CPPCC members question place of English in gaokao

By Sun Xiaochen (
Updated: 2014-03-11 16:15

Removing English from the gaokao, China's college entrance exam, might lower the English-learning fever in China but it helps build a fair and targeted college admission system, said a national political adviser.

To earn a good enough score in the national examination to qualify for an elite university, even students applying for non-English majors such as traditional Chinese literature have to earn high marks in the English test to achieve the comprehensive total score level.

Yu Minhong, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and founder of New Oriental Education and Technology Group, said using the same criteria to recruit students for different majors doesn't make sense.

"The English test score shouldn't be counted into the total points of gaokao but should be considered as just a reference," Yu said after a panel discussion on Monday. "Each university should set score requirements for respective specialties and recruit students depending on the subject's needs."

Due to the large share of English scores in the gaokao (150 points), Chinese students have paid great attention to learning English grammar, vocabulary and essay-writing, more than any other country's students spend on learning a second language, and the exam-oriented English education in secondary schools does little to improve student's practical skills of speaking and listening, Yu said

The Ministry of Education released a draft reform plan for the gaokao for public review in December, urging local education authorities to diversify their evaluation of English skills and lower the emphasis on English in the exam.

Using Beijing as a reference, the full score for the English test will be reduced to 100 points from 150. Students will take the tests twice each year and their highest score will count for the gaokao.

The new method is expected to begin in 2016 but Yu said it's more of a superficial change than an actual reform.

"No matter how many points it counts toward, 20 or less, it's still part of the final gaokao result. Students will continue spending time and effort working on English because each point counts for college admission with the same standards," Yu said. "Plus, multi-time tests will add an extra burden on students."

Only by excluding English from the gaokao can students decide how much and how hard they work on learning English based on the specialty that interests them, Yu said.

Sun Huiling, a CPPCC member and an official with the Tianjin Hexi district education bureau, agreed with Yu that the English assessment should be diversified but was cautious about removing English from the gaokao.

"The existence of the English test in the gaokao has played a significant role of promoting the language among Chinese children, no matter whether in test-taking skills or practical communication," said Sun, who was formerly a senior English teacher at Tianjin Experimental High School.

"If we take it out of the gaokao, I am afraid the enthusiasm for learning English would decline as any change in the gaokao will largely affect teaching plans and curriculum setting in secondary schools."