A teacher’s “divine ability” to predict questions for the recently concluded postgraduate entrance exams has triggered heated discussion among Chinese students online, raising ethical questions about the country’s exam system.
The topic was at the center of an online fracas on Tuesday after a student who took this year’s National Entrance Examination for Postgraduates (NEEP) shared striking similarities between actual exam questions and “sample” questions Li Lin, a test prep teacher, had distributed to his students. The NEEP exam is a crucial step toward pursuing higher education in China: Some 2.4 million students registered for this year’s three-day examination, which concluded Monday.
The post on Zhihu, China’s Quora-like Q&A platform, published a day after the exam, has now gained more than 5 million views, with many questioning whether the questions were leaked — which would constitute a criminal offense punishable by up to seven years in prison.
“I studied hard for two years … One might say I’m complaining because I performed poorly on the test, but I just want to ask: How is this exam fair?” the author wrote.
Li, a math lecturer at Dalian University of Technology, has been teaching part-time at NEEP test prep centers since 2005. In recent years, hundreds of such businesses have popped up across China, using “test question predictions” as a catchphrase to attract more students hoping to maximize their grades, which could ultimately affect their career prospects. Li’s center in the eastern city of Nanjing, Jiangsu province, had posted videos on its website of the lecturer listing possible exam questions.
Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, an education think tank in Beijing, believes such practices by prep centers will not only ruin their reputations, but also dent the legitimacy of national exams.
“There are only two ways to predict the questions,” Xiong wrote in a blog post commenting on the case. “Either the teacher is experienced, or the test has been leaked.”
On Tuesday, the National Education Examination Authority, an agency under the Ministry of Education, said the math questions from the NEEP and Li’s exam review course were different, and that the lecturer wasn’t involved in any official capacity in designing the test questions.
Dalian University of Technology said it would investigate the matter, as the school forbids its teachers from being employed at NEEP test prep centers. Meanwhile, the center that employs Li has thrown its full support behind him.
“To some degree, the quality of prediction represents the experience and competence of a teacher,” Zhongshikaoyan, the Nanjing-based NEEP prep center, said in a statement posted Tuesday on the organization’s website.
This is not the first time China’s examination system has been embroiled in controversy. In 2015, the International English Language Testing System, managed by the British Council, permanently withheld the test results of about 350 Chinese students, citing evidence that the canceled scores did not reflect the test takers’ real English level. That same year, China’s Secondary School Admission Test Board also canceled the scores of 357 students, questioning “the validity of their test scores.” Both cases prompted discussions on “exams with Chinese characteristics,” or those that greatly rely on accurately predicted test questions.
“Credibility is the life of an exam,” Xiong wrote on his blog. “If an exam cannot assess students’ real capabilities, then any school or organization that relies on scores to enroll or employ students might as well disregard the results.”
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Students prepare for the postgraduate entrance exams at a college in Hefei, Anhui province, Dec. 22, 2014. Wu Fang/VCG)