Differences Between the Chinese and Japanese College Entry Examinations

In this study, the differences and similarities between the Chinese and Japanese college entry examinations have been explored. Consequently, it has been established that both entry examinations are similar purpose and the attention they generate. For example, both tests are widely popular in their respective countries and garner widespread attention when the results are announced. Furthermore, they are both administered within the same duration (between two to three days) and serve a similar purpose of evaluating students’ competencies for admission into college.

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The limited admission spots available in Japanese and Chinese universities explain why both tests are intensely scrutinised because students have to pass them to gain entry to top universities. However, the Japanese national examination system emerges as being better organised and well implemented compared to the Chinese one. For example, a review of its administrative structure revealed significant differences with the Japanese model because the Chinese NCEE is not centrally organised. Furthermore, the NCEE lacks a central organisation structure because provincial authorities wield a lot of power in its administration.

Overreliance on test scores is another notable difference between the Japanese and Chinese examination systems. Notably, the latter system lays a lot of emphasis on quantitative results but the former combines qualitative and quantitative methods. Therefore, the college admission criterion adopted in China is weaker compared to the Japanese model. This characteristic may cause long-term problems in developing a motivated student body. It also partly explains why the Chinese NCEE is unfair because the reliance on test scores, as the only consideration for admission, neglects other non-standardised competencies that may be important in the determination of a student’s competence.

Broadly, the findings highlighted in this study draw attention to differences in administration and interpretation of test scores as the two key areas of operation associated with the NCEE, which create unfairness in formulating college admission decisions. Administrative differences stem from the failure to develop standardised evaluation processes across different provinces and the inability to account for the effects of socioeconomic differences across different jurisdictions, which could affect education access.

For example, the effects of socioeconomic factors on education access for students who sat their examinations in Shanghai and rural areas of China have been mentioned in this study because they limit access to colleges for students who sat for the NCEE in rural areas. Therefore, despite having many universities, Shanghai admits many local students at the expense of “foreign” ones, despite them scoring significantly lower marks on the NCEE, as their peers who do not come from the province.

Therefore, although the Chinese NCEE is regarded as a standardised test, there is little evidence to suggest that it actually meets this profile. As stated above, this is because of the differences in examination implementation processes across different provinces. Consequently, there is no centralised organisational structure that governs how these examinations are administered. Thus, differences in how to interpret test scores arise.

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Another critical issue that has emerged from this study is the consistent emphasis on test scores in the Chinese education system. This biasness means that the NCEE is not a holistic review framework because it does not account for other merits, such as creativity, that a student may have and which are instrumental in making college admission decisions. Therefore, it is difficult to understand how an education system that is supposed to nurture talent focuses only on the quantitative aspects of student competence. Consequently, it is no wonder that poor results have been reported after students secure admission in respective colleges.

For example, evidence has been provided of how some Chinese students studying abroad fail to perform as desired, despite having high scores. This issue has been linked to the reduction in admission quotas for Asian students in some western countries.

The NCEE needs progressive changes because the current model is flawed and ineffective in meeting the educational needs 21st century students. It is important to address these issues early because of the centrality of the examination to China’s higher education system. Concisely, the failure to change the examination format means that other reforms are unlikely to occur. This is because the current examination format still focuses on the regurgitation of information without a proper assessment of other skills, such as aptitude and potential.

The problem is further compounded by the spread of globalisation because the current NCEE system will only encourage students to remember what is taught in class, while this information may soon become redundant or obsolete because of the fast pace of technological development in the contemporary world. Overall, a review of the findings provided in this report show significant differences between Japanese and Chinese college examinations. The latter system appears to be unfair to students compared to the former because of administrative differences in implementation as well as varied views in the interpretation of test scores.


One of the major differences observed between the Chinese and Japanese education systems is the lack of assessment rigour on the part of the Chinese. This problem could be addressed by formulating additional tests to assess a student’s suitability for selected courses or educational programs. Stated differently, the overreliance on test scores should be minimised to create a comprehensive framework for making college admission decisions. This recommendation would improve equity in the admission process because some students have “other” skills that should be considered when making admission decisions.

The NCEE does not easily capture non-academic competencies because of the overreliance on test scores. Therefore, the Chinese NCEE should borrow from the Japanese system because the latter is more comprehensive in the manner students’ competencies are reviewed. Indeed, most top universities in Japan undertake additional tests (besides the national examination) to evaluate a student’s competencies in learning. This strategy means that even though a student may score highly on the national examination, they may still miss the opportunity to secure a spot in selected universities based on their performance on additional tests. In China, admission is almost automatic when a student posts high scores (Zhao & Yang 2019).

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Based on the above-mentioned observations, the NCEE needs to be overhauled to reflect other non-academic qualities, such as communication skills and logical thinking in the test scores. This strategy would make the examination more holistic and acceptable to all students (Wang 2019; Yuan & Li 2019). To ease the pressure that most students experience before taking the NCEE, it is advisable for the country to reform its examination system and substitute the standardised test model for a learning achievement framework, which should be administered throughout a student’s learning experience.

The above-mentioned recommendation aligns with the views of Latifi et al. (2016), which suggest that such a system change means a departure from the one-off assessment model where students are examined in one sitting. Such a system causes a lot of anxiety to students because of the impactful nature of these tests on their education and careers (Wang, Liu & Zhang 2018; Yuan 2018). For example, a student who is unwell during the examination period may fail to gain entry into a college of their choice because of failing to take the test. However, if this system were replaced with a long-term learning achievement test, their learning competencies could be examined continuously. Assessments would also be more informed and comprehensive, thereby presenting the true picture of their academic competencies (Yuan 2018).

Furthermore, the narrow focus that Chinese universities and admission boards have placed on dismal score differences will be eliminated because slight differences in test scores are not a reliable measure of academic ability (Cui, Lei & Zhou 2018: Hao et al. 2019).

The proposed reform would address this challenge by introducing continuous assessments. Therefore, students will not only be assed in one event but several others. An unintended positive effect that may emerge from the adoption of this strategy is the heightened level of preparedness for the students to sit for exams because they will always be preparing for periodic tests. Therefore, this review approach is superior to the traditional one-off examination because it encourages students to constantly be learning.

Overall, as suggested by Huang, Wang and Li (2015), the reliance on broad test scores cannot be used as a reliable measure of academic performance because of its inherent biases and unfairness. In other words, not all student competencies can be measured quantitatively. Thus, those who are able to demonstrate superior qualitative skills miss college opportunities because their skills cannot be evaluated using the conventional grading system.

Given the importance of the NCEE to a student’s academic life and career prospects, such biases should not exist because they have far-reaching implications on the self-esteem and societal standing of students who are often under immense pressure from family members to perform well (Zhang 2019). Therefore, the current setup of the NCEE fails to account for the cultural attributes or competencies of a student, and this need to change. Indeed, it fails to effectively evaluate the suitability of students to respective college programs.

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Reference List

Cui, Y, Lei, H & Zhou, W 2018, ‘Changes in school curriculum administration in China’, ECNU Review of Education, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 34-57.

Hao, Y, Liu, S, Jiesisibieke, ZL & Xu, YJ 2019, ‘What determines university students’ online consumer credit? Evidence from China’, SAGE Open, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 1-10.

Huang, Z, Wang, T & Li, X 2015, ‘The political dynamics of educational changes in China’, Policy Futures in Education, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 24-41.

Latifi, S, Bulut, O, Gierl, M, Christie, T & Jeeva, S 2016, ‘Differential performance on national exams: evaluating item and bundle functioning methods using English, mathematics, and science assessments’, SAGE Open, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 1-10.

Wang, T 2019, ‘Competence for students’ future: curriculum change and policy redesign in China’, ECNU Review of Education, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 234-245.

Wang, Y, Liu, X & Zhang, Z 2018, ‘An overview of e-learning in China: history, challenges and opportunities’, Research in Comparative and International Education, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 195-210.

Yuan, Z 2018, ‘Dual priority agenda: China’s model for modernizing education’, ECNU Review of Education, vol. 1, no.1, pp. 5-33.

Yuan, Z & Li, X 2019, ‘Measurement model for students’ ethnic identity, national identity and perception of social mobility in China: exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses’, SAGE Open, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 1-10.

Zhang, W 2019, ‘Regulating private tutoring in China: uniform policies, diverse responses’, ECNU Review of Education, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 25-43.

Zhao, J & Yang, X 2019, ‘The learning sciences in China: historical development and future trends’, ECNU Review of Education, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 205-216.

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