In many countries, entry to university is based on a harsh, gruelling, often very competitive set of exams taken at the end of one's final year of school. A cram school is a special school, generally privately run, whose entire, unashamed purpose is to enable pupils to pass these exams. To this end, the focus is almost entirely on answering questions from past exam papers and fine-tuning answering strategies. Cram school is generally attended in addition to regular school, but some offer full-time education. The role of these schools is a matter of controversy, with teachers typically leading the side opposing them on the basis that the existence of cram schools undermines the work and dedication of regular teachers. Their opponents tend to argue that if the teachers were doing a good job, there would be no need for cram schools. A combination of the hardest, most grueling set of college entrance exams and a massive focus on rote memorisation means that cram schools are a fact of life for most Japanese teenagers, and so characters in anime are often seen at these institutions. They seem to be largely absent from TV in other countries, perhaps to avoid teachers hating TV even more. In Japan at least, these are NOT for the kids who need help. If anything, the kids who need to catch up are less likely to attend them due to being hopeless cases. In anime and manga, the Smart Kid probably enjoys attending this school, unlike everyone else. In Hong Kong, they are referred to as "tutorial schools". An interesting aspect of these schools is that some of their teachers are promoted like celebrities: they employ stylists, fashion designers and photographers to make them look fashionable and then put their likenesses on giant billboard and newspaper advertisements or on the sides of public transit vehicles. They're often given cool titles such as "King of Tutors", "Godfather of Science" and "Queen of English". In Korea, they are known as Hagwon but many of them also teach other subjects like sports and arts besides your standard exam prep. The Korean government has imposed a strict 10 pm closing time for the Hagwon in the interest of the teenagers' health and the police patrol at night to shut down schools flouting curfew. In America, one will most likely attend a cram school class before a professional licensing exam such as the bar exam (for lawyers) and the boards (for doctors), although high-school level version exist, with "SAT Prep" or, in some areas, "ACT prep" classes, usually done through the school, but sometimes through external tutoring programs. These offer much of the same things albeit in a very reduced capacity, mostly because the SAT and ACT tests are only one small part of a much larger picture, with transcripts of grades, extracurricular activities, and essays written as part of college applications carrying weight as well. Strangely, even though All East Asian Mothers Are Education Mamas, there are no cram schools in the usual sense in Mainland China. As high school funding in China is directly proportional to college admission rates and the prestige of the colleges the students get into, high schools have the incentive to be the cram school too— your average Chinese high school student has a 14-hour school day, using much of the time for mandatory study halls. Private schools only exist to provide prep for the Chinese equivalent of ronins. At least until the mid-2010s anyway—at that point, education bureaucrats started to mandate shorter school hours, so privately-owned cram schools started to replace public-school study halls in many places.
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Anime and Manga
- Hideki and Shinbo in Chobits attend one. Shinbo even marries their cram school teacher, Takako Shimizu.
- The one Hideki and Shinbo are in is a variant on the usual one. It's for those who graduated High School but flunked their university entrance exams.
- So does Ami in Sailor Moon. Most of the action in Ami's introduction episode happened there, actually.
- And Light in Death Note, despite being WAY too smart to need it. One can't help but wonder if that's how he managed to get a perfect score...
- Ryoki in Hot Gimmick attends one, but only to make his parents feel at ease - he's so smart he manages to ace every class without even revising.
- Manta in Shaman King is a cram school student. In fact, he first meets Yoh while rushing from cram school to the train station to catch a train home.
- In Oniisama e..., the titular older brother figure to whom Nanako is writing is her former cram school tutor, Takehiko Henmi.
- Jou in Digimon Adventure, Digimon Adventure 02, and Digimon Adventure tri.. It's somewhere between a recurring plot device and a running gag, because always being at cram school means he isn't in Odaiba when Vamdemon's fog cuts it off from the rest of Tokyo, Taichi can't contact him for help to fight Diablomon in Our War Game, Iori has to lie to get him out of a test because he's the only one who can rescue the team when they're trapped underwater, etc. The stress it causes him is usually played for laughs and everyone is really, really supportive of him, but in tri, the anguish it causes him to not be available when things go down (and, briefly, the strain it puts on his social life) seems to be coming out.
- Misao in Magical Project S attends prep school after her normal classes even though she's in fourth grade.
- The very first episode of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha depicted Nanoha and her friends Alyssa and Suzuka attending cram school after their normal classes even though they're in third grade. They spend part of their time there discussing who should take care of the ferret they found.
- Briefly mentioned in the anime of Azumanga Daioh, while Chiyo and Sakaki are stopped in the park to let Mr. Tadakichi take a drink, they see some grade school children jumping rope until a chime on a nearby clock goes off. One child says she's going to be late for it.
- Wataru attends one of these in Brave Story. It's the one social link he has with Mitsuru.
- Higurashi: When They Cry: Keiichi attended one of these when he lived in the city. He became so stressed he started to shoot random people with BB guns.
- Miaka and Yui are attending Cram School at the start of Fushigi Yuugi, preparing for the entrance exams for the prestigious Jonan High School.
- In Haruhi Suzumiya, Kyon and Sasaki met in cram school during their last year of middle school.
- The for/against argument appears in Kodomo no Jikan
- In Katte Ni Kaizo, Kaizo apparently went to one for people with weird talents and specialites, before he got kicked of a climbing frame, came in the next day, and blew the place up, thus unleashing everyone in it upon the world.
- Cram schools does not even limited to the academics. In Hidamari Sketch it has been clear there's a whole type of cram school for art-stream high school students that wanted to continue doing art in college, called research institutes. In fact, Arisawa's rendezvous with Yuno was related to this; Arisawa skipped Institute class that night because of the pressure and stayed at school to paint, and picked up Yuno's cell phone. (This is Truth in Television; both China and Japan has schools like these. A link as an example.
- In Blue Exorcist, much of the main cast take exorcist courses at the "Cram school" as well as taking their normal courses at True Cross Academy. Technically it's more of an entirely different school since, understandably, it doesn't cover the same topics as normal classes. The term "cram school" is used to help hide its existence from the normal students.
- The three main characters in Gourmet Girl Graffiti first met because of the art-stream cram school (see the example of Hidamari Sketch, above) they attend. They don't start as high schoolers; they're middle schoolers who want to enter an arts program in high school.
- The movie How I Got Into College is largely about an SAT prep course, and the main character's recurring nightmares about the "Two men, A and B," who appear in all the SAT math questions.
- This is essentially the backdrop to The History Boys - while they're still in their usual school, the group is taking extra classes specifically tailored to get them into Oxford.
- The Ur-Example is found in Charles Dickens' Dombey and Son. The school is so hard, the Head Boy turns feebleminded from too much cramming. It's implied the academic overwork may have sent Paul Dombey to an early grave, but it's possible it was just natural causes.
- Another early example is Marie Corelli's The Mighty Atom. Lionel is homeschooled by a series of tutors by order of his Fantasy-Forbidding Father who allows no speculation on religious or spiritual subjects except as Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions. It ends badly.
- To put it this way, the cram school called Shumei Seminar is more central to Tantei Team KZ Jiken Note than any other school, since Detective Team KZ's members goes to different schools in the day. This series also got into the cram school system a bit further than most works:
- Shumei Seminar divides classes by academic performance, in a way similar to the actual practice in Japan. Aya got to know the rest of KZ because she was sent to the "special class" in the cram school (on top of her current class) for being very lopsided; she's very strong in Japanese language but very poor in math.
- The KZ Soccer Team is actually organized by Shumei Seminar. It requires all members to be at the top 2.2% in national assessments.
- The fact that students were kept until pretty late is also handled in the narrative, for example the first novel The Missing Bicycle Knows involves a convenience store robbery while sixth graders are still in cram school sessions.
- In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix the fifth and seventh year students have to study furiously for their OWL and NEWT exams. When Ernie Macmillan is trying to get a feel for how much everyone is studying he reveals he's not putting in less than eight hours every day and Hannah Abbot has a breakdown and needs to go to the hospital wing right before the exams start. When Harry falls out of his chair screaming the exam proctor acts kindly while he sends him to Madam Pomfrey but all of this is considered par the course, the twins even say one of their classmates kept fainting in the lead up and during their OWLs due to the stress and lack of sleep.
- Our Miss Brooks: In "The Yodar Kritch Award", a time-pressed Miss Brooks tries this approach with Bones Snodgrass. It fails miserably.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000:
- The main character of 14-sai no Haha and her boyfriend attend one of these.
- In Persona 3, one of your character's Social Links is a little girl who attends one of these schools.
- And in The Answer from Persona 3 FES, Yukari mentions that she has cram school.
- In Persona 4, one of your Social Links is a middle schooler who attended cram school and then quit because it wasn't intense enough for him.