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Chinese students focus on US college entrance exam

Updated: 2012-11-17 02:32
By Wang Hongyi in Shanghai ( China Daily)

Although he is in only his first year of high school, 15-year-old Zhang Han has already made the decision to go to the United States immediately after graduation.

He has drawn up a clear three-year plan that starts with going to Hong Kong in June to take the Scholastic Assessment Test, a standardized US college admissions exam. In July, he will take the Test of English as a Foreign Language.

Chinese students focus on US college entrance exam 

Chinese student Zou Minzhe answers a question in a statistics class at Orono High School in Orono, Maine, United States, on March 8, 2011. Zou has credited his year at the school with helping him get accepted to five US colleges. Robert F Bukaty / for China Daily 

After a summer of studying, he then intends to take the tests again in September and October, with the expectation of getting higher scores.

Finally, he will finish his applications for US universities, including submitting his SAT and TOEFL results, before February 2014.

"Today, more students study abroad, and consequently the competition for places at US universities, especially top schools, is even tougher," said Zhang, who attends a prestigious school in Tianjin. "It's very important to prepare early."

Like many students who take the tests, Zhang plans to take the SAT two or three times, even though it means frequent flights to Hong Kong.

"I plan to study at a college that's in the top 20 to 30 in the US, which means I have to gain a very competitive SAT score," he said.

The SAT, which is held six times a year, is not offered on the Chinese mainland, and the nearest test center is in Hong Kong. Most of the top US universities require a candidate's SAT score.

The number of mainland students taking the SAT in Hong Kong rose from 200 to 20,000 between 2003 and 2010, according to the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority, and the figure is expected to exceed 40,000 this year.

And according to a source at New Oriental Education, the country's largest English education and training organization, it has seen a 20 to 30 percent increase in students receiving SAT training every year.

Some industry insiders also estimated that nationwide, there are about 25,000 to 30,000 "SAT-prep" students, including Zhang Han. These students are in their first or second year of high school.

To cater to the growing demand for SAT training among mainland students, many agencies are working with tourism companies to provide an all-around service to transport them to Hong Kong.

With a team leader, "test group" travelers are arranged to Hong Kong by a charter flight. And there will be a shuttle to take students from the hotel to the test center. Usually, a teacher will organize a last-minute training at the hotel one day before the test.

The average cost of the whole trip is about 5000 yuan ($801.5)a little bit higher than other travel packages for shopping to this famous tax-free city.

"This trip is very convenient. Parents are often very busy; they cannot find time to accompany their children," said Mao Shuqian, a former Nanyang Model High School student in Shanghai who took the SAT trip organized by New Oriental last year.

She is now studying business economics at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"I have been living with my parents for a long time. I wanted to have an independent life," she said, when asked about why she chose to study abroad. "Also, the education concept and method is different from Chinese universities."

Zhang had a similar answer to that question. "I'm actually very confident of being able to get into a top university in China through the gaokao (the national college entrance exam), but I'd more like to experience higher education overseas," the 15-year-old said.

In the past, it was common to see students go abroad for further study after completing a college degree, said Liu Qing, a consultant from Shanghai Vision Overseas Consulting, part of the New Oriental Group, "but these days, students going overseas are younger, and some teenagers even begin high school abroad."

The gaokao, once the biggest event in a Chinese student's teenage life, now seems less intense. The number of students taking the exam has fallen for past four consecutive years, from 10.5 million in 2008 to 9 million this year, according to the Ministry of Education.

A 2010 survey of 3,000 Chinese parents by international training company Education First found that more than 40 percent planned to send their children abroad after high school.

A report in September by the Social Sciences Academy Press also stated that about 340,000 mainland students went overseas for study in 2011. Researchers noted that a growing number of students at high schools, especially renowned institutions, are opting to skip the gaokao to continue their education overseas.

In some key high schools, the trend is obvious. This year, foreign universities accepted more than 20 percent of graduates from the high school affiliated with Shanghai's Fudan University.

Top colleges overseas also enrolled more than 30 students from the high school affiliated with Shanghai International Studies University.

"This is a considerable number, and it includes many excellent students," said Chen Qun, president of East China Normal University. "Education authorities should pay attention to this trend, as the country's brightest young students are flocking to attend US college admission tests."

Another education expert, Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Beijing, agreed.

"If no reform is made to the current education and exam systems, more excellent students will go to overseas universities," he said.

"It will leave a distance between Chinese universities and their overseas counterparts," he warned.

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