The SATs: Whether it is the reasoning test or the subject tests, the College Board SATs are generally negatively viewed by most American high school students. To the media, education leaders, and college-bound students, the SATs are often viewed as a barrier to higher education instead of a promoter. Even Gossip Girl says the SATs brings out the worst in us.

However, have you ever wondered what college entrance exams other students around the world take? We’ll take a look at other types of testing students have to take to enter their home universities. This week we’ll look at the higher education examination that over 8.8 million high school students will be taking this year in Mainland China.

The National Higher Education Entrance Examination, also known as the Gaokao, is the annual examination held for entrance into undergraduate college and universities in China. This grueling test takes nine hours over the course of two days to complete. If you thought the stress from the SATs was bad enough, take a shot at the Gaokao: the stress for Chinese high schoolers is even more immense due to the numerous restraints to the examination. PBS’s Wide Angle covers this annual phenomenon in their program diving deep in to the process of preparing for this examination and the student’s thoughts on it.

Here are some of the striking differences between the SATs and the Gaokao:

  • SATs are multiple times throughout the year while the Gaokao is only offered once a year. If you are sick or do not score well on the Gaokao one year, you will have to wait until the next year to be able to retake the exam. Ouch.
  • Although most students take the Gaokao during the last year of high school, there is no age restriction for this examination.
  • The current SATs consist of Reading, Writing, and Mathmatics. The Gaokao has multiple systems of either the “3+X”, “3+1+X”, or “3+#” where there three would be Chinese, Mathematics and English and with the additional subjects ranging from Biology, Physics, Chemistry, History, Politics, etc.
  • Unlike sending your SAT scores to colleges after or before your take your test without committing to your school, for different places around China, a student would list their university or college preferences before the exam, after the exam, or after they learned their scores.
  • During the Gaokao examination time, China stops as a whole. From delayed construction to police roadblocks in nearby streets, the Gaokao requires perfect conditions for testing.

After I learned about the Gaokao and the immense pressures Chinese students have to success, I started to view the SAT Reasoning Test as more manageable and approachable, especially since there are more colleges that do not strictly focus on your SAT (or ACT) score as a reason to be accepted or denied from their university or college. While these two tests are structured differently and the emphasis on them for acceptance into college is even more different, it is a reminder of the privilege and opportunities we have in the United States in regards to pursuing higher education.

What do you think about the Gaokao in comparison to the SAT? Let us know in the comments below! To learn more facts about the Gaokao, check out this site



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  1. Anthony M. on November 6, 2013

    The SAT is minimal as compared to tests all around the world. In West Africa, the WASSSCE, administered twice a year in about 32 subjects, lasts a month and is the only determinant in a person’s acceptance to a tertiary institution. Americans are continually lucky that colleges consider subjective factors like extracurriculars, socio-economic statuses, essays, and such.

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