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Facts about China's National College Entrance Exam

Is It Just Me, or Do China's "SATs" Make Ours Look Like ABCs?

If you still wake up from nightmares about missing your SATs consider how you'd feel if they had lasted two days instead of a couple hours! Slate's Dispatches put together an book-cracking profile of China's SATs in time for the country's 31st annual National College Entrance Exam, also known as the "gaoko." Here's what you should know (I promise, it will help put a halt to those "show up at school naked" dreams. . .):

  • The exams take place over two days the first week of every June and at least 10 million Chinese high school students took them this year. Test takers are competing for an estimated 5.7 million university spots. If you're too tired to do the math that means almost half the people who take the exam won't get a university spot.
  • About 70 million Chinese have taken the gaokao and more than 30 million have enrolled at universities over the last three decades, according to Reuters.
  • Forget extra curricular activities and merit awards! Students become aware of the gaokao at an early age because it is the sole criterion for university admission.
  • The entire country stops and accommodates "millions of nervous gaokao-takers," says Slate. "Traffic cops will redirect vehicles away from test centers, and construction sites will pause their incessant drilling. Even in Sichuan, tents have been erected in case aftershocks require students to be moved from testing centers. Many Chinese citizens find the system painful, inflexible, and ineffective."
  • Wondering what happens if you don't ace the test and why the system can help lower classes, then


  • The gaoko is only offered once a year, but students that aren't happy with their scores can retake the test the following year.
  • The test has been criticized for squashing creativity or individuality, but is perceived by some to the the only "objective yardstick by which to measure academic success."
  • In theory students' social and economic statuses don't matter. One of the girls Slate profiles said the test "allows someone very poor the opportunity to rise out of poverty."
  • The test is supposed to be uniform nationally, but is actually modified by each province to accommodate the quality of local education.
  • Feel like testing your skills? Danwei has translations of some of the essay questions from the 2007 exam as reported by the Beijing Evening News and the Xinmin Evening News. No #2 pencil required.


rabidmoon rabidmoon 9 years
Yes, I would agree with that, to some extent - I changed universities in my second year from your general "great big State party school" to a smaller, lib-arts school that put a big emphasis on critical thinking, but even that aside it was probably the last 2 years there before it got really meaty in terms of critical commentary and really creative thinking. In particular, (though I was a music student), I recall my history professor was amazing...not only did she allow us to move past the text and discuss history, we could openly debate things she discussed, and we could definitely move all the historical "facts and figures" into a live platform and discuss them in context of today's world - which I think really not only helped us see the mistakes of the past as well as the wise moves, but it brought history alive for us in a way that so often, it never is, particularly pre-university. At the graduate level it was better, though I still found some professors more open to debating their own students and exploring rationales and concepts outside of the textbook than others - one department head and I got into quite a stiff argument over hiring practices and I was surprised at how fast his ego got the better of him, and also happy to see other students disappointed in his reaction as I was.
qtpie qtpie 9 years
It's not just communist countries, high school and even undergrad is just regurgitating and memorising. It isn't until you're doing a PhD or a Masters that you actually get to critically analyse and think for yourself.
sldc sldc 9 years
As far as advancing civilization, rote learning will never trump creative thinking.
shanimalcracker shanimalcracker 9 years
JessNess, I completely agree with you on the fact that there are plenty of people who are smart and are bad test takers and people who just happened to do well on a test. Haha, I remember being so excited to go to college, thinking it would be different from high school and everyone would be super involved, smart, and ambitious. Even for a top 25 school, I realized that was very much not the case.
JessNess JessNess 9 years
I took my SATs and ACTs almost 4 years ago. I did pretty well on them but did not get the greatest score. Luckily I still got into a good college because I actually had the grades. The problem with testing is it does not really tell you much about the person and their qualities. Plus there are really really intelligent people who are HORRIBLE at tests. So should these people be denied higher education because they could not ace a test? Also doing good on the SATs and getting into college does not mean you are intelligent. I am surprised every day by some of the complete idiots that get into college. I have read essays from fellow students and a lot them lack basic grammar and writing skills. Although I am almost done with my undergraduate education and don't have to worry about the SATs I know have the grad school version to look forward too. I'm happy that college are not looking at the SATs as much as they use and I wish it was the same way for grad schools
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
The SAT has it's place, but colleges are doing the right thing and looking at more than just that, before admitting you into their fine institution.
Nyrina-Windu Nyrina-Windu 9 years
The SAT needs to be changed or stopped. It's kind of out dated in more ways than one. More colleges are not accepting them now anyway, although you are free to have them placed in your file. And I agree with another poster above, the SAT doesn't really look at..."creativity" or "individuality". Again, that's why more and more colleges are not looking for just your SAT score anymore, before they admit you into their institutions.
joniz joniz 9 years
I am a Chinese.I took "gaokao" 6 years ago. Luckly I got a spot.^^
Silverlining10 Silverlining10 9 years
The American SATs are a joke. I didn't crack open one SAT book and still got accepted into a well-respected university. It's a privilege to live in the United States because we have such an accepting education system.
flutterpie flutterpie 9 years
im sorry our school system may produce a handful of less than intelligent people but for every kid that comes out of it with some smarts (trust me it happens) it makes me thankful that i am not in a country with a one child policy and that i will not be murdered for my opinions
flutterpie flutterpie 9 years
im sorry our school system may produce a handful of retards but every kid that comes out of it intelligent (trust me it happens) it makes me thankful that i am not in a country with a one child policy and that i will not be murdered for my opinions
Kazagirl Kazagirl 9 years
wow, I had a hard enough time taking the SAT's. I had to take it twice to increase my score.
shanimalcracker shanimalcracker 9 years
P.S. Oops, I had a typo that should have read "African Americans" not "African Americs."
shanimalcracker shanimalcracker 9 years
Hrmm, I don't think that the SAT looks at "creativity" or "individuality" either. Also, a lot of people think that the American school system teaches to tests as well (except in this case, SAT 9 or CAT 9 tests, whichever they're called nowadays). Although it is a lot of pressure to put on students, there isn't really much of another way to administer a test that will get an "objective" measurement. In any case, this test should be lauded for the fact that it has alterations for different provinces; the U.S. has always had controversy with having biased tests that use language and concepts that supposedly can be unfamiliar to disadvantaged minorities, especially African Americs. Annebreal, I'm sorry but I have to disagree with you also. Haven't we heard time and time again that American education (particularly public schooling) promotes recitation and empty memorization rather than always focusing on synthesizing knowledge? This is evidenced from everything from memorizing states and their capitals to times tables, rather than getting a more holistic and comprehensive knowledge of these things. Also, technically, being a student is supposed to be an occupation in itself. I took advantage of the free time I had as a college student by working when I could to save up extra money, but with the premise that I would ONLY do this if I could keep up with my studies. I definitely think that it is more important to have studying as a priority. In any case, as far as I know, many Chinese students actually hold jobs because they need the money. I don't have any facts or figures about this, but it's not taboo to be a working young adult in school. In essence, there are going to be problems with any existing schooling system and its examinations for entering higher education. However, it's pretty much common knowledge that Americans do have it easier in terms of the testing process and the multiple abilities to get into college (e.g. state universities, community colleges, private universities, occupational schools, transferring). There aren't any other countries where it is so easy to do badly in the K-12 schooling equivalent and then be able to go to community college and transfer to one of the top universities. This does make America a little bit more forgiving as people can change their tracks (e.g. occupational track to university track), but whether or not this is a good thing is entirely another story.
bluebird bluebird 9 years
I would have RATHER had a selection process like this- I got a 29 on the ACT, and likely would have scored similarly high on the SAT- than the type of competition there is now to get into American universities. I grew up in a single-parent family, and I didn't have time to do sports or honors societies, I had to work so I could buy my lunch the next day.
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
I agree Hypno. When I was in college ____ years ago, I had to "observe" teachers, so that I might be able to discern (sp) what would be my "style". I saw so many teachers allowing their students to "use test aides" so that the students wouldn't have too much anxiety. What it really did for the kids was teach them that a little cheating isn't too bad. I don't really have to learn how to study because I can write everything I need on my "test aid".
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
Our education system has clearly been dumbed down. Even our lack of science and math majors is a pending national security issue. America needs to take a moment of pause and get our priorities in order.
MaraJade06014 MaraJade06014 9 years
I don't think that one test should decide your entire future. I see it happen all the time here in the US. A person who can test well, but has a poor attitude and will party their brains out will get in to a good school, but the hard working person with test anxiety won't get a good score, and can't get in to the school they deserve. I think that collages should pay more attention to the persons personality, not their test scores.
CesyBabe CesyBabe 9 years
gotta remember the Chinese created exams- I do believe to be come a public servant you had to sit a two day test where you actually sat in a shed for two days and sat the test. GRRRR silly Chinese- I'm doing exams now and it sucks!
annebreal annebreal 9 years
I'm going to say this carefully because I don't want to offend - but over the past two years the university I just graduated from has had a sister university in Ningbo, China, and I had a job tutoring at the school's writing lab. I have to say from what I've experienced there, and from what one of my coworkers said who's worked as an English teacher in China, and what the students themselves said, I don't really believe in this system. I think that we have a habit in the States to assume that Asian countries have kids way smarter than ours and that their school systems are much better, but I think that in as far as them coming over here to study and work (I don't know enough about college and the workforce over here) they've been done a big disservice. - It's more reciting and memorization than critical and abstract thinking skills. I mean, it's really great (seriously, it is) that they can rattle off geography and historical dates and have that knowledge, but when it comes to forming a well thought-out argument or writing a composition, they really struggle (and no, not just because they're ESL, because it's not something they regularly practice there, or at least according to our students. Although being ESL doesn't help either). - Their work ethic in high school is amazing. But it's all about this exam and getting into college. Once they get into college, the tendency is to think they're done because that was the big battle. All our students were surprised they had to work at our school; the expectations were different at their sister school in China. - Their work experience is way different. While they're in school, their job is to be a student and that's it. They're all amazed that over here we start working in high school (at least) and continue working in college. The standard is that you don't hold a job until you've finished college and enter the workforce. - Also, being only children helps a lot. Parents have more money and dote on their children, and give them 100% support. I think if none of us had the stress of having to work through school and having all our education paid for, we'd do a lot better too. Basically I think that if that works for them over there, great. But I don't think it's for the West - they value different things than we do. Honestly, I'd rather us test lower but think for ourselves more, and learn the value of a dollar early by working for it.
menthadict menthadict 9 years
My sister told me about those tests and i was shocked. And I thanked God I was born here.
Frank-y-Ava Frank-y-Ava 9 years
I was so scared of the SAT's I didn't even take it. I took the ACT and got a 23. I had to take the SAT's for a college I wanted to go and I decided I just won't be going to that school. That's how scared I am of a test! Sad I know!
javsmav javsmav 9 years
I taught English in a Chinese high school for a year and yeah, this test is insane. Basically your entire future rests on this one exam. Naturally, this creates a lot of stress. But it's very true that there is no room for creativity in school. I once had my students write a poem in class. I read the first one and was very impressed...then I read that same poem 500 more times. Apparently, everyone just tried to translate a famous Chinese poem. They could stand to learn a little from the West and we could DEFINITELY learn something from them. Our math & science scores? Embarrassing!
melda melda 9 years
Well I am sorry I know this is about China but studying in my country is the same.
melda melda 9 years
"So kids grow up thinking any non-science subjects are for losers." Yes!! No one really cares about other available jobs and like now that I am studying for masters I am considered very clever but I also like dressmaking but if I chose that job, everyone will think I am idle
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