China unveils long-awaited plans to reform rigid national university entrance exam

Under a trial scheme, tests for some subjects would be held during high school years rather than lumped together as a single huge assessment

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 September, 2014, 6:23pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 September, 2014, 8:33am

Education authorities have rolled out an ambitious plan to reform the mainland's national university entrance exam, giving pupils more control over the process.

Under the new proposals, university admissions will rely less on the results of the two-day national exam, or gaokao, and more on standardised tests pupils take during their high school career.

Currently, the national exam comprises three tests - for Chinese, English and mathematics - and a broader fourth one that covers three subjects related to either social science or science, depending on which stream the pupil entered.

That fourth test would be dropped from the national exam by 2020, the ministry said. Instead, pupils will need to take separate standardised tests covering all the six subjects. But they can choose to take the tests at any point in their high school career, and decide which three results are used for their university admission.

The new scheme also promises that pupils will have a second chance to pass the tests, as well as the English test taken as part of the national exam.

Pupils now in their first year of high school in Shanghai and Zhejiang province - the regions chosen to test the reform plans - will be the first to sit the new gaokao in 2017.

"It is the most comprehensive and complicated reform since the national university entrance exams were reintroduced [in 1977]," deputy education minister Du Yubo told a press briefing yesterday.

The ministry also vowed to end special admission on the basis of sports and arts merits by 2015. In the past, this has benefited pupils with a particular talent in those areas, but who did less well academically. Universities would also be required to admit more pupils from the central and western areas, the ministry said.

Commentators said the reform would ensure pupils received a well-rounded high school education but also introduce more pressure.

Pupils would have to fight "a prolonged battle" as a result, said Xiong Bingqi , deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Beijing. "In a way they will face the gaokao pressure from the first day of high school, knowing the scores they gain in the first two years also have a say in the university admission procedure."