And we think the SAT and ACT are hard.  They have nothing on China’s Gaokao exam.  Also known as the National Higher Education Entrance Examination (NCEE), the Gaokao is the sole determinant in university admission in China.  Approximately 9 million students take this test every June over the course of three days on subjects including Chinese, Mathematics, English, Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences.  As Los Angeles Times journalist Barbara Demick states, the Gaokao exam “is to the SATs somewhat like a triathlon is to a relay race.”  For these Chinese students, it is the most important test of their lives.  

But what is most troubling about this exam, besides the countless hours these students spend studying for it, are the gender-biased university acceptances that ignore these very test scores. Though national data on students’ scores isn’t made public in China, recently universities have started publishing the exam scores of incoming students on their websites, and the results are troubling.  Though girls often have higher test scores, the universities end up accepting boys with lower test scores.  For instance, boys with scores as low as 609 were accepted into an international finance program, whereas the lowest score for accepted girls in the same program was 628.  Likewise, Shanghai Language University accepted boys with scores of 551, whereas the lowest accepted score for girls was 616.


The Chinese Education Ministry has already stated that these acceptance statistics are not biased, but rather are allowing for balanced gender rations for specific programs, and many are arguing that this is merely a logical response to the growing gender gap in China.  With girls accounting for approximately 51% of college students, some unjustly believe, as author Li Wendao does, that “The entire system of examinations favors girls over boys because most of the content tests memory and girls are better at memorizing and boys at operating.”  Girls are scoring higher, and yet are not reaping any benefits; they are getting punished rather than rewarded for their success.  With women barred from specific police academies, pilot training programs, and certain maritime industries, this most recent discovery of admissions score bias is making it even more difficult for women to enter the workforce. These gendered discrepancies are troubling and are a major concern for women’s rights activists. Women’s groups are organizing to challenge this unequal admission standard next month at the National People’s Congress. 

Sources: The LA Times

Images via: The Guardian

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