How far will a man go to pass the Korean Civil Service?

picture 머니투데이

The civil servants exam takes place in Seoul every year. It was just held in March but this year a young man was arrested for trying to cheat on the exams. And he had a pretty BOLD way of cheating too… he broke into the government building and accessed computers to change his score!

In fact, he managed to get into the building 5 times. (yes 5) thanks to several blunders made by government officials. First, before the exam he managed to get into the building by blending in with a group of actual civil servants and then he stole 3 civil servants’ ID cards from the gym. (since you don’t need an ID to get into the gym!)

None of the workers reported their cards stolen (breaching policy on security). So after he had taken the exam, he was able to get through security late in the evening (again and again) using the stolen ID cards. He went up to the 16th floor and got through the password protected government department door. But how did he know the password? He didn’t. Apparently it was written in small letters on the wall by the door! Aigoo.

He accessed two computers used by the officials in charge of the exam (even though 4 different passwords were required) and then he spent well over 10 hours trying to change the results of his written test from a fail to a pass. To pass the test you have to get over 70 points but he only got 45 points.

It looks like he worked alone but police are still checking the possibility that he was helped by someone on the inside. Anyway, the government has set up a task force to investigate this serious security problem and make improvements ASAP!


WOW. All I can say is this guy has got some NERVE. The economy is in bad shape at the moment and it seems that he really, REALLY wanted one of those coveted jobs in the Civil Service. But if he was prepared to break into buildings, trespass, steal stuff, hack computers, cheat, and falsify documents even before he got the job, then what kind of shenanigans would he get up to once he got the job? I dread to think! Luckily he got caught.

Getting a decent job is difficult these days for youngsters and I sympathise, but it appears that this guy has cheated on other exams before. According to today’s news (Korean) he also falsified medical records claiming poor eyesight to get more time in other exams that he took last year! I see a pattern here.

civil service exam

Re-enactments of the Joseon Civil Service Exam are carried out at palaces around Seoul such as this one (above) at the Gyeongbok palace on Hangul Day October 9.


A job in the civil service is very desirable as it provides status and job stability and a good pension (over 2 million won a month). So it’s competitive and applicants usually graduate from the top universities. There are 9 levels in the civil service. Level 9 is entry level. It’s low paid and the work involves basic administration, but even though the work may not be challenging or stimulating, the jobs are still popular especially now with less and less job security in other industries. Workers can move up over the years through promotion, but it usually takes over 20 years to move from grade 9 to grade 5.

The civil servants exam gives people who don’t have a fabulous resume the opportunity  to get into the civil service too. Candidates study for several years cramming for the test in goshichon exam districts. Take a look around Noryangjin (you can stop of for dinner at the fish market while you’re there) which is heaving with hagwons for candidates preparing for the civil servants exam.

Candidates can apply to get in at three different levels – grade 9, grade 7, and grade 5. And if you apply for level 5 and pass, you have the bonus of starting your career at level 5 instead of at the bottom. The only problem is if you don’t pass the test then all those years of study were all in vain. Not to mention the money you spent.

civil service exam heojun

Heojun takes the civil service medical exam


This kind of open exam has a long history. During the Joseon period there were 3 kinds of Civil Service exam – the Literary exam (considered to be the highest social status and for those wanting to go into government), the Military Exam, and finally the Miscellaneous Exam for those in practical professions such as medicine or language related.


In Heojun, the medical historical drama about the famous palace doctor,the exams are about to take place in the capital, so Heojun has to take the long journey there on foot.       ( Heojun episode 21, episode 22, episode 23, episode 31) The pressure is on because if he can pass the exam he can get a job in government as a doctor. So far, Heojun’s family have had to suffer financial hardships while he studies for the exams. So if he can pass, this will change his family’s life.

But even so, he doesn’t even make it to the exam the first time because he stops to help sick people and is too late for the exam. (Don’t worry, he passes it eventually).



2 thoughts on “How far will a man go to pass the Korean Civil Service?

  • April 14, 2016 at 4:17 am

    This has nothing to do with your article (but I read everyone and always enjoy the extra information you give. My reason for writing is personal:
    I would like your advise or tips on first time visitor to Seoul. I will be traveling with a friend and I guess we would be called Adjumma’s (leaving husband at home in NY)
    This will be a budget conscious trip.
    I have been looking into Airbnb for lodging.. I really want to see Jeju first and then work my way back up to Seoul.
    Just like NYC has so many things to see..what is the best area in Seoul to begin?
    Being non Korean I thought you would have some suggestions.
    Thanking you in advance. PS I plan to come in October…any “must sees” in Oct.?

    • April 16, 2016 at 8:54 am

      Hello and thanks for reading my blog! October is a great time to visit as the weather is still quite warm. There’s lots to do and see in Seoul, so I think it depends on what you are interested in and how much time you have. Are you into general sightseeing or do you have a particular area of interest – history? a Korean drama? Kpop? Shopping? Is there any food you really want to try?

      At least one palace is a must – Changdeokgung or Gyeongbokgung. There are several markets that have their own unique atmosphere to eat and shop. Seoul Tower is another tourist attraction but it gets quite busy when the weather is nice.

      Let me know if there is anything you really want to do here. I’ll have a think and come up with some suggestions. Cheers.

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