China's Version of the SAT Is Kind of Insane

The notorious gaokao is often a life-defining test
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 17, 2016 1:47 PM CDT
China's Version of the SAT Is Kind of Insane
In this 2007 file photo, a young student appears dazed and tired after completing the gaokao in Beijing.   (AP Photo/Elizabeth Dalziel)

The SATs are notorious for putting undue amounts of pressure on US students, but the Guardian takes a look at the college entrance exam in China and suggests the American version is tame by comparison. In fact, China's gaokao ("higher examination") just may be the "world's toughest school exam" per the headline on the piece. For two days each year in early June, the nation's focus turns to the all-important tests for students graduating high school. Construction around exam sites is halted, and ambulances are on call in case students are overcome by stress. Why? "A high or low mark determines life opportunities and earning potential," writes Alec Ash. "That score is the most important number of any Chinese child’s life, the culmination of years of schooling, memorization, and constant stress."

The exam itself consists of four three-hour papers in the subjects of Chinese, English, math, and either science or humanities. The Chinese section generally consists of a freeform question such as "Do butterfly wings have colors?" Ash follows the travails of one young man who drilled 12 hours a day from months, only to have his score come in at a solid but unspectacular 664 out of 750, enough to quash his dreams of getting into a top university. "I didn’t know what to say," writes Ash, who was with the youth when he learned his score, "and as a journalist I have never felt more intrusive as I watched a young man’s hopes crumble before my eyes." Click for the full story, which explains that more students are opting to ditch the gaokao to study abroad or in a vocational program. (More China stories.)

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