A South Korean student who might be late for the College Scholastic Ability Test gets some help from a motorcycle military policeman in Seoul, South Korea.  // South Korea falls silent as students sit key exam (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

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A South Korean student who might be late for the College Scholastic Ability Test gets some help from a motorcycle military policeman in Seoul, South Korea.

(ABOVE: A South Korean student who might be late for the College Scholastic Ability Test gets some help from a motorcycle military policeman in Seoul, South Korea.)

As every year, the entire nation of South Korea on Thursday narrowed its focus on the standardised College Scholastic Ability Test, a life-defining examination that can hold the key to everything from future careers to marriage prospects.

Police cars and motorbikes across the country's major cities were put on standby in case students needed to make a late dash to take the exam, while scores of flights were rescheduled to avoid noisy landings and take-offs which could disrupt their concentration.

Parents gathered anxiously outside the test centres or converged in Buddhist temples and churches to pray for their childrens' success. Even the stock market's opening and closing was delayed by an hour on Thursday to ensure that students could beat the rush-hour and arrive at test centres on time.

Local media reported that more than 668,500 students took the day-long examination this year. Scoring high marks in the test is essential for entry to top local universities, in turn a prerequisite to securing lucrative jobs upon graduation.

There is so much pressure on teenagers to perform that many students prepare for these exams from an early age, often studying up to 16 hours a day for years. Some are driven to despair - suicide rates generally peak every year around the time of the university entrance test.

Scroll through the gallery for more pictures of South Korea's annual 'exam hell'

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