November 22, 2022
“Life equals 180 minutes?”
For years, activists for educational change in Türkiye have touted this slogan among others as the hallmark of their opposition to Türkiye’s national exam for higher education, abbreviated in Turkish as the YGS (Yuksekogretime Gecis Sinavi). Indeed, this exam, held once a year, every year for Turkish high school seniors is the ultimate and only determinant for college admissions in the country. A high score could mean entry into one of the top universities in the country, access to lucrative career fields and the admiration of peers and relatives, while a low score could result in decreased future opportunities and a humiliation that leads some students to contemplate even suicide as a reprieve.
From as far back as they can remember, Türkiye’s high schoolers must revolve their life around the national exams. In order to attain a high score, most find it necessary to begin studying doggedly during their freshman year of high school. Special weekend and afterschool cram schools are filled to the brim with students in pursuit of their desired scores. Some are self-motivated. Others are driven more by the pressure of parents, friends and the perception of wider society. In any case, the exams require a long period of preparation, and those who put off studying until their junior or senior years usually find themselves in grave trouble.
This all leads to a host of mental and social problems among Turkish youth. Instead of spending time socializing with friends or pursuing special interests outside of school, students instead find themselves spending nearly every spare minute studying and studying and studying. Conversely, in the United States, extracurricular activities and special interests receive much attention when it comes to college applications. The pressure put on Turkish students leads inevitably to widespread cases of depression, anxiety, self-doubt and various other ramifications. Some even lean towards suicide. In 2017, a senior who was denied entry to the exam after arriving a minute late committed suicide in her home. That same year, another student, who received a lower score than anticipated, committed suicide. The dark truth festers on— student suicides in Türkiye over the YGS are occurring.
For Drexel sophomore Mustafa Teber, who moved to the United States from Türkiye two years ago to pursue his college career, the YGS is not a desirable method of higher education determination.
“I don’t think the Turkish method is…a good way at all. There are many ways to criticize it…you probably learn [math and science concepts] better but I think it’s not all that necessary,” he said. “The American way prepares students to be more well-rounded individuals…they can spend more time on themselves…their family, their friends.”
And yet, proponents of the exam system argue that the YGS provides benefits as well. For one thing, low-income students receive a chance via their exam scores to elevate their status and lives. In addition, proponents argue that stress and fatigue occur everywhere in education and college admissions and would continue even if the YGS was removed. This contention does not seem to be fading anytime soon.
This is the story of Türkiye’s national college admission exams. With both its ups and downs, the YGS national exam will continue to reign over Turkish higher education until the unforeseeable future. For high school students living in Türkiye, there is only one option: study for those 180 minutes— and your life.