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My Opinion of the GaoKao

Popularity 15Viewed 8321 times 2014-6-4 10:11 |System category:Life| GaoKao

In China it's GaoKao, in America it's SATs. Both are exams designed to test a student's entire academic career. Both are gateways to higher education. In both countries your score dictates the quality of your future education. Low scores do not a Harvard man make - or a Tsinghua one, either. 

While it is true that, in both countries the exam can be retaken, the difference between SAT and GaoKao is that, in China, each student has one shot to go to university, and that one chance is immediately after high school, and predicated on a successful GaoKao. Also, as I understand it, the standards are more rigorous on the GaoKao. 

Before talking about GaoKao, I'd like to address cookie-cutter teaching. Not every student has the same aptitude, not everyone learns the same way. Some are visual learners who absorb knowledge better with charts, pictures, etc. Kinesthetic learners need hands-on experience to optimize their intelligence and auditory learners absorb by hearing lessons, in the form of lectures and the like. Clearly the present teaching method benefits the latter, leaving the other two types at a disadvantage.

Likewise, cookie cutter testing is only beneficial to a small group of students: those good at rote memorization. I contend those are auditory learners. Ironically, kinesthetic learners are good at writing - a mechanical skill. (As I understand it, writing is a large part of the GaoKao) So: if the current method of instruction is beneficial only to about one third of the students but testing is geared toward a different third, how can we say that this exam fairly measures every student's intellect?

In America a college student can experience a broader slice of life - working, co-habitated relationships, living off campus, possibly even marriage and children. In China the focus is strictly on education. Some students take part time jobs and campus activities range from special interest groups to further academic pursuits but essentially, students are limited to college life: living in a dorm and focused on classwork. Whereas in America, college aged students have varied life skills like cooking, driving and managine money, most of my students here have no idea how to prepare food or budget. I aver these skills broaden a young person's perspective, while narrowly focusing on education stunts students' social and life skills, leaving them learned but unprepared for the world.    

Now, back the to the GaoKao: I believe it is unfair to students. That single marker should not be an indicator of future success and family honor. Having only one shot at higher education, and that education dictating their status in society puts undue pressure on children who actually have only a vague idea of what social status/success means. Already these children feel the pressure of family legacy. The all too real possibility of failure puts undue strain on them. 

Reducing the weight of the English score, or doing away with it altogether is a small but meaningless gesture toward easing that pressure. If English is taught from the students' first academic year, as math and Chinese is, removing it only serves to indicate that English is not that important after all. Allowing points for civic contributions and/or morality is equally unproductive. Surely we want moral, educated citizens leading society, but good people sometimes test poorly, and the added points might not make that vital difference between college entrance and being doomed to serve fries at McDonalds.   

For all that, I don't believe the GaoKao should disappear. Instead I believe that students should be allowed to experience life a bit: work, volunteer or maybe just travel around to gain some sort of social experience and a perspective on the wider world. Perhaps capping college entrance age at 20 would allow students time to figure out where they want their life to go and how to get there. By forcing students to prolong their academic career when, after 12 years most are burned out on formal studying does our future and society in general a disservice. Testing - GaoKao'ing by age 19 will give students a chance to choose their path and give them renewed energy to get there successfully. Also, a year untethered to the education machine would show them what the world is really like, fueling their desire to improve their station in life... or not. Finally, a year off from studying would give the students a 物极必反 cushion before plunging further into academic endeavors.       

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Reply Report 财神 2014-6-4 16:21
gao kao is the iron-gate! break it and move ahead.  
Reply Report voice_cd 2014-6-5 09:40
Thanks for sharing your story here, we have highlighted your blog.
Reply Report lindalje 2014-6-5 10:51
A good part of testing questions is cookie-cutter testing indeed. Seeing how my dauhgter tries to memorize what policy is good for China in what ways gives me a leaden heart that cannot speak up. To make matters worse, cookie-cutter testing is done in college tests extensively as well, just to make sure the students won't leave their textbooks alone.
Reply Report KIyer 2014-6-6 05:49
The Gao Kao sounds like a tough exam - I am not sure all of it requires only memorization and only rote learning. ALL tests everywhere in the world require some memorization, but most good tests and tough tests require applying one's own thinking and some creativity to solve the problems - else they would be easy and only pass the rote learner. I dont believe that is the case with Gao Kao or SATs. I think both serve the purpose for which they are designed. In countries where there is more demand than supply (more interested in applying than one has available seats) there needs to be a fair filter that will certainly eliminate some really good students who would do well in uni. They will just not make it through. But that is how it is. The USA is different in that, the local demand is less than supply of seats available, and it is the other way around in China or India.. So, I don't see a problem with that. Each have a system that is fair and appropriate, i believe..
SATs do have subjects that requires a lot of memorization of arbitrary rules and bits of information that are special to the local culture and language. I think slamming the Gao Kao for something similar is unfair.
Reply Report xuehailang 2014-6-6 10:07
good writing,and i think our officials of education department should read your this blog and make some change on entrance exam.Students in China have no their own life and feel tired ,esp in mind.
Reply Report seanboyce88 2014-6-6 11:46
When you are talking about cookie cutter testing, what did you mean? Sorry if I seem a bit dense, I just have never heard this term before.
Reply Report wushengli 2014-6-6 21:28
Gaokao should be one of the ways the higher education enrolls new students, should not be made the only way.
Reply Report 286633460 2014-6-6 22:51
Life sometimes is easy and sometimes is not ,seems like  Downton Abbey. Something Chinese are changing but they also hesitate
Reply Report PatrickInBeijin 2014-6-7 07:17
Nice article.  Students can take the GaoKao more than once.  If they fail, or do poorly, they can study and take it the next year, and even the next.  So that some students actually enter college at 19, 20,  or 21.  Not many, but it happens.
For many families, having their kids take a year off would be meaningless, since they have no money to travel or do anything else, and what they can earn at that age (if they can find work) is not enough to be useful to them or their families.
I do agree that people obsess over the GaoKao too much.  There are many students who begin at lesser schools and then move up through their hard work.
Most of the students in America who work do so out of need.  Given the problems of student debt in America, I am not sure that at this time it is a good place to emulate.
Reply Report teamkrejados 2014-6-7 08:13
PatrickInBeijin: Nice article.  Students can take the GaoKao more than once.  If they fail, or do poorly, they can study and take it the next year, and even the next.  ...
Ah, money! You're perfectly right, Patrick. It always comes down to money, doesn't it?
What I was envisioning with the 'take the year off' idea was a volunteer program or work cooperative program, set up by businesses and/or cities to A. give students a break in studying (ease burnout) and B. give them some practical world/living experience. For students that stay close to home, volunteering would work well. For students ready to stretch their wings, working/living in a dorm would work.
I believe having that option would reduce GaoKao fever and release stress. Don't you?
Reply Report teamkrejados 2014-6-7 08:13
286633460: Life sometimes is easy and sometimes is not ,seems like  Downton Abbey. Something Chinese are changing but they also hesitate
It is difficult to choose when your options are not known.
Reply Report teamkrejados 2014-6-7 08:14
wushengli: Gaokao should be one of the ways the higher education enrolls new students, should not be made the only way.
Well said! Do you have suggestions on other ways?
Reply Report teamkrejados 2014-6-7 08:21
seanboyce88: When you are talking about cookie cutter testing, what did you mean? Sorry if I seem a bit dense, I just have never heard this term before.
Cookie cutter testing (education) is the same test, administered to everyone at the same time. Imagine making cookies: the mold or press cuts dough to the exact same shape, time after time.
Rather frightening when you think about that philosophy applied to people, isn't it?
Reply Report teamkrejados 2014-6-7 08:23
xuehailang: good writing,and i think our officials of education department should read your this blog and make some change on entrance exam.Students in China have ...
That was a very large compliment, my friend. I'm honored by your words.
It is not just students who get tired and burnt out. Teachers too feel stress because they can only repeat the same material, over and over. As much as teachers care for their students, they have to keep pushing knowledge, and not take time to see if students understand. It is very frustrating. Wish you a good day.
Reply Report teamkrejados 2014-6-7 08:31
KIyer: The Gao Kao sounds like a tough exam - I am not sure all of it requires only memorization and only rote learning. ALL tests everywhere in the world re ...
That's exactly the problem, KIyer. The Chinese education system is mourning its lack of critical thinking teaching modules. There has been a spate of articles recently about teachers broadening their teaching methods to incorporate critical thinking development.
As I understand the GaoKao, much of what is on it is memorization and composition. And you are absolutely right: it serves as a filter. But then, I never said the GaoKao should go away. I said students should have the option to postpone it for a year so they can take a break from learning, gain perspective of the wider world and perhaps decide what role they'd like to play in it. Wish you a great day.
Reply Report teamkrejados 2014-6-7 08:34
lindalje: A good part of testing questions is cookie-cutter testing indeed. Seeing how my dauhgter tries to memorize what policy is good for China in what ways  ...
That breaks my heart, Lindalje. Thank you for supporting my point that much of testing in Chinese education system is memorization.  Changes will come, I'm sure... but not soon enough for your daughter. Wish you a good day.
Reply Report teamkrejados 2014-6-7 08:35
KIyer: The Gao Kao sounds like a tough exam - I am not sure all of it requires only memorization and only rote learning. ALL tests everywhere in the world re ...
Sorry to add this: Please read Lindalje's comment, above yours. She also says most of the test is memorization. Thanks.
Reply Report teamkrejados 2014-6-7 08:35
voice_cd: Thanks for sharing your story here, we have highlighted your blog.
I appreciate your attention. Wish you a great weekend.
Reply Report msbom 2014-6-7 10:10
It's hard how Gaokao nearly drives Chinese students and families demented yet in an international school, students far less stressed think that they are really suffering to graduate with an IB diploma. Despite average scores, they can probably find a university in the US without much trouble, maybe have to pay a lot of money too. My student from a local school just laughs - his recent persuasive essay was on the topic of "Do students at our school have too much homework?" His resounding answer was "NO!" He had his local school experience to compare it with. Strangely, he has a much better attitude to study and hard work, he enjoys learning, makes up his own study systems while the privileged expats procrastinate, play games and waste their golden opportunity. Such inequities.
Reply Report KIyer 2014-6-7 12:45
teamkrejados: That's exactly the problem, KIyer. The Chinese education system is mourning its lack of critical thinking teaching modules. There has been a spate of  ...
Who exactly is mourning the lack of critical thinking modules in Gao Kao? Do the majority of Chinese believe that it has been designed excluding questions that test critical thinking? In what way is it opposed to the SATs, GREs in the USA which all require memorization and composition mostly and some questions challenge critical original thinking?
It would seem odd to me... Even the Indian version JEE is a superior and more challenging exam than the SATs and GREs..
English is given a lot of weight in the entrance to Western English speaking universities...

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