Mainland students have beaten counterparts from a number of advanced Asian countries in their Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores, often required for admission into North American universities. Singapore students came top with an average score of 253 out of a possible 300, followed by India, the Philippines and Malaysia. But China ranks fifth, passing Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan and South Korea. The average score in China was 211, compared with 206 in Hong Kong and Myanmar. Scores were calculated from the more than 235,000 Asian students who took the test between June 2000 and July last year. Of that number, 17,644 were from the mainland. An article in the monthly journal Bo Le Leaders, co-published by executive search firm Bo Le Associates and Euromoney publication China Staff, which carried the TOEFL rankings, noted the rising prominence of Chinese professionals. 'One can only imagine how unbeatable Chinese professionals will become once they surpass the English competitiveness of other fluent Asians, such as Singaporeans,' it said. Mainland students not only improved year by year, it said, but had consistently outperformed Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan since 1993. The results should add to the pressure on Hong Kong to raise its standards, said Gerald Postiglione, head of the Wah Ching Centre of Research on Education in China at the University of Hong Kong. '[In the mainland], there are often hundreds of students at a lecture given by a foreigner. Many just come to listen to English and may not be studying the field the lecture is about. Many attending a lecture on the history of 19th century England, for example, may not be interested in that period,' he said. The strong support for English learning on the mainland, helped by endorsement from the Chinese leadership, was a positive factor. 'The standards would not have gone up so quickly without the rapid economic development, the open policy and the people's commitment to improving their English,' Dr Postiglione said. But he warned against making a hasty conclusion on China surpassing Hong Kong in English standards. 'In China, people may not take the test unless they know they will get a good score,' Dr Postiglione said. Most of the mainland students taking TOEFL are university students seeking places in overseas graduate schools, whereas in places like Hong Kong, the test is taken mainly by secondary school graduates. 'People in these countries can afford to send their children overseas for undergraduate studies,' said Benny Wong Hon-chun, adviser at the Institute of International Education. Since October 2000, TOEFL examinations in Hong Kong and other developed countries have been computer-based and have included a written section to test organisational skills. In China, the test is paper-based and does not include the written section.