With more and more Chinese students applying to foreign universities, the emphasis on the rote memorization required for the gao kao has come under criticism from some U.S. educators. Another cause for concern, they say, are the methods being used to study for the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or Toefl, which most U.S. schools require for admission.
In a story done jointly by The Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education, Patricia J. Parker, assistant director of admissions at Iowa State University, which enrolls more than 1,200 Chinese undergraduates, said “students have proudly told her about memorizing thousands of vocabulary words, studying scripted responses to verbal questions and learning shortcuts that help them guess correct answers.”
The story’s reporters, Tom Bartlett and Karin Fischer, wrote that Ms. Parker “has seen conditionally admitted students increase their Toefl scores by 30 or 40 points, out of a possible 120, after a summer break, despite no significant improvement in their ability to speak English. Her students, she says, don’t see this intense test-prepping as problematic: ‘They think the goal is to pass the test. They’re studying for the test, not studying English.’ ”
Zinch China, a consulting company that advises American colleges and universities about China, published a report last year that found cheating on college applications to be “pervasive in China, driven by hyper-competitive parents and aggressive agents.’’
An excerpt from the Zinch report:
The result? Fake achievements, often concocted by agents. Based on our interviews, this happens on about 10 percent of applications. Sometimes a student’s silver medal is turned to gold, and sometimes a student lists an award for an activity he or she never completed. At a top Beijing high school this year, ten students claimed to be Class President!
Most Chinese parents now understand that American schools are looking for “well-rounded” students who combine strong test scores, transcripts, and extra-curricular achievement. The problem is that most Chinese students don’t have time to participate in many extra-curricular activities — they are too busy studying for and taking tests. In fact, many Chinese parents see extra-curricular activities as a dangerous distraction from studying.