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The Chinese college entrance exam to open doors at US universities

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When education authorities across China begin releasing results for the biggest exams in the country’s academic calendar, the scores will not only decide entry into Chinese universities – they will open more academic doors in the United States, reported South China Morning Post (Hong Kong).

China’s controversial college entrance exam, or gaokao, is gaining acceptance in the US as an indicator of better future academic performance.

The University of San Francisco (USF), which started admitting Chinese applicants based on gaokao scores in 2015, said that Chinese students who entered through the gaokao admission programme achieved considerably higher results than those admitted through the traditional process.

“For example, the combined grade point average of the gaokao students is nearly six-tenths of a point higher than the Chinese students who applied through the traditional admission process,” Jason Opdyke, USF’s assistant vice-president of international admission, told the South China Morning Post.

With more than half of its international students coming from China, USF has enrolled 33 Chinese students through the gaokao programme, which requires gaokao test scores, a high school transcript and a one-on-one English interview with a university professor.

About 377,000 Chinese students are studying at American universities, accounting for more than a third of international students in the US, according to government data.

Only a handful of private institutions in the US – St Thomas University in Miami, Suffolk University in Boston and Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago – allow Chinese applicants to bypass the standardised SAT test and submit gaokao scores instead.

And the USF had been the only public university to do so until the University of New Hampshire (UNH) recently announced a similar programme.

The first state university to accept gaokao scores, UNH was selecting from the top 25 per cent of students from their province who also had a minimum English score, said the university’s vice-president of enrolment, Victoria Dutcher.

Qualified applicants would need to take an additional English test or submit their TOEFL or IELTS scores, she said.

UNH does not require scores from the SAT or ACT, another standardised US college admissions test, during the process.

Gaokao, which takes place in early June each year, is usually the only criterion determining what kind of a college a high school graduate can enter in China.

While some say it is a fair assessment of how well a student has done over 12 years of study, there has also been criticism that it leads students to focus solely on exams at the expense of development in other areas.

Xu Yuling, the mother of an eight-year-old girl in Beijing, said she believed gaokao was beneficial for Chinese students.

“Even if my child is able to be educated in the US, I hope she can finish gaokao in China,” Xu said. “I think she can have a very solid framework of knowledge after over 10 years of study here, which will benefit her in her studies in the US and even her entire life.”

Andrew Chen, the chief learning officer of the WholeRen Group, an education consulting firm based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, agreed that the exam worked well in pushing students to attain academic success, but also mentioned the widely shared concern.

“Gaokao is fierce competition in China,” he said. “It’s painstaking and it’s somehow unreasonable to judge how someone has done in the past 10 years through this one test.”

Dutcher, the University of New Hampshire vice-president, said: “We are recognising at UNH how vigorous the gaokao exam is and the calibre of the students who perform well in gaokao exam, and it is the calibre of students that we are interested in at UNH.”

“We want to make sure we continue to bring in students who are going to be academically successful at the university and we want gaokao to be a new part of our admission to consider that,” she said.

Chen said the growing interest in gaokao exam takers among American colleges came partly from increasing recognition of the students’ abilities.

“Unlike before, when American universities were totally ignorant of gaokao, they are now gradually accepting it,” he said, adding: “What’s behind this? It’s the students’ knowledge and capability of learning new things.”

“They found that many of the students enrolled from Chinese international schools were not as good as their applications – they attached little importance to academic growth and some even submitted fake school reports,” Chen said. “So some schools start to value those who have gone through the traditional Chinese way of selection.”

Another factor is that most public universities in the US are seeing a drop in domestic applicants because of declining instate demographics and funding cuts. “So more international or out-of-state students are expected to fill the gap,” Chen said.

Most of the 50 US states have cut public college and university budgets, eating into student services and raising tuition.

Beyond the US, dozens of European, Australian and Canadian universities, as well as those from Hong Kong, screen mainland Chinese students based on their gaokao scores. Those institutions include the University of Toronto in Canada, the University of Sydney in Australia and the Italian art school Accademia delle Belle Arti di Firenze.

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The gaokao – China’s make-or-break college entrance exams – started and will take place across the mainland until tomorrow. And while thousands of students will cope with the most important exam in their life – an assessment that can set the course for their future – by studying, studying and studying some more, there always seem to be others who will try to get better scores by cheating despite the risk of being sent to jail for seven years if they are caught, reported South China Morning Post (Hong Kong).

There is no end to the schemes some will try to gain an edge over the millions of Chinese youth competing fiercely for admission to the country’s top universities. But even as methods of cheating change fast, authorities, too, are updating tactics and technology to keep up with the cheaters.

This year, education authorities in Inner Mongolia will use a finger vein recognition system – said to be more accurate and reliable than traditional finger prints – to confirm the identities of candidates sitting for the gaokao.

This method of biometric authentication uses pattern recognition technology that will help keep any potential substitute test-takers out of the proceedings – including an identical twin of a student who is supposed to take the exam, according to a posting on the Weibo microblogging service by the autonomous prefecture’s centre for admission tests.

Meanwhile, in Hubei province, police will inspect all properties close to schools, in particular short-term rental spaces where someone could receive test questions via a wireless device and send answers back to a test-taker in the examination room, China National Radio reported on Monday.

In addition to facial and fingerprint recognition systems, metal detectors will keep mobile phones and other electronic devices out of the exam room, while detectors will be used to find wireless earphones. Specially equipped vehicles and drones can block signals around schools.

During the examination period, in areas such as the Ningxia Autonomous Region, universities will ban students from leaving campus without an instructor’s permission, to prevent them from working as surrogates for gaokao candidates. Students who are allowed to leave must report their location off campus.

But the gaokao is not the only exam that cheaters have targeted in China, and innovative cheating tools have been found in other important tests across the country.

Fake fingerprints

In one of the biggest organised cheating cases in China’s history, more than 120 university students used fake fingerprints to get into the test room and take the gaokao for high school graduates who had paid thousands of yuan for the service in Henan province in June 2014.

The organisers bribed invigilators (inspectors who watch for cheating while the test in being conducted) to help the university students, who wore membranes with the candidate’s fingerprints, to enter the examination room and take the exams for the candidates, according to a report by China Central Television.

The substitutes each received 5,000 yuan (US$782) as a down payment and were promised tens of thousands of yuan more if the test results were good.

Henan authorities found 127 college students were involved in the case.

The Ministry of Education eventually took over the case and punished 58 teachers, 21 students and three agents. The substitutes were expelled from their universities, while the high school students were barred from taking any major national exams for three years.

Electronic ‘erasers’
An eraser containing a signal transmitter helped 27 people get the right answers in a pharmacist licensing exam in Jiangsu province in November. The devices, which looked like ordinary rubber erasers, contained integrated circuits that allowed the exam takers to send questions to people outside the test rooms and receive answers from them, China Central Television reported.

An invigilator who was a police officer suspected the eraser might be part of an effort to cheat on the exam after noticing that a woman taking the test was frequently staring at her eraser, according to the report.

Police later detained 10 people for selling cheating tools and seized more than 100 electronic devices designed for cheating.

Wiretap singlet
More than 40 people were found to have worn singlets wired to mobile phones on their waists to get correct answers on the national examination for supervising engineer qualifications in Sichuan in 2014, Xinhua reported.

The test-takers used a pen with a micro camera to send the questions to partners outside the test rooms, and received answers by listening to a teleconference via micro earphones, Sichuan authorities said.

Hi-tech wallet
A man attempted to cheat on the written test for a driving licence in Shenzhen in January 2016 by using a micro camera attached to his arm to send questions to a coach, the Southern Metropolis Daily reported.

The coach had been promised a payment of 3,500 yuan for sending answers to the man through a transmitter in the man’s wallet. When the man realised he had left his wallet behind after the test, he returned to fetch it.

But the anxiety he displayed raised suspicions among security staff at the test centre.
The man, the coach and three others who provided assistance ultimately were detained.

Super small earphones
Micro earphones hidden in the ear canal are a popular cheating tool; so much so that doctors at two major hospitals in Wuhan, Hubei province, removed the devices from the ears of 16 students – on the very same day as a national English proficiency test.

But the earphones have become a health hazard by becoming smaller and harder to find by the human eye, a doctor was quoted as saying by Chutian Metropolis Daily in 2006.

One of the devices he removed on the same day as the College English Test, Band Four, was just 3 millimetres wide and 1 millimetre thick.

In one case, he only found the object by asking the student to take an X-ray and removed it with the help of a microscope.

Hidden notes in pen
A resident of Xiangfan, Hubei province, said he managed to buy a cheating pen – which provided important mathematical formulas from a local shop – in November 2004, Xinhua reported.

The instrument looked like a normal pen, but had a metal edge that could be pulled out and connected with a piece of paper about 6 centimetres wide and 18 centimetres long that contained all the key formulas needed for the tests.

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