found themselves cramming for yet another one: the Samsung Aptitude Test, or SAT.
"Sometimes I feel a little bit nervous, but now I'm OK," says Daewon Kim, who studied about nine hours a day in the lead-up to Samsung's two-hour employment entrance exam.
On Sunday, as many as 100,000 South Koreans filled test centers across the country to face a 160-question gantlet testing logic, reasoning, math, history, science — really, a little bit of everything.
"In South Korea, there's always another test. It never ends, until you have your cushy, corporate job," says Geoffrey Cain, who is writing a book on Samsung due out next spring.
Samsung is Korea's largest conglomerate and considered the country's premier place to work. Each year, Cain estimates, only about 5 percent of the nearly 100,000 Samsung test-takers move on to the next stage of the hiring process. The test helps winnow the field.
"It's something that really goes back to Confucian ideals," says Cain. "And especially in Korea, it's been used by companies not just to recruit the best and brightest, but to break down their ego and put them into a team."
The notion of team is key when Samsung's Korean workforce numbers 200,000 and the company is steeped in tradition — dynastic leadership, demanding work hours and a devotion to the company culture.
"Samsung is like a regimented military," Cain says. "And they look for people who can wake up in the morning singing the company song [and] go to work. So the role of this exam, it's really the first step in standardizing what the employee goes through. And once they get past the exam, the idea is to acculturate them with this system — with the emperor up top, and they are the civil servants."
Samsung won't specify what exactly the exam is looking for, but the company emphasizes that the test is only one part of the hiring process for entry-level employees. Experienced hires are spared the test.
"Just like other global companies, we have a number of ways to consider people coming from a diverse range of backgrounds," says Samsung spokesperson Bomi Lim. "The aptitude test is just one of several steps we use to ensure fair opportunities."
Those who sit for the Samsung SAT tackle questions like this:
The number of male employees decreased by 10% compared to the previous year. The number of female employees increased by 15%. There are currently a total of 182 employees at the company. If there were 20 more male employees than female employees last year, how many female employees are at the company this year?
But just getting the opportunity to be considered at Samsung carries a certain weight. "I think this is only the way to be successful," Kim says.
He's not exaggerating. Working for Samsung is a status symbol.
"Every parent in Korea wants their kid to be a 'Samsung Man,' as they call it. It's something that gives you stability, prestige, money. You can find a good apartment or a wife if you are a Samsung Man. It really has that connotation of living in, like, 1950s America," Cain says.
"Man" is appropriate. In South Korea, women make up about 27 percent of the Samsung Electronics workforce. (Data for other Samsung subsidiaries in South Korea weren't available.)
But if test-takers fall short of Samsung's standards, there are still plenty of other Korean corporations.
"If they don't get through Samsung, they can take LG's test or Hyundai's test," Cain says.
Samsung's may be the most well-known — but in this country, almost every coveted corporate job comes with its own test.
Haeryun Kang contributed to this story. You can try some sample questions from the Samsung Aptitude Test here.