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Cram School

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In many countries, admittance into university is based on a long, difficult, often very competitive set of exams taken at the end of one's final year of public school. A cram school is a special organization, generally privately-run, whose entire, unashamed purpose is to help pupils pass these exams. To that end, the curriculum is almost entirely answering questions from past exams 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. Many teachers oppose them on the basis that they undermine the work and dedication of regular teachers. Their opponents argue that if teachers were doing as good a job as they should be, there would be no need for cram schools. Some say that expensive cram schools unfairly benefit children of the rich in what's supposed to be an evaluation of skill; others retort that the same could be said of any tutor and that parents have the right to invest in their kids. Cram schools can also be dangerous to students' health, as they risk overwork and classes are often very early in the morning or late at night to fit them around the regular school schedule.

The prevalence of cram schools varies around the world, but they're most prevalent in East Asia, where the Education Mama is a common phenomenon and university entrance exams are so important that they can basically make or break a teenager's future. As such, it's a common Anime trope — a particular twist is for the smart kid to go to cram school despite not needing it or still being in grade school, just because they enjoy it.

See Summer School Sucks for the broad Western equivalent, but the schools in that trope are more "boring and embarrassing" than "stressful and perhaps a social norm".


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Chobits, Hideki and Shinbo attend a special cram school for high school graduates who flunked their university entrance exams. Shinbo goes on to marry their cram school teacher, Takako Shimizu.
  • In Sailor Moon, Teen Genius Ami goes to a cram school where most of her introductory episode takes place.
  • In Death Note, Light goes to a cram school despite clearly not needing it. He just doesn't want to leave anything to chance. He winds up getting a perfect score on the university entrance exam.
  • In Hot Gimmick, Ryoki goes to a cram school despite not needing one — he can ace every class without even studying. He just does it to make his parents feel at ease.
  • In Shaman King, Manta is a cram school student and first meets Yoh while rushing from cram school to his train home.
  • Dear Brother takes place at a full-time cram school; the eponymous older brother figure is protagonist Nanako's former cram school tutor, Takehiko Henmi.
  • Jou in Digimon Adventure, Digimon Adventure 02, and Digimon Adventure tri. attends a cram school as a sort of Running Gag, because he's always stuck at cram school when he's needed elsewhere — he's not 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, and Iori has to lie to get him out of a test so he can rescue the team when they're trapped underwater. It's usually Played for Laughs, but in tri, he shows some genuine anguish on having to miss so much action and socializing.
  • In Magical Project S, Misao attends prep school after her normal classes even though she's in fourth grade.
  • The first episode of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha depicts 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, when Chiyo and Sakaki see a group of grade school children jumping rope and one of them announces that she's going to be late for cram school.
  • In Brave Story, Wataru attends a cram school which is his single social link with Mitsuru.
  • In Higurashi: When They Cry, Keiichi attended one when he lived in the city. He became so stressed that he started to shoot random people with BB guns, which led to his family moving to Hinamizawa after he accidentally shot a child in the eye.
  • The beginning of Fushigi Yuugi shows Miaka and Yui attending a cram school preparing for the entrance exams for the prestigious Jonan High School.
  • In Katte Ni Kaizo, Kaizo apparently went to a cram school for people with weird talents and specialties. He winds up blowing the place up, unleashing its students on the world at large.
  • Hidamari Sketch shows that there are special cram schools (dubbed "research institutes") for art-stream high school students who want to continue doing art in college. Arisawa's rendezvous with Yuno even takes place after she skips an Institute class and stays at school to paint, only to encounter Yuno's cell phone.
  • The three main characters of Gourmet Girl Graffiti meet in a similar art-stream cram school, except they're middle schoolers trying to get into a high school arts program.
  • In Blue Exorcist, much of the main cast goes to a "cram school" for exorcists entirely separate from their regular high school. It has to call itself a "cram school" to keep up the Masquerade.
  • In Charlotte Yuu Otosaka, who possesses the power to possess people for five seconds, uses the ability to possess the best students in his class and cheat off their papers, enabling him to get excellent grades. Getting into a good high school is another matter, though, since Yuu will end up taking the entrance exams with many different students, and thus has no way of knowing who will actually do well, so he scouts out the various cram schools in order to find promising students in advance of the exams.
  • Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches: Urara Shiraishi is the smartest member of the Supernatural Studies Club and is increasingly seen going to cram school as the story goes along. This leads to a bit of tension when she starts dating Book Dumb Delinquent Ryu Yamada, as this means they can't spend as many afternoons together as they would like.
  • One-Punch Man: In extra materials it's revealed that Child Emperor, aside from attending normal school despite being a Child Prodigy, also attends Cram School... as a teacher.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • How I Got Into College is about an SAT prep course, and the main character's recurring nightmare is about "two men, A and B", the Alice and Bob of 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 Taiwan Oyster is about two Americans teaching English in Taiwanese cram schools and private kindergartens while drinking a lot of beer, based on the director's own experiences doing the same (maybe not the beer part?).

  • Dombey and Son provides the Ur-Example with a cram school doubling as a Boarding School of Horrors. It's so intense, the Head Boy turns feeble-minded from too much cramming, and Paul Dombey is implied to have gone to an early grave thanks to academic overwork (although it could also have just been natural causes).
  • The Harry Potter books often refer to the OWL and NEWT exams that Wizarding School students must take in their fifth and seventh years, respectively. Many future career opportunities are explicitly open only to those with certain NEWT scores. In Order of the Phoenix, we see that although there aren't any formal cram schools, the students are basically making their own, with one student bragging that he's studying eight hours a day (on top of actual classes) and another having a nervous breakdown and being sent to the hospital right before exams. Harry has his own episode when he falls off his chair screaming during an exam, and the proctor assumes he's just stressed out about it, but he's actually receiving a painful remote Mind Probe.
  • In Haruhi Suzumiya, Kyon and Sasaki met in cram school during their last year of middle school. Later in the novels, Kyon mentions that he probably would have to go to cram school if Haruhi hadn't started tutoring him.
  • The Mighty Atom by Marie Corelli provides an early variant: Lionel is homeschooled by a series of tutors by order of his Fantasy-Forbidding Father, who allows no speculation on religious or spiritual subjects, as he's supposed to have Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions. It ends badly.
  • Tantei Team KZ Jiken Note features the Shumei Seminar cram school, which is the only school the entire team goes to together. The school divides the classes by the students' academic performance (common in Japanese cram schools), and most of The Team are in the top class.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Our Miss Brooks: In "The Yodar Kritch Award", a time-pressed Miss Brooks tries this approach with Bones Snodgrass. It fails miserably.
  • A school of this type was the subject of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit "Hothouse" episode. The school in question was for gifted children, but the teachers and administrators cared more about symbols of success than the students' well-being; no matter how well the students were doing, there was constant pressure on them to do more and be better, and they were made to feel ashamed and like they were failures if they didn't jump through every hoop and then some. Olivia learns that many students are on prescription stimulants so they could focus better and sleep less, and that this was something the school encouraged from behind the scenes.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 would reference cram schools as a Running Gag when they saw a Japanese film. In the ''Invasion of the Neptune Men episode, they even refer to some children hanging out in the woods as "Cram Camp".
  • Extraordinary Attorney Woo: "The Pied Piper" focuses on a particularly brutal one. The children aren't allowed to go home until everyone finishes all their work, or until the school closes (at 10 PM), whichever comes first. A student is later shown to be a sobbing wreck because he couldn't understand his math homework, and was made to feel like a failure because of it. The students get no breaks, not even to have dinner or a snack. No going to the bathroom more than twice per day. No recess or free time. Even the field trips are basically just more school. This drives the episode's client, a Friend to All Children, to kidnap a school bus full of students... to give them a day of having fun and playing outside, without any homework or teachers breathing down their necks. Young-woo and her colleagues, while they can't condone their client's methods, are appalled at how the school treats its students, and, unsurprisingly, find that all the kidnapping "victims" consider the incident to have been the best day ever.

    Video Games 
  • Persona:
    • In Persona 3, one of your Social Links is a little girl who attends a cram school. Yukari also mentions that she attends one in Persona 3 FES.
    • 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, leading to his mother hiring you as a tutor.
  • Solar Cram School is a business simulation game where you run a cram school company, trying to balance the books while recruiting skilled teachers and setting your students up for success. For a game about education, however, the English translation is very poor, so Chinese proficiency is recommended.

    Real Life 
Cram schools tend to be different around the world depending on how different societies see education and how their university entrance requirements work. Some countries have interesting quirks:
  • In Hong Kong, cram schools are known as "tutorial schools". An interesting aspect of these schools is that some teachers are promoted like celebrities: the school will hire stylists to doll them up, hold a photoshoot, and then create advertisements that bill the teachers with cool titles like "King of Tutors", "Godfather of Science" and "Queen of English".
  • In South Korea, cram schools are known as hagwon. South Korea is known for having one of the absolute most competitive university entrance exams in the world, and the cram schools are accordingly brutal, including some that use fines or corporal punishment to motivate students. The government has had to impose a strict 10pm closing time, and the police patrol at night to look for schools flouting the curfew. However, the term hagwon can be used for any type of private supplementary school, including non-competitive ones that merely teach subjects not covered/focused on by public schools. (Non-competitive compared to the exam hagwon, anyways...)
  • Taiwan has lots of cram schools, to the point where the majority of students attend one. They're often called buxiban or bushiban, though as with Korean hagwon above, that term can really be used for any private supplementary lesson.
  • China, despite having a culture very conducive to cram schools, has a cram-school culture different from other East Asian nations. This is mostly due to how the school system is organized.
    • Cram schools are common for the middle grades, especially between the 4-9th grades. This is because all places in China have institutionalized magnet schools, which receives more funding than those that aren't. As a result, the examinations that control middle and high school admissions are considered serious business, as going to which school is likely to have a bearing on the child's academic achievement. It is also unusual that in China, mathematics is by far the most crammed subject, as many elite schools—at least used to—use Olympiad-level mathematics as an IQ test proxy for admission purposes. It's at a point that Beijing has good reason to believe this trope is depressing the birth rate, and in the usual Chinese manner, puts a lid on it in 2021 by making cram schools that teach academic subjects unprofitable.note 
    • On the other end, high school students in China don't go to cram schools. As high school funding is directly proportionate to college admission rates and the prestige of the colleges the students get into, there's a strong incentive for the high school to double as the cram school. The average Chinese high school student's day is fourteen hours long, much of it in mandatory study halls.
  • In the United States, universities' admission criteria encompass not just the entrance exams (the SAT or ACT, depending on region), but also things like extracurricular activities and sports; the American Education Mama doesn't choose cram school as much as just sign her kid up for every possible after-school activity. But there are still private cram schools for "SAT prep" and "ACT prep", and these companies also offer versions for professional licensing exams such as the bar exam (for lawyers) or medical board exams (for doctors).
  • France has preparatory classes inside high schools, a course of two years to prepare to various entrance examinations to the grandes écolesnote . To be accepted, teachers ask for a high academic level and the ability to bear a high workload. The final year can be repeated once if no interesting school is available.
  • In Brazil, they are known as the cursinhos ("little courses"), which are part-time (although full-time schools are not uncommon) for the vestibulares (Entrance exams for specific universities) or the ENEM (National High School Exam, for any university). These courses are extremly important because public education in Brazil is completly free and have the best-rated colleges. Thus, the cursinhos are essential to enter more disputed programs such as medicine or law. This has also exacerbated social inequality, since the cursinhos are only available for middle or high-class students, who enter in public colleges and don't have to pay tuition, while lower-class people who don't have conditions to study or are in poor public schools can only enter in expensive private colleges.
  • In Ireland, these are known as Grind Schools and generally run courses while the public schools are on holiday, usually Easter.
  • Cram schools are common in Turkey and will offer a mix of tutoring and mock university exams. University entry and placement exams are immensely important for professional career paths in Turkey, especially if one is looking to work in the governmment sector.
    • The connection between the tests and high-level government positions also makes Turkish cram schools incredibly politicized. Many casual observers may wonder why Turkey cracked down on cram schools around the time of the failed 2016 coup attempt. The answer is that the alleged plotters of the coup were accused of using (and operating) cram schools for recruitment.
  • In Greece, attending cram schools is practically expected, and not just for exam years. The striking majority of children learn English and a second foreign language in cram schools even though they are obligatory public school subjects, while starting in high school (or even middle school) they start taking classes in other high-importance or difficulty subjects. Those are always afternoon or Saturday classes, and depending on the system of each cram school, may help the students complete their homework or assign new homework and explain concepts explained in class in a more specific manner (it should be noted that a public school classroom contains around 30 students, while it's rare to find a cram school class with more than 10). As with other real life examples, admittance to university is entirely dependent on a point system which depends on the score you get in a country-wide exam. It's basically a competition for extremely limited spots. Therefore it's near impossible to get into the uni of your choice without attending cram school (good thing you get infinite tries). The public education system itself plays a huge part in the prevalence of cram schools - it is illegal for public school teachers to do private tutoring, and due to really low hiring rates, many newly graduated teachers get their start at cram schools.