• Tue
  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 11:29pm
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 August, 2014, 1:59pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2014, 1:50am

How the new SAT test will instil US values into impressionable young Chinese minds

Kelly Yang says the SAT's new focus on US civil liberties has the potential to remould the mindset of a whole generation of young Chinese


Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school writing program for children in Hong Kong. At KYP, she teaches creative writing, public speaking and critical reasoning. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard Law School. Follow Kelly on Twitter: @kellyyanghk

By now, most people know that the SAT, the test for US university admissions, is changing. There will be a longer essay and a new scoring system. What they don't know is that the new test, with its heavy emphasis on knowledge of the country's founding documents and civil liberties, has the potential to change the mindset and world view of an entire generation of Chinese youth.

Until now, American culture has been largely exported through Hollywood. And until now, the SAT has largely been a predictable and monotonous examination full of tricky words like "legerdemain" and "ignominious". Its "crammability" led to its popularity in this part of the world. Every year, tens of thousands of mainland students flock to Hong Kong to sit the SAT. Last year, China sent about a quarter of a million students to study in the US.

I've been teaching the SAT exam for nearly 10 years. Those of us in the Asian SAT test prep industry understand that perfect scores are no indicator of future academic or workplace success. They're an indicator of a willingness to memorise.

All that's about to change.

From 2016, every SAT will include passages from the founding documents, including the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. Further reading will come from the texts inspired by these documents, such as Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, works by Henry David Thoreau, and essays by Elizabeth Cady Stanton on women's suffrage.

Ask your typical Chinese kid today about voting rights and they'll draw a blank. To do well on the new SAT, Chinese students will need to cover the breadth of these foreign issues and philosophies, from American political parties and individual civil liberties to protecting the individual against potential abuses of power by the state. How, exactly, does the average Chinese student cram for that?

In some ways, the US College Board has created a test as un-Chinese as they come.

Not surprisingly, the new test has people in Asia worried. Within the industry, test preparation giants are scrambling to put together material based on the sample questions released. Critics say that the new focus on US founding documents unfairly puts international students at a disadvantage. The fact is, Chinese students may want to go to America, but most have no clue what America's about.

But this, to me, is the beauty of the new SAT. I believe it will trigger a new type of test prep, one that can change the world. In a couple of years, hundreds of thousands of students all over China will be poring over the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights with the same zeal and tenacity they once reserved for quadratic equations. I hope they'll come away with more than just high test scores.

If the new SAT succeeds, it will be the first time America is able to systematically shape the views, beliefs and ideologies of hundreds of thousands of Chinese students every year, not through a popular television show or a politician's speaking tour, but through what the Chinese care about most - exams.

Kelly Yang teaches SAT at the Kelly Yang Project, an after-school centre for writing and debate in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School. www.kellyyang.edu.hk


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If SAT’s changes were to target Chinese students only then I may say US is really being tricky and clever in speeding up its influence over China through its young minds. But I don’t have such impression as much as this article has implied. The focus is more to instill nationalism among the American youths. In the ever increasing globalization world the natives or newly arrived all have been less clear of the history of the country. It is both a clever and responsible act for SAT to reverse the watering down of identity of US citizens.
I recall that I didn’t spend much time for the SAT preparation. There were no tutorial classes or even books available in the early 60s. However, I thank my parents for subscribing to Reader’s Digest where I picked up many English vocabularies in its ‘Word Power’. There I learned not only new English words but concepts that I was unfamiliar. In fact what I picked up there has had become part of my vocabularies and thoughts. Indeed, Reader’s Digest is a soft power I believe over many people like myself especially at the time being young and impressionable.
These topics, as well as many other similar black eyes, are taught in schools in the US. What are you even talking about?
US values? Hmmm, placing themselves above the law, genocide, illegal invasions of other countries, torture, a non functioning judicial system, blatant racism, state murder.
China and the criminal CCP goons that run it have achieved all these values long ago. How would those kids learn anything new?
What an interesting article. What will be China's response? Might we see a lower number of
Chinese applicants to U.S. schools now?
Great education for Chinese students
who will become better informed and better thinkers
than US students if in response to the US stratagem
China will institute a prerequisite for SAT
that Chinese students must first pass a test
on Jim Crow and Chinese Exclusion Acts
of which most US graduates are ignorant
Now THAT is "soft power"!
When I travel to the US from Hong Kong I am sometimes sitting next to someone from the Mainland. They usually have some English printed books that they just purchased in a Hong Kong bookshop. Some are about the China or US government or society but they all tell me they are buying the books while traveling abroad and will give them away before returning to China because they are banned in China. So who is brainwashing who?
The principles and structure of US government and society are based on French and British law and culture so should China reject them too?
So much nonsense when the people we should all worry about are the people in our own backyard.
I hope its a good beginning to distill a cohort of students with liberal mindset and holistic world view in lieu of a raft of knowledge-laden crammer.
Actually most US schools teach China is the future(perhaps a little premature) and have Mandarin programs and exchange students.Most Americans. Politicians stir up problems not teachers.
Disparage all you want, Pierce m'boy...
I don't see
A massive industry that's evolved
Around international students
Trying to master rote memory exams
To get into China schools...
(Must kill you to have to write in English to try to get your point across, no? You must feel like a real sellout.)




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