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New US College Entrance Test Worries China


In this 2013 photo, students leave after a college entrance test at AsiaWorld-Expo in Hong Kong.

In this 2013 photo, students leave after a college entrance test at AsiaWorld-Expo in Hong Kong.

More than 200,000 Chinese students studied last year at a college or university in the United States.

For many students, the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT, is simply another standardized test they are required to take. But recent changes to the SAT are creating some political unease in China.

People often blame Hollywood movies, U.S. television shows and fast food for spreading American culture around the world.

But a college entrance exam?

Some people are criticizing planned changes to the Scholastic Aptitude Test as an attempt to spread American values to students overseas. Starting in 2016, the SAT will require test-takers to read from parts of the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence or other historical documents.

The U.S. College Board creates and administers the SAT. Its website has a letter from top College Board officials. It states that every exam students take will include writings from “the Founding Documents or the Great Global Conversation they inspire.”

The Great Global Conversations will be based on speeches by famous Americans, such as the civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr.

Or maybe students will be asked to examine writings from Civil Disobedience, a famous work by American writer Henry David Thoreau. He wrote that, “I heartily accept the motto 'that government is best which governs least.'"

And this has some people in China saying, “Test over! Put down those pencils!”

Why is China So Worried?”

Kelly Yang helps students prepare to take the SAT. She recently wrote about the SAT changes in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper. She noted that “the new test is attempting to teach American values to young Chinese minds.”

Kelly Yang is no stranger to getting into some top U.S. schools. She has completed study programs at both Harvard Law School and the University of California at Berkeley. In her words, “the U.S. College Board has created a test as un-Chinese as they come.”

The Washington Post newspaper reports these changes come at a sensitive time in China. It says Chinese President Xi Jinping has told the Communist Party to guard against “political perils” found in Western values such as democracy and freedom of the press.

Don’t Borrow Trouble You Don’t Have

But many observers say that the changes to the SAT are not that serious.

The official Chinese news agency Xinhua spoke with Wang Enming, a professor with Shanghai International Studies University. He agreed the changes could be seen as an attempt to spread American culture. But he also said that the test is taken by students around the world -- not just in China.

The new SAT will not be based on memorizing the meanings of unusual words. Zhang Jin is a professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University. He told Xinhua that the reforms are aimed at predicting a student’s ability to use critical thinking and problem solving.

Professor Zhang says he feels the new test will not influence the opinions of Chinese students. He says they have already learned about the founding documents of the United States.

Eh. Who cares?

Some people on China’s social media sites have said they feel these changes are an attempt of the U.S. to “brainwash” people.

However, many others just do not care. They say they feel this is a nonissue, or not important.

Shana Xu is a Chinese student living in Washington, D.C. She took the SAT two years ago. She shared her feelings on the criticisms of the new test. First, she reacted to Kelly Yang’s comment that the new test is “un-Chinese.”

“Personally I don’t agree with what Kelly Yang said that this test is un-Chinese. My opinion is that this test itself is not intended for Chinese students only but for students all over the world.”

When talking about brainwashing, Ms. Xu says this is a nonissue. She says that she, like many of her classmates in China, forget much of what they are tested on as soon as the test is over.

“Well, I don’t think it will brainwash Chinese students because my personal experience and also my friends…they just prepare for the test, take the test and after it they forget most of the questions.”

For samples of new SAT test questions or for more information on the reformed SAT visit The College Board at www.collegeboard.org.

I’m ­Anna Matteo.

VOA reporter Anna Matteo wrote this story. George Grow edited it. Some information in this report came from the South China Morning Post, China’s official Xinhua news agency and The Washington Post.

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Words in the News

brainwash - (v.) persuasion by propaganda or salesmanship

standardize - (v.) cause (something) to conform to a uniform standard.

non-issue - (n.) an issue that is not important : something that people are not concerned about

peril - (n.) something that is likely to cause injury, pain, harm, or loss

Do you think the SATs are likely to brainwash young minds in China? Or do you think the changes to this standardized exam are nonissues? Let us know in your comment section. Or simply practice using some of the words you learned in this article.

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