The Hardest Test You'll Ever Take

January 4, 2011
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Every year, millions of high school students sacrifice a Saturday morning to take the SAT or ACT. Most of these students take it multiple times until they are happy with the score they receive. Now imagine a different scenario, one where college entrance exams lasted two days and covered everything you’d ever learned. This is the reality for Chinese students taking the gaokao.

In the article “China’s SAT,” by Manuela Zoninsein, she described how this test could make or a break a person’s future. Gaokao literally translates to “high test”. Starting in preschool, students begin preparation for the gaokao. About 10 million students take the exam each year, competing for only 5.7 million university spots. The gaokao is given only once a year, so if a student does poorly, they will have to wait another year to retake it.

Zoninsein says, “Essentially, Chinese universities accept those students who are good at taking tests.” And it’s true. It’s unfortunate for those students that may be brilliant, but have poor test taking skills; prestigious universities such as Peking or Tsinghua will make their acceptance decision based solely on these scores.

The need to do well on this exam pounds into a student’s head from an early age. Pressure from family and teachers is palpable. Ultimately, the gaokao determines a student’s job.

There are flaws in the gaokao system that bring about the question: is it really fair? Although each student should receive the same test, they vary by province, based on the local education. So some areas are easier to test in than others, which isn’t very fair. Also, some provinces don’t allow students to view their scores until after they’ve applied to colleges. This creates unlucky and unhappy students. Some have too low of a score to be admitted anywhere, and at the other end of the spectrum, there are those who would have been able to get into the top universities, but were too wary to apply.

The gaokao does nothing more than locate the top testers in China and lead them to the road to success. But it only recognizes a student’s test taking skills, ignoring their talents, accomplishments, and who they are as a person. This is perhaps the greatest flaw of the gaokao.

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