You find yourself in a crowded classroom, No. 2 pencil in hand, anxiously bubbling “ABCD” onto a scantron as your fatigued eyes dart from one line of text to another, scrutinizing Virginia Woolf’s beliefs and surveying Plato’s ideology.
Even after three hours and 50 minutes, exhausted from parabolic equations and trigonometric identities, you are not freed. Your anxiety remains an invisible burden on your shoulders, until finally, three weeks later, you type your credentials into the College Board website to check your scores. This course of action forces the universe to collapse into one of two potential realities: a satisfied exhale followed by explosive happiness, or panic-induced convulsions leading to despair. Even as a Lower, I can feel the stress of standardized testing slowly building inside of me, gnawing at my soul. Especially after taking the recent PSAT, which I righteously dub the harbinger of doom.
However, in one instance when I was complaining nonstop about how standardized testing in the U.S. is “absolutely broken,” my father, who sat next to me at the dinner table, let out a mocking chuckle. As I tilted my head questioningly, he revealed to me what college admission was like for him back in China. And that was when I realized, if you think the SAT is bad, the Chinese “Gaokao” is your worst nightmare.
The “Gaokao” is first and foremost known for its insane difficulty. The testing spans two days in length (nine hours total) and includes four subjects. Each year, students are only allowed to take the tests once. A student was even refused entry to the exam for being one-minute late, according to a “GBTimes” article.
The tests themselves are even worse. Though all of the tests are notorious for their difficulty, the mandatory Chinese assessment is especially wicked. Students are given a mere two hours to read passages, answer both short-answer and multiple-choice questions, and (after rushing through all of those problems in about one hour and 59 minutes), write a quick 800-character essay on some completely random topic, spanning from ancient poems translated from archaic forms of Chinese to “How Would Thomas Edison React to the Mobile Phone If He Came to the 21st Century?”
There are many more problems with the “Gaokao.” According to the “South China Morning Post,” the “Gaokao” exhibits a bias favoring Beijing residents and underrepresented minorities, which have led to recent street protests. As much as I disdain the SAT, the SAT is very fair in the sense that all students receive the same questions and their percentiles are all calculated in comparison to one another’s.
Furthermore, the importance of the “Gaokao” is emphasized due to its status as the paramount determinant of a student’s college admission. Here is where I have to acknowledge my appreciation for admission officers in the U.S., even at secondary schools like Andover. They do a great job of looking holistically at candidate rather than just viewing them as their test scores. In comparison to Chinese schools, schools in the U.S. are much better about encouraging group-work and creativity. Additionally, all U.S. colleges will allow students to take the SATs more than once, and many of the elite schools — including Harvard, Yale, and Stanford — superscore, which is when schools only use your best score from each section (of all the times you took the SAT) to create a composite number.
This year in China, the number of graduates will approach 7.95 million, according to the Chinese Ministry of Education. This will mean that simply going to college will no longer be enough to guarantee a successful life. The majority of working class Chinese families have to work even harder to get into better schools and later on, secure the very limited number of high paying jobs which, in their eyes, is a prerequisite for a good life. I know friends in China who were exposed to the concept of the “Gaokao” in kindergarten.
So the next time you complain about how “unfair and stressful” American standardized tests are, remember that there are students in China who will forever be stuck overworking for their underpaid blue collar jobs. It could always be worse.
Andy Zeng is a New Lower from Palo Alto, Calif.